Molecular and Physiological Responses to Abiotic Stress in Forest Trees and Their Relevance to Tree Improvement

Tree Physiol. 2014 Nov;34(11):1181-98. doi: 10.1093/treephys/tpu012. Epub 2014 Apr 2.


Abiotic stresses, such as drought, salinity and cold, are the major environmental stresses that adversely affect tree growth and, thus, forest productivity, and play a major role in determining the geographic distribution of tree species. Tree responses and tolerance to abiotic stress are complex biological processes that are best analyzed at a systems level using genetic, genomic, metabolomic and phenomic approaches. This will expedite the dissection of stress-sensing and signaling networks to further support efficient genetic improvement programs. Enormous genetic diversity for stress tolerance exists within some forest-tree species, and due to advances in sequencing technologies the molecular genetic basis for this diversity has been rapidly unfolding in recent years. In addition, the use of emerging phenotyping technologies extends the suite of traits that can be measured and will provide us with a better understanding of stress tolerance. The elucidation of abiotic stress-tolerance mechanisms will allow for effective pyramiding of multiple tolerances in a single tree through genetic engineering. Here we review recent progress in the dissection of the molecular basis of abiotic stress tolerance in forest trees, with special emphasis on Populus, Pinus, Picea, Eucalyptus and Quercus spp. We also outline practices that will enable the deployment of trees engineered for abiotic stress tolerance to land owners. Finally, recommendations for future work are discussed.

Keywords: acclimation; epigenetic control; genetic variation; natural population; regulatory networks; signaling; stress; tolerance; tree growth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Biomass
  • Droughts
  • Epigenomics
  • Forests
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant*
  • Gene Regulatory Networks
  • Genetic Engineering
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Genomics
  • Magnoliopsida / genetics
  • Magnoliopsida / growth & development
  • Magnoliopsida / physiology*
  • Phenotype
  • Signal Transduction
  • Stress, Physiological
  • Transgenes
  • Trees / genetics
  • Trees / growth & development
  • Trees / physiology