Starting in the early eighties, INRA and Office National des Forêts (ONF) joined their efforts to conduct a range wide investigation of the genetic variation of Quercus petraea, a highly valuable broadleaved tree in French forestry.
Earlier studies have been conducted in other countries, but were usually limited to regional issues (Kleinschmit, 1993 for review). There are severe biological constraints to carry out provenance research in oaks, as uneven fruiting across the distribution range of a species, and lack of acorn storage ability. These constraints explain why earlier efforts were usually conducted on a regional scale, and why research organizations were reluctant to support research in oak genetics.
The motivation for implementing a large scale genetic survey in Q. petraea in the early 80s came from the decline of oak species observed during that period as a result of very severe summer drought in 1975 and 1976. Furthermore, sessile oak was increasingly used in plantations and recommendations about the choice of seed sources was urgently needed in operational forestry. Clearly these two issues were the rationale to start a large scale research project on oak genetic variation.
The preferential choice for carrying out research in Q. petraea was also due to a large interest in planting this species rather than Q. robur. This was also the time where the first research framework programmes were launched by the European Union, thus providing opportunities to extend and support research at a range wide scale.
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