Posted: 26.09.2023 17:15:00

Preserve and multiply

Scientists from the Forest Institute of the National Academy of Sciences are developing programmes for forest restoration in the face of ­climate change

Belarus is among the top ten European countries in terms of forest area and growing timber reserves per capita. The Forest Institute of the National Academy of Sciences provides scientific support for the forestry industry at the national level. Its employees solve not only immediate problems, such as fighting pests or plant diseases, but also strategic tasks: today they are working on creating the forests of the future. The MT reporter talked about this, as well as the protection of trees from pests, the latest developments in the field of forest selection, genetics and biotechnology, with the Chairperson of the Council of Young Scientists of the Forest Institute of the National Academy of Sciences, Candidate of Biological Sciences Lyudmila Mozharovskaya.

The most valuable natural resource

Yelizaveta Kobetskaya
The forest is our heritage. Since wood consumption is growing from year to year, it is necessary to manage forestry wisely: not only to ensure the correct use of the most valuable natural resource, but also to promote its reproduction.
“The forestry industry meets the needs of the national economy, and also works in the field of protection, conservation and rational use of this natural wealth. In particular, it is engaged in the procurement of seeds, growing planting material, creating plantings, and carrying out various types of maintenance,” Lyudmila Mozharovskaya briefs.
The oldest scientific institution in Gomel, the Forest Institute of the National Academy of Sciences, is engaged in selective seed production. Work is also underway here to protect forest genetic resources. With the scientific support of scientists from the institute, forest seed plantations are being produced in the country. Thus, about 50 percent of all new forests are created using breeding material.
“The field of forest genetics is developing well. One of its directions is the study of the genomes of woody plants. Our scientists for the first time read and deciphered the hereditary information of the genomes of deciduous trees. These are ash, alder, hornbeam and others. The genomes of pathogens and pests of woody plants are also being studied. The results obtained are registered in the international database of the National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI, USA) with the priority of the Forest Institute of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus,” the Chairperson of the Council of Young Scientists of the Institute notes.
A valuable tree species growing in the natural conditions of Belarus is Karelian birch, a type of silver birch or downy birch. 
“Karelian birch wood has a unique pattern, resembling marble in appearance. It is highly valued on the international market and is the only tree species that is measured not only in cubic metres, but also in kilogrammes,” the interlocutor explains.
For Karelian birch, scientists from the Laboratory of Genomic Research and Bioinformatics have developed a genetic tool for early diagnosis of highly patterned forms. By the way, the tax price for Karelian birch wood sold as standing trees in 2023 was more than Br500 per cubic metre.

Forest without pests

Changes in climate conditions in recent decades are visible to the naked eye. Which, unfortunately, has a negative impact on nature. Thus, due to an increase in average temperature, lack of moisture, and lack of snowy winters, there is an increase in the number of drying out, increased disease and death of trees. The most striking example is the bark beetle invasion that lasted several years. In terms of the scale of this phenomenon, we can roughly draw an analogy with the coronavirus.
“The peak of bark beetle drying out of pine plantations occurred in 2016-2018. It was especially pronounced in the southern parts of the Gomel and Brest Regions. We immediately began to carry out forest pathological monitoring, including using pheromone traps developed by scientists at the institute, which are an effective means for controlling the number of apical and six-toothed bark beetles. Thanks to the developed algorithm of sanitary and health measures and the coordinated work of practicing foresters, the outbreak of these pests was completely eliminated,” the specialist recalls.
In addition, in the laboratory of the Institute’s ‘Problems of Forest Restoration, Protection and Conservation’, a biological preparation was developed that is aimed at combating pests of coniferous plantations. It has already shown its effectiveness during laboratory tests. Scientists are now conducting field tests. In 2025, this drug will be officially registered, and from 2026 to 2028 it will be introduced into forestry. It contains entomopathogenic fungi Boveria bassiana — a natural regulator of insect numbers. A biological product is a good solution, since it eliminates the use of chemicals, which is more environmentally friendly.

Future science

Every year, more than 390 million pieces of standard planting material are grown in the country’s 78 forest nurseries. 
One of the main factors that reduces the yield of seedlings is disease. For this reason, about 40 forestry enterprises of the Forestry Ministry contact the Forest Institute of the National Academy of Sciences to determine diseases of forest planting material. At the phytopathological centre of the educational institution, pathogens are diagnosed using a PCR test, after which scientists give recommendations on plant care.
In addition, forest seed zoning, layout diagrams of genetic reserves and commercial seed plantations of English oak have been developed at the institute, based on the use of molecular genetic methods, and the gene pools of spruce and pine are being studied. Such research is promising for creating reforestation programmes under predicted climate change conditions.
Pilot testing of scientific developments is carried out at three experimental forest bases of the institute: Korenevskaya, Dvinskaya and Zhornovskaya, located in different geobotanical subzones. 
“But the main thing we are working on now is creating the forests of the future. Modern forests were formed in the post-war period — then the forest cover was about 21 percent, and now it exceeds 40. According to the Forestry Ministry, the country’s wood reserves increased by 34 million cubic metres of wood in 2022. So what kind of future forests do we need? Firstly, they are productive, capable of producing large amounts of wood. Secondly, they are disease resistant. At the institute, research is being conducted on the selection of woody plants resistant to diseases and abiotic factors. We actively exchange experiences with colleagues from Russia and Kazakhstan. In this direction, joint international projects are underway to study diseases and pests of forest plants and develop recommendations for combating them,” Lyudmila Mozharovskaya concluded.

Forest lands occupy 42 percent of the country’s territory, the same amount is occupied by agricultural land. The most common tree species in Belarus are pine and birch. All cut down trees are being restored in the country. 
Over the last three years alone, reforestation and afforestation have been carried out on an area of 142.4 thousand hectares, which is four times the area of Minsk. 
Thus, the country ensures sustainable forest management.

By Tatiana Semenkova