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Department of Forest Genetics
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Forest trees form the basis of a large proportion of terrestrial ecosystems and provide ecological niches for a vast number of associated organisms. Moreover, forest ecosystems offer a variety of benefits and services to the well-being of humans. The overall aim of our research group is to understand the various neutral and adaptive processes that shape the genetic diversity of tree populations and to use this knowledge to develop reforestation and regeneration guidelines for stable and productive forests.
Our group is maintaining a large network of genetic field trials and nursery experiments. In total, we take care for about 70 field trials all over Austria ranging from elevations as low as 200 m up to elevations of 2000 m and including major coniferous and deciduous tree species (e.g. Norway spruce, pedunculate oak or Douglas fir). In addition to the quantitative data available from these trials, we apply different molecular markers. Besides maintaining and measuring these field trials over longer time periods (~ 30 years), we run a number of research projects to improve knowledge on the processes shaping genetic diversity of forest trees.

Understand local adaptations of tree populations to certain environmental conditions (most notable climate) have become one of our major objectives within the last years. We aim at identifying the local adaptation of quantitative traits (e.g. growth performance, bud burst, drought sensitivity) in order to develop recommendations for seed transfer for tree nurseries and forest services. Moreover, we are also interested in natural processes that putatively facilitate adaptation to climate change.

Research objectives

Genecological studies on forest trees have already a history of more than 200 years. Although such comparative trials were mainly established to improve quantity and quality of timber, they also provide valuable insights into the quantitative genetic variation within and among populations. In our group we aim to use available quantitative genetic data to understand local adaptations and finally to help adapting our forest to future climate conditions. For example, PhD candidate Stefan Kapeller compiled data of a Norway spruce trial series that includes 480 provenances tested on 42 sites (project funded by STARTCLIM and INTERREG Alpine Space). In the ACRP-Project DouglAS  and through bilateral cooperation with the ASP Teisendorf  we complied provenance plot data for more than 80 Douglas fir field trials containing more than 300 different populations.

Oak genetics: recently, we established a new progeny/provenance test with pedunculate and sessile oak on five trials sites in Austria. White oaks are the natural tree species in many secondary spruce forests in the northern alpine foreland and East/South-East Austria. Also, white oaks are considered to be more suitable for future climate conditions than other current forest tree species (e.g. Norway spruce, European beech) in many regions of Austria. In our trial, 462 half-sib families of 21 provenances from Austria, Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Czech Republic and Germany were planted in 2007/2008.  Althought the primary goal of the test is the develop provenance recommendations for forestry, we also expect valuable insights into the distribution of quantitative variation of various adaptive traits. First quantitative and molecular genetic analysis is ongoing.

Besides selection and local adaptation, also neutral population genetic processes (i.e. drift, population expansion, migration, gene flow) affect the distribution genetic variation. Within a couple of research project we aim to understand the phylogeography of tree species (e.g. of the Afromontane tree Prunus africana) or try the quantify the spatial scale of pollen-mediated gene flow, which could potentially contribute to the adaptation of forests to climate change.

Climate change is expected to modify the distribution of tree species, tree species diversity and the forest ecosystems connected to these species within a few generations. Moreover, climate change is expected to threat the genetic diversity of species significantly. In particular, local adaptations at the warm and dry border of the species ranges are endangered. In our research, we test for the effects of climate change on existing conservation networks for genetic diversity of trees , in order to develop efficient monitoring and management measures to maintain the local adaptations which are strongly needed for in ongoing and future selection and breeding schemes.

Ongoing research projects
  • AdaptTree
  • DougLAS
  • Softwood for the Future
  • Green Heritage II

Disseminations and Services

Dissemination and Knowledge transfer are vital parts of our work. For dissemination, we publish many of our results in German-speaking forestry journals, practical guidelines for forest managements, but we also use the multilingual web portal In order to disseminate guidelines on the use of forest reproductive material directly to end users, we developed the platform Here, any forest owner or forest manager can get exact information about the forest seeds or seedling that should be used in the particular case. In addition, we organise events and excursion with forest managers and forest nursery producers to spread scientific knowledge as wide as possible.

In our unit, we maintain a specialised laboratory for the analysis of forest seed material. We offer quantitative and qualitative tests for seed weight and seed vitality (viability and germinability) according to international standards and in accordance with national and European legislation .


Marcela van Loo

Head of Unit
+43 (1)
878 38-1349


Deputy Head of Unit
+43 (1)
878 38-2226

DNA Laboratory
+43 (1)
878 38-2115

Christoph Dobes   
Phylogenomics, Polyploidy,
Population genetics and Evolutionary biology
+43 (1)
878 38-1265


Forest reproductive material +43 (1)
878 38-2222

Postdoctoral researcher
+43 (1)
878 38-2101


Forest reproductive material
+43 (1)
878 38-2229


Laboratory for Forest reproductive material +43 (1)
878 38-2107


+43 (1)
878 38-2115


+43 (1)
878 38-2110


Unit of Provenance Research and Breeding
1131 Wien, Seckendorff-Gudent-Weg 8
Head of Unit: Dr. Marcela van Loo

Tel: +43 1 87838-2109, Fax: +43 1 87838-2250


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Federal Research and Training Centre for Forests, Natural Hazards and Landscape
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