Conservation genetics of the frankincense tree

A.A. Bekele

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU

Abstract

Boswellia papyrifera is an important tree species of the extensive Combretum-Terminalia dry tropical forests and woodlands in Africa. The species produces a frankincense which is internationally traded because of its value as ingredient in cosmetic, detergent, food flavor and perfumes productions, and because of its extensive use as incense during religious and cultural ceremonies in many parts of the world. The forests in which B. papyrifera grows are increasingly overexploited at the expense of the economic benefit and the wealth of ecological services they provide. Populations of B. papyrifera have declined in size and are increasingly fragmented. Regeneration has been blocked for the last 50 years in most areas and adult productive trees are dying. Projections showed a 90% loss of B. papyrifera trees in the coming 50 years and a 50% loss of frankincense production in 15 years time.

This study addressed the conservation genetics of B. papyrifera. Forty six microsatellite (SSR) markers were developed for this species, and these genetic markers were applied to characterize the genetic diversity pattern of 12 B. papyrifera populations in Ethiopia. Next to this, also the generational change in genetic diversity and the within-population genetic structure (FSGS) of two cohort groups (adults and seedlings) were studied in two populations from Western Ethiopia. In these populations seedlings and saplings were found and natural regeneration still takes place, a discovery that is important for the conservation of the species.

Despite the threats the populations are experiencing, ample genetic variation was present in the adult trees of the populations, including the most degraded populations. Low levels of population differentiation and isolation-by-distance patterns were detected. Populations could be grouped into four genetic clusters: the North eastern (NE), Western (W), North western (NW) and Northern (N) part of Ethiopia. The clusters corresponded to environmentally different conditions in terms of temperature, rainfall and soil conditions. We detected a low FSGS and found that individuals are significantly related up to a distance of 60-130 m.

Conservation of the B. papyrifera populations is urgently needed. The regeneration bottlenecks in most existing populations are an urgent prevailing problem that needs to be solved to ensure the continuity of the genetic diversity, species survival and sustainable production of frankincense. Local  communities living in and around the forests should be involved in the use and management of the forests. In situ conservation activities will promote gene flow among fragmented populations and scattered remnant trees, so that the existing level of genetic diversity may be preserved. Geographical distance among populations is the main factor to be considered in sampling for ex situ conservation. A minimum of four conservation sites for B. papyrifera is recommended, representing each of the genetic clusters. Based on the findings of FSGS analyses, seed collection for ex situ conservation and plantation programmes should come from trees at least 100 m, but preferably 150 m apart.  

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Bongers, Frans, Promotor
  • Smulders, Rene, Co-promotor
  • Tesfaye Geletu, K., Co-promotor, External person
Award date23 May 2016
Place of PublicationWageningen
Publisher
Print ISBNs9789462576865
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Keywords

  • boswellia
  • genomes
  • dna sequencing
  • tropical forests
  • genetic diversity
  • genetic variation
  • genetics
  • forest management
  • plant breeding

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