ACORN will investigate forest stands of pedunculate, sessile, and downy oak (Quercus robur, petraea and pubescens, respectively) from Central Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean. To address adaptation at the regional level, 10 pairs of closely situated populations of each species will be selected within each region. At the continent-wide scale, ACORN will compare the two study areas which display contrasting climates in terms of aridity. It assumes that past selection for drought tolerant phenotypes has resulted in genetic differences between different environments. To address this, an environmental association analysis will be performed to test whether there is a significant association between environmental conditions and tree genotypes. In addition, a common garden trial with progenies from the study stands will be set up to investigate physiological and morphological differentiation based on traits related to drought tolerance.
A genome-wide association analysis between the phenotype and the genotype will provide clues about the genes underlying the assessed traits. Based on these results, an innovative assisted gene flow concept will be developed, in order to inform FRM guidelines and adjust them to the needs resulting from climate change.
The participation of applied research institutes, which are also responsible for formulation of FRM guidelines, will ensure that all practical and policy-related aspects will be considered from the beginning of the project. Moreover, a wider network of stakeholders will be engaged from the beginning of the project. These include policy makers like authorities in charge of issuing seed transfer guidelines, private businesses like nurseries and non-governmental organisations like nature conservation associations. ACORN attaches particular importance to an early exchange on the project aims and approaches, as well as stakeholders’ perceptions and expectations from the planned research. Thus, bilateral meetings will be organised at the national and international level throughout the project. A workshop at the end of the project will be held to inform stakeholders from all participating countries about the project results and the developed AGF concept.