New Forests

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Breeding and scientific advances in the fight against Dutch elm disease: Will they allow the use of elms in forest restoration?

  • Juan A. Martín
  • Juan Sobrino-Plata
  • Jesús Rodríguez-Calcerrada
  • Carmen Collada
  • Luis Gil


Elms (Ulmus spp.) were once dominant trees in mixed broadleaf forests of many European territories, mainly distributed near rivers and streams or on floodplains. Since ancient times they have provided important services to humans, and several selected genotypes have been massively propagated and planted. Today elm populations are severely degraded due to the negative impact of human-induced changes in riparian ecosystems and the emergence of the highly aggressive Dutch elm disease pathogens. Despite the death of most large elm specimens, there is no evidence of genetic diversity loss in elm populations, probably due to their ability to resprout after disease. The recovery of elm populations from the remaining diversity should build from genomic tools that facilitate achievement of resistant elm clones. Research works to date have discerned the genetic diversity of elms and are well on the way to deciphering the genetic clues of elm resistance and pathogen virulence, key findings for addressing recovery of elm populations. Several tolerant clones suitable for use in urban and landscape planting have been obtained through traditional species hybridization with Asian elms, and various native clones have been selected and used in pilot forest restoration projects. Successful reintroduction of elms should also rely on a deeper understanding of elm ecology, in particular their resilience to abiotic and biotic disturbances. However, all these efforts would be in vain without the final acceptance of elm reintroduction by the social actors involved, making it necessary to evaluate and publicize the ecosystem services elms can provide for today’s society.


Ulmus Dutch elm disease Ophiostoma novo-ulmi Restoration Breeding 



The authors would like to acknowledge the large number of people who have participated in research, breeding, and restoration of elms. The constructive comments by two anonymous reviewers are gratefully acknowledged. The research and restoration works in Spain described in this work are funded by the projects AGL2015-66925-R (MINECO/FEDER) and LIFE13 BIO/ES/000556 LIFE Elm, respectively. The support of the Spanish Environmental Administration (MAPAMA) to elm breeding and research is gratefully acknowledged.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflicts of interest

Authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and animals rights

This work did not involve human participants or animals.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Juan A. Martín
    • 1
  • Juan Sobrino-Plata
    • 1
  • Jesús Rodríguez-Calcerrada
    • 1
  • Carmen Collada
    • 1
  • Luis Gil
    • 1
  1. 1.Departamento de Sistemas y Recursos Naturales, ETSI Montes, Forestal y del Medio NaturalUniversidad Politécnica de MadridMadridSpain

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