Exploration of the Eucalyptus globulus gene pool
The first Europeans to discover Eucalyptus globulus were French explorers in 1792. Its seed was rapidly spread throughout the world in the 19th century and this was the species by which much of the world first knew the genus. However, it was in the industrial forests of the 20th century that this species, once considered the ‘Prince of Eucalypts’, achieved greatest prominence due to its fast growth and superior pulp qualities. Formal breeding first commenced in 1966 in Portugal and in the late 1980’s large base population trials from open-pollinated seed collections from native stands were established in many countries. These trials have provided unprecedented insights into the quantitative genetic control of numerous traits of economic and ecological importance and how this variation is spatially distributed in the native range of the species. However with large, fully pedigreed breeding populations becoming available for quantitative analysis and the rapidly expanding knowledge of DNA sequence variation, we are now at the threshold of a new understanding of this important eucalypt gene pool. Indications of the significance of non-additive genetic effects are becoming available. The E. globulus chloroplast genome has now been sequenced and several genome maps have been published. Studies of the variation in nuclear microsatellites and the lignin biosynthesis gene CCR confirm the complex, spatially structured nature of the native gene pool. Strong spatial structuring of the chloroplast genome has provided a tool for tracking seed migration and the geographic origin of exotic landraces. Highly divergent lineages of chloroplast DNA have been discovered and studies of the hypervariable JLA+ region argue that some components of the E. globulus gene pool have been assimilated from other species following hybridisation.