Improvement of the quality and productivity of cork oak ecosystems is proposed because of evidence of a steady decrease in cork quality. The study of cork oak phenotype variability was initiated by determining the technological value of the cork of 120 already selected trees and of 60 new selections. Cuttings and grafts were made in the greenhouse and in the field respectively to rejuvenate superior selections for macropropagation which was carried out successfully from embryo cultures. To elucidate possible genetic correlations between isozymes and qualitative characteristics of cork tissue, an isozyme study was initiated on pollen by gel acrylamide horizontal electrophoresis. Seeds were collected for open pollinated progeny tests and studies made of germination. Preliminary studies were made of flowering and fruiting of cork oak. Seeds of shrubs with potential value in animal feeding were collected and plants raised for field tests. Collection of edible fungi was almost unsuccessful because of drought conditions.
Quercus suber is a Mediterranean species, the largest area of which is found in Portugal which comprises 39 % of the total area of this forest type. These forests yield 54 % of the world production of cork and satisfy about 65 % of the international demand for cork and cork products. These forests are an important fraction of the present EEC forests that are the outcome of an endogenous adaptation process over the centuries, representing a self-reproduction mechanism well adapted to a harsh environment.
In Portuguese terms, forest survey (1990) showed in a 10 year period a reduction of 5 %, 13 % and 14 % in the areas of pure stands, unmixed dominants and mixed sub-dominant respectively. In industrial terms evidence have been pointing for a steady decreasing in cork quality which is not surprising considering high genetic variability of cork-oak stands, their alogamic character and the natural reproduction methods currently used.
The project will provide the basic foundations for a breeding programme as well as the chances to provide proven good quality cork phenotypes by mass vegetative propagation to farmers willing to replant their stands and shifting for forestry in their marginal agriculture activities. An attempt will also be done in searching for alternative viable activities with market potential such as the production of wild mushrooms. Given the degradation of the environment and landscape, the potential and biological behaviour of shrubs and small trees in the underbush of cork stands will be assessed.
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CB9 8PB Haverhill