New Initiative to Sequence the Redwood Genomes

Sequoia National Park.
Sequoia National Park.
I’m so excited to share the news today that we are sequencing the coast redwood and giant sequoia genomes. While the first steps in this project will happen in the laboratory, the goal is to rapidly put this new understanding of redwood DNA to work for conservation. To support vigorous coast redwood and giant sequoia forests in the decades ahead, we will need to protect not only the remarkable structure of the forest, but also protect the genetic diversity that underlies it.

In the coast redwood forest today are large expanses of young stands that lost their grandeur during past timber harvests. How much of the natural genetic diversity of these forests was lost when so many redwoods were cut down? And in the giant sequoia groves, are the smaller groves more vulnerable to inbreeding because there are fewer trees? Low genetic diversity in the forest could make our beloved redwoods more vulnerable to disease, environmental stress, and climate change because there may not be enough individual trees that can survive adverse events.

By sequencing the redwood genomes, we will be able to identify forests with high genetic diversity and prioritize them for protection. In forests where genetic diversity is low, we will work to make sure no further diversity is lost. This effort is NOT about genetically modifying redwoods, we believe there is plenty of natural genetic diversity in the forest, we simply need to find it and protect it.

The sequencing effort is no small task, especially because the coast redwood genome is larger than any genome sequenced before! Luckily, we’re working with experts at the University of California, Davis and Johns Hopkins to decode the genomes and develop forest genetic screening tools. Dr. David Neale, Dr. Alison Scott, and Dr. Steven Salzberg will lead the research team and collaborate with the League and public land managers to help redwood forest stewards gain the genetic insight they need.

Learn more about the redwood genome project and how we’ll be using this science to protect the coast redwood and giant sequoia forests.

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About Emily Burns


Emily Burns, the League’s former Director of Science, led the research program that includes the Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative. She holds a PhD in Integrative Biology on the impacts of fog on coast redwood forest flora from the University of California, Berkeley.

Fern Watch volunteers at Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve.

Watching Ferns in the Redwoods for Signs of Climate Change


The sword fern, one of the most common redwood forest plants, has become prominent in my life over the past few years. This is mostly due to the League’s Fern Watch project, which monitors the health of sword ferns throughout the redwood range. Even though these ferns are common, little is known about their ecology and how they respond to climatic change.

Field crew sampling young and old sequoias in a Bearskin Grove canopy gap. Photo by Marc D. Meyer

Questions Remain for Giant Sequoia National Monument


National Public Lands Day on September 30 celebrates our nation’s cultural and natural resources that are open to everyone, but the work to defend our national monuments continues. This year, along with celebrating our public lands, unfortunately, comes trepidation, as we face the threat of eroded protections at a scale never seen before in U.S. history.

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