|Agroforestry In-service Training: A Training Aid for Asia & the Pacific Islands (Peace Corps, 1984)|
|Appendix E: Nitrogen-fixing tree resources: potentials and limitations|
The Nitrogen -Fixing Tree Association (NFTA), a new international organization that aims to encourage research and communication on leguminous trees, was incorporated in Hawaii in 1981. A primary thrust of the NFTA is to help identify genetic resources and stimulate their careful preservation and expansion. Our present impression is that the genetic resources of N2-fixing trees are in a tragic state. There are no major international repositories of legume tree germplasm, whether as seed, or in arboreta, and very few tree species have been the subject of botanical expeditions for germplasm collection. Additionally many of the genera of N2-fixing trees are taxonomically confused, from unknown centers of origin, or from areas that are rapidly becoming treeless. Seeds available for distribution are often of unknown origin. Genetically distinct varieties are available for only a few species, and these are predominantly ornamentals.
The opportunities for exploitation of the genetic diversity in legume trees can be illustrated from studies with Leucaena leucocephala (known also as ipil-ipil, huaxin, guaje, leadtree, lamtoro, koa haole, or kubabul). These have been reviewed by Brewbaker & Hutton (1979) and other authors (NAS, 1977; Brewbaker, 1980). The arboreal leucaenas did not become naturaly dispersed through the tropics, but only a shrub known as the "common-type" or "Hawaiian-type" Leucaena. Though our collection of this heavily flowering shrub includes more than 500 accessions from numerous countries in the tropics, there is little genetic variability. We surmise that all originated from a narrow gene base. The species was dispersed from its native Mexico mainly through Spanish galleons departing from Acapulco and Mazatlan. In this region a highly flowering shrub is the only representative of the species, and it is clearly this one self-pollinated variety that circled the world.
The tree form and other genetic variants of Leucaena occur in southern Mexico and in Central America, a centre of diversity for this tetraploid species (which is an evident hybrid of two other species). The arboreal types were first considered a distinct species by botanists; then came to be known as the "Salvador type." This type first came to Hawaii from Central American seed collectors in the 1930's, and was then widely dispersed in the 1960's as a result of research in Hawaii and in Australia (Brewbaker, 1975). As a source of fuelwood, the Salvador type exceeds the common type by over 100% in wood yield; yet differs by very few genes.
It is virtually certain that genetic gains similar to those in Leucaena await the first plant explorers for species grown solely as C or N. fixers. Since many of these species are outcrossing, unlike Leucaena the identification of genetic superiority will require more care in seed production. However, such species may well afford greater genetic gains-as occurred in poplar and pine - through exploitation of hybrid vigor in controlled crosses or from seed orchard synthetics.
The hazards of endangerment of species are evident in Leucaena. The center of origin of the Salvador type appears to he in the Morazan province of southern Salvador, a region now virtually treeless. Salvador-type leucaenas are now to be found only in the city squares and in backyards, a poor genetic sample of what existed as little as 50 years ago. Leguminous trees are often selectively browsed by feral animals and are, thus, more apt to extinction than many others. Following fire, however, they often regrow with ferocity from the fire-scarified seeds that have long lain dormant in the soil.