I talk to the trees to find which ones were illegally logged*

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Okay, I don’t talk to the trees – it’s pretty unrewarding if you’re after a stimulating conversation. But it’s possible to get a lot of information from the trees, provided you have the knowledge, skills and equipment.

Andy Lowe (my boss) has all three, and is passionate about putting a stop to the massive trade in illegally logged timber. He was interviewed recently about the use of DNA barcoding in tracking timber, and the resulting article appeared here in Mongabay. To save time (and avoid exposing my own ignorance about the subject), I won’t go into details about DNA barcoding here – if you want more information, you can look back at some of our previous posts listed below. But DNA barcoding, despite being a relatively new technology, is already being mentioned in non-scientific circles: here’s a brief clip of CSI-NY mentioning just one of the challenges involved in barcoding wood products.

Barcoding has the potential to revolutionise efforts to track illegal trade in not just trees, but all manner of goods, including ivory and rhino horn. DNA is extracted from samples of seized goods, and the origin of the animal or plant can then be determined, allowing authorities to target those areas in their efforts to stop poaching.

In one sense, it’s easier with timber, because illegally logged timber gets funnelled into the legal stream, and so by sampling along the way from logs to sawn planks to furniture, it’s possible to ensure that any finished product comes from legally obtained timber. Since other illegally traded goods mostly don’t appear in the legal markets, authorities first have to find them, before they can obtain the DNA samples to trace their origin.

So it’s possible for a consumer to determine whether the furniture they buy is from a legal, and sustainably logged, source. And the more consumers demand proof of legal timber, the more suppliers will verify their products through the whole chain of custody from forest to furniture.

DNA barcoding used in timber tracking

DNA barcoding to track illegally logged Brazilian trees

The Gibson guitar case

DNA methods versus illegal logging

Deforestation and the genetic resources of tropical trees

*”I talk to the trees, that’s why they put me away” – an old family joke based on the song from Paint Your Wagon.

[Featured image: Cloud forest, Mount Kinabalu, Borneo. Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0]


    1. Glad you liked it, Roy – it’s nice to be able to talk about new science which can also actually make a difference.

  1. I live in Trssing, Austria and my job in fact deals with this field.

    Genuinely doing what you enjoy and writing about it in such a
    fantastic way is a great gift. Your enlightening article includes the optimal fusion of enthusiasm and well-written, interesting information that I’ve grown
    to love and admire.

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