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The roles of Wood Science in combatting Illegela Timber Harvest and Trade
The earliest pioneer of botany Theophrastus (372-287 BC) already linked certain wood attributes to provenance, and in 1682 AD the early microscopist Antoni van Leeuwenhoek related the anatomy and growth ring structure of Oak and Spruce to latitude of origin. However, macroscopic and microscopic wood identification had to wait until the twentieth century to become of age. Implementing national and international legislation to combat illegal logging requires robust botanical identification (ID) of protected species, and often also accurate provenancing of the timber. Recently many new tool kits for wood ID, provenancing, and age determination have become available. In addition to macroscopic and microscopic ID we now can use machine vision, genetic barcoding, mass and infrared spectroscopy, stable isotopes, tree ring and radio-carbon analysis. The building and mining of big databases in all these fields is crucial to success. All the approaches have tremendous potential, but also still face serious bottle necks for legal application. For instance wood anatomical ID builds on large well-documented collections and databases (notably InsideWood), but microstructure tends to be genus- rather than species-specific. DNA sequences are species, population, or even specimen specific but difficult to amplify from treated (dried and heated) heartwood, although there are breakthroughs using Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPS). Mass Spectroscopy (DART TOFMs) and Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS) hold great promise, but still require the building of large databases from multiple authenticated reference samples of thousands of species. Stable Isotopes help to provenance for certain climatic zones, but the transitional nature of climatic zonation limits their use for legal applications. Recently the International Association of Wood Anatomists (IAWA) has formed a working group to actively promote interdisciplinary and international cooperation in these fields: WRAITH, Wood Research Against Illegal Timber Harvest. Such cooperation, notably data-sharing, is indeed a must for success of forensic wood science in combatting illegal timber logging and trade.