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Scientific methods for
taxonomic and origin
identification of timber
Editor: Nele Schmitz
GTTN (2020). Schmitz, N. (ed.). Scientific methods for taxonomic and origin
identification of timber. Global Timber Tracking Network, GTTN Secretariat, European
Forest Institute and Thünen Institute.
Pictures: Victor Deklerck, Volker Haag, Justyna A. Nowakowska, Charlie Watkinson.
Acknowledgements: we thank Jez W.B. Braga, Victor Deklerck, Ed Espinoza, Manfred
Groening, Gerald Koch, Tereza C.M. Pastore, Tahiana Ramananantoandro, Hilke
Schröder, Charlie Watkinson and Alex C. Wiedenhoeft for their valuable comments
during the development of this guide and Jo Van Brusselen and José Bolaños from the
USERS OF THIS GUIDE:
Authorities, traders, importers and all others interested in the current capacity of timber
tracking methods for the taxonomy and geographical origin of timber (products).
AIM OF THIS GUIDE:
Inform about the scientific methods available for timber tracking (taxonomy and origin)
and on the laboratories offering these identification services. This guide is a concise
version of the scientifically more detailed Timber Tracking Tool Infogram.
Scientific methods for the verification of the taxonomy and/or the origin of the
timber based on anatomical, chemical or genetic characteristics of the wood.
Taxonomic identification Origin identification Both
WHAT ARE TIMBER TRACKING TOOLS & WHAT CAN THEY DO FOR YOU?
Genetics Genetics: The DNA, present in the wood, can be
investigated to identify the species, as well as the
geographic origin and the individual.
Anatomy: The cellular structure of wood varies between
families, genera and sometimes even species. It can be
investigated at macroscopic or microscopic level using
standard sets of anatomical features or by digital image
Scientific methods for timber tracking
Chemistry: The chemical contents of wood can be studied using Direct Analysis in Real
Time (DART) Time-Of-Flight Mass Spectrometry (TOFMS), Near Infra-Red (NIR)
Spectroscopy or stable isotopes. DART TOFMS looks at wood chemicals. NIR
Spectroscopy looks at the surface of the wood, studying both wood chemicals and
physical characteristics of the wood, which can vary both between species and origins.
At this moment, however, DART TOFMS is only reliable for species identifications.
Stable isotopes are linked to environmental conditions and hence only vary between
origins of samples but not between species.
All timber identifications rely on having
reference samples, and these specimens
are the basis of determining if the trade
documents list the correct taxonomic
name(s) and geographic origin(s).
Essentials for a timber identification:
WHICH TOOL SHOULD I USE?
The factors that determine which method is most suitable for your case are:
▪The question that needs to be answered (taxonomic identification at the family, genus or
species level, geographic origin at the level of region or individual tree).
▪The type of wood product (raw wood, veneer, plywood, other manufactured solid wood,
charcoal, particle board, pulp, paper or fibreboard).
▪The size of the sample that can be taken (smaller or bigger than 1 cm³).
The online service provider directory guides you through the above questions
and offers you a list of the possible laboratories that can perform the analysis.
You can contact the lab(s) of your choice and get an estimate of the costs and
time that will be needed for your specific case.
To get a geographic overview of the laboratories offering authentication analyses
for timber, you can consult the service provider map.
area of harvest
identification Individual tree
WHAT WOOD PRODUCTS CAN BE IDENTIFIED BY WHAT METHOD?
* Including: raw wood, veneer, plywood, other manufacturedsolid wood
Taxonomic identification Origin identification
WHICH METHODS CAN ANSWER WHICH IDENTIFICATION QUESTIONS?
The objective of the Global Timber Tracking Network (GTTN) is to promote the operationalization of
innovative tools for wood identification and origin determination, to assist the fight against illegal logging
and related trade around the globe. GTTN is an open alliance that cooperates along a joint vision and the
network activities are financed through an open multi-donor approach. GTTN phase 2 coordination (2017-
2019) is financed by the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL). GTTN phase 2 (2017-
2019) is coordinated by the European Forest Institute with the technical support from the Thünen Institute.