The fate of peripheral forest tree populations is of particular interest in the context of climate change. These populations may concurrently be those where the most significant evolutionary changes will occur; those most facing increasing extinction risk; the source of migrants for the colonization of new areas at leading edges; or the source of genetic novelty for reinforcing standing genetic variation in various parts of the range. Deciding which strategy to implement for conserving and sustainably using the genetic resources of peripheral forest tree populations is a challenge.Here, we review the genetic and ecological processes acting on different types of peripheral populations and indicate why these processes may be of general interest for adapting forests and forest management to climate change. We particularly focus on peripheral populations at the rear edge of species distributions where environmental challenges are or will become most acute. We argue that peripheral forest tree populations are "natural laboratories" for resolving priority research questions such as how the complex interaction between demographic processes and natural selection shape local adaptation; and whether genetic adaptation will be sufficient to allow the long-term persistence of species within their current distribution.Peripheral populations are key assets for adaptive forestry which need specific measures for their preservation. The traditionally opposing views which may exist between conservation planning and sustainable forestry need to be reconciled and harmonized for managing peripheral populations. Based on existing knowledge, we suggest approaches and principles which may be used for the management and conservation of these distinctive and valuable populations, to maintain active genetic and ecological processes that have sustained them over time.