Traditional methods for reforestation use seeds from local tree populations. With the climate quickly changing, these local trees will be poorly adapted to new environments that not only have warmer temperatures, but also more disease pressures. And climate change isn’t just bad for trees. It’s also bad for the economic and environmental benefits they provide to Canada — benefits like wood, jobs, habitat protection and carbon sequestration.
Foresters have three options for dealing with this problem:
- reforest with the same species, but with trees that are better adapted to warmer climates;
- move species further north or to higher elevations; or
- select and breed trees that can better withstand climatic stresses or disease.
All of these strategies can be successful, but only if we have scientific knowledge about which trees can better withstand a changing climate and the stresses that accompany it.
Dr. Sally Aitken of the University of British Columbia (UBC) is leading a team, including Sam Yeaman of the University of Calgary, and Richard Hamelin of UBC and Université Laval, that will use genomics to test the ability of trees from different populations to resist heat, cold, drought and disease, and identify the genes and genetic variation involved in climate adaptation. The ultimate goal of the project, valued at $5.8 million, is to develop better reforestation strategies for economically important tree species such as Douglas-fir and lodgepole pine, as well as western larch and jack pine.
“Better matching trees with new climates will improve the health and productivity of planted forests. To understand the adaptation of trees to both climate and diseases, we will use genomic tools along with climate modeling and seedling experiments,” says Dr. Aitken, a Professor in the Faculty of Forestry. “Our previous research has shown these approaches will give us these answers in a few years rather than in a few decades. The success of this research is dependent on our close collaboration with provincial tree breeders and forest managers.”
“Our ministry is pleased to be a major partner in the CoAdapTree research project, in collaboration with Dr. Aitken’s team at UBC,” said Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thomson. “Together, we are developing important tools to implement climate-based seed transfer. The B.C. government is committed to using the results of this research to improve forest management practices that will benefit all British Columbians.”
The project, CoAdapTree: Healthy trees for future climates, will provide recommendations for climate-based seed transfer policy to guide foresters in planting trees that will be healthy in new climates in western Canada. Climate-based seed transfer can result in up to 30% greater timber yields, with a proportional impact on the economy and employment, and will also sustain ecological and environmental benefits of forests.
“The forestry industry contributed more than $20 billion to Canada’s GDP in 2014, and directly and indirectly employed 288,000 people,” says Dr. Catalina Lopez-Correa, Chief Scientific Officer and Vice President, Sector Development at Genome BC. “We have been investing in forest research since 2001 and have funded an earlier phase of Dr. Aitken’s genomics and climate-change research because this industry is critical to BC’s economy and this work will make a major difference to future forest outcomes.”
The project was awarded through Genome Canada’s 2015 Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition Natural Resources and the Environment: Sector Challenges — Genomic Solutions. Funders of this work include Genome Canada, Genome BC, Genome Alberta, Genome Quebec, BC Ministry of Forests Lands and Natural Resource Operations, the Forest Genetics Council of BC, and Natural Resources Canada. It is also funded by forest companies including West Fraser, CanFor, and the Sinclair Group, partners in the Vernon Seed Orchard Company, as well as Western Forest Products Inc., and TimberWest Forest Corp.
In related news, Genome BC is working to restore stream health via a new partnership. The City of Vernon is partnering with Genome BC and the University of Victoria on an innovative research project to identify threats to stream health in the community.
Urban streams are of significant community value and the water has a range of uses from recreational to agricultural. Vernon is interested in improving the quality of water in its local streams and the local beaches around Okanagan Lake. The project team will use genetic identification of feces (E. coli) and its source (human, dog, livestock, waterfowl, or other sources) to determine some of the threats to the health of Vernon’s streams. The results of this study will help the city to better plan land use, storm water management, and ultimately develop and prioritize its water quality efforts and investment.
About Genome British Columbia:
Genome British Columbia leads genomics innovation on Canada’s West Coast and facilitates the integration of genomics into society. A recognized catalyst for government and industry, Genome BC invests in research, entrepreneurship and commercialization in life sciences to address challenges in key sectors such as health, forestry, fisheries, aquaculture, agri-food, energy, mining and environment. Genome BC partners with many national and international public and private funding organizations to drive BC’s bioeconomy. In addition to research, entrepreneurship and commercialization programs, Genome BC is committed to fostering an understanding and appreciation of the life sciences among teachers, students and the general public.
Photo of Cathedral Grove, Vancouver Island, BC by Storm Cunningham