It’s standard procedure – use seeds from local tree populations to re-grow forests. Unfortunately, it’s a procedure that doesn’t work well in a climate-change future, as these local trees will be poorly adapted to a changing environment that includes not just warmer temperatures but also new diseases and new pests. 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 among them.
Foresters have three options for dealing with this problem: collect seeds of the same species of trees that are better adapted to warmer climates; sow seeds further north or at higher elevations; or select and breed trees that can withstand climatic stresses or disease. All of these strategies can be successful, but only if they result in trees better able to withstand a changing climate and the stresses that accompany it.
Dr. Sally Aitken of the University of British Columbia and her colleagues will use genomic tools to develop these three options, by testing the ability of trees from different populations to resist heat, cold, drought and disease. The goal of the project is to develop better reforestation options for high-value tree species such as Douglas fir and lodgepole pine, as well as western larch and jack pine. Her team’s work will provide policy and reforestation recommendations to support tree breeders and foresters in selecting and planting trees that will be healthy in new climates in western Canada. The team’s work may result in up to 30% greater timber yields, with a proportional impact on the economy and employment, as well as sustain the ecological and environmental benefits of our forests.