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sector_ico_Forestry_trans Forestry

Rapid phenotyping to improve forest resilience to climatic extremes

  • Project Leaders: Nicholas Coops, Miriam Isaac-Renton
  • Institutions: University of British Columbia (UBC)
  • Budget: $574595
  • Program/Competition: GeneSolve
  • Genome Centre(s): Genome British Columbia
  • Fiscal Year: 2021
  • Status: Active

Increasingly severe heat drought events are causing significant forest health issues and mortality in BC and worldwide, even in historically mild ecosystems. As growing seasons become longer, trees are also starting their growing seasons too early or ending them too late, increasing exposure to frost. These frosts, as well as droughts, cause significant damage and economic impacts through plantation reforestation failures and lost timber value. Adapting our forests to climate change will mean planting more resilient trees, but we are currently limited in our ability to assess enough trees in field studies to find the resilient ones.

This project uses advanced remote sensing technologies to rapidly assess the responses of trees to climatic extremes. This will enable us to screen reforestation programs for trees that can cope with climate warming, droughts, and frost risk. By capturing such data more quickly, it will increase our ability in the future to link tree responses with their genomic profiles to help the forest sector respond to climate change even more swiftly.

This project works with Douglas fir and western redcedar, two iconic cooccurring conifers with contrasting physiological behaviours ecological roles in BC’s temperate rainforest ecosystems, using tree populations that have already been genotyped. However, these tools can be easily applied in the future to other tree species. Since 250-300 million seedlings are planted every year in BC alone, the opportunity to scale up these technologies would substantially benefit major tree planting initiatives. Planting climate resilient trees now will maintain long term forest productivity and health under rapidly changing climates and these new technologies will allow reforestation scientists to quickly address new forest health concerns as they emerge. These technologies are key to ensuring that British Columbia’s forests continue to provide critical ecological, carbon cycling and economic functions, while also supporting social and cultural values.