The forest industry generated $28 billion in exports and added $19.8 billion to the GDP in 2013. In Alberta alone, 50 communities are dependent on the forest industry for 13,000 direct jobs. Climate change and the associated insect outbreaks and drought are happening at such a pace that trees are not able to adapt. Likewise, traditional tree improvement methodologies are also too slow to provide adapted seedlings for reforestation needs. The confluence of these two factors is threatening both our forests and the communities that depend on the forest industry.
Drs Thomas, Erbilgin and El-Kassaby are leading a diverse team of academics, industry and government personnel that will integrate genomics, metabolic profiling and mathematical modeling into existing tree breeding programs to generate pest- and drought-resistant trees with improved wood quality. Application of their work will shorten the time it takes for a complete tree-breeding cycle from ~30 to ~10 years. Tree breeders will be able to rapidly select a broader range of important tree traits to improve wood quality and develop trees resilient to drought and resistant to emerging threats from climate change and associated pest outbreaks.
As a result of this project, the forest industry will benefit from an improved tree-breeding process that will make it more competitive and sustainable, providing the basis for increased exports. Communities will benefit from increased employment in the forest industry and associated local services. Governments will benefit from having the science-based foundation to make policy decisions protecting and improving forests in the future – a benefit for all Canadians.
The GE3LS research component of the project will include the following:
- an international comparative case study assessment of tree breeding strategies in climate change adaptation planning;
- an evaluation of secondary data sources and government documents with expert interviews;
- random sample attitude-behaviour surveys, and contextual discourse analysis of organization communications, and personal interviews among stakeholder groups; and
- an economic analysis to understand the value of a shorter rotation time to select, test and deploy well adapted genetic material in reforestation.