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Healthy future forests

Healthy future forests

University of British Columbia researchers and British Columbia’s government are joining forces to protect and enhance one of the province’s most iconic symbols and valuable resources.

The life of the majestic western redcedar and the history of British Columbia have been intertwined for as long as humans have walked, fished and forested the West Coast. Known as arborvitae – the tree of life – the redcedar is both British Columbia’s official tree and a $1-billion annual industry. (Scientists spell “redcedar” as one word to indicate a false classification; the redcedar is actually a member of the cypress family.)

Industry will face a challenge as they transition from old growth forests, with trees more than 250 years old, to younger second-growth forests that have sprung up following human-caused events like logging or natural disturbances such as wildfire. Because of their size and age, second growth forests are less productive than old growth forests, generating less wood with lower durability.

In addition, the health of redcedar forests can be negatively impacted by shifts in the quantity and types of pests influenced by climate change.

"This research will produce multiple savings to industry, including decreased forest management costs, increased profit from the harvesting of sound wood from healthy forests 30 years earlier than with traditional methods and increased profits from seed sales to other companies."

- Dr. John H. Russell, research scientist, forest genetics, tree improvement branch, British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations

Modelling has shown that with warmer temperatures, current pest populations will increase in certain habitats, causing significant mortality and loss of growth and usable wood.

Traditional breeding strategies for western redcedar can take decades to produce the desired traits of wood durability inherent in old growth trees. Dr. Joerg Bohlmann of the University of British Columbia is working with Dr. John H. Russell of British Columbia’s Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations to apply genomic selection to reduce that time by up to 30 years. Genomic selection will accelerate the development of tree populations that are resistant to multiple pests and reduce the need for time-consuming and costly phenotyping (this involves observing the characteristics of an organism resulting from the interaction of its genes with the environment). Because key industry producers and users of these trees are actively participating in the project, technology transfer and commercialization will be seamless.

The Genome Canada-funded project, entitled Cedar Enhanced Durability and Resistance (CEDaR): Sustainability of Canada’s western redcedar forestry sector, will produce a new generation of western redcedar that has the high-value attributes of old growth trees, is more resistant to pathogens and wildlife that feed on a tree’s leaves, shoots and fruit, and is better adapted to future climates.

The $2.2-million western redcedar durability project is funded through Genome Canada’s Genomic Applications Partnership Program (GAPP) in collaboration with Genome British Columbia and others. GAPP partners academic researchers with the private and public sectors to promote genomics-derived solutions that address real-world challenges or opportunities. The projects are expected to have considerable economic and social impacts in the near term, spurring innovation, commercialization and growth in Canada.

August 2017