Current Research Projects (updated January 2018)

Assessing climate change impacts on timber resource availability in western-central Canada: Economic implications and mitigation (2018 – 2020).

This project is funded by an NSERC strategic partnerships grant. Our objectives are to (i) examine how western-central boreal forests in Canada have been and will be affected by global climate change; (ii) explore strategies to mitigate climate change stresses; and
(iii) develop models to assess the consequences of climate change on future wood supply and economic metrics.  my component of this project will addresses the second objective: mitigation, with a focus on assisted migration. Specifically, can assisted migration be effective and will it be necessary to reduce the potential mismatch between current forests and future climate?

Assisted Migration of forest trees as an adaptation to climate change.

In the absence of international and domestic agreements to limit greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions,  average global temperatures are likely to rise by 1.5 – 4.5 degrees over preindustrial levels over the next Century.  In our northern latitudes this warming will be much greater, and in the prairie provinces and Alaska, considerable warming has already occurred.

Forest managers are already beginning to plan adaptive management strategies to foster “climate-resilient” forests for the future. There remain, however, very large regions of uncertainty regarding the magnitude of future temperature changes and accompanying shifts in precipitation and seasonality.

A wide range of climate futures are therefore possible.  But we are fairly sure that most of these possible futures will bring more extreme weather events, including longer droughts and more intense storms.  The statistical signal of these events may already be emerging from the background noise of weather statistics.

Under these circumstances, no single forest management strategy is likely to be successful. Foresters should therefore experiment actively and widely with innovative silviculture to hedge their bets against future uncertainty.

Assisted Migration (AM) of tree species and varieties of species from currently warmer climates to regions that are anticipated to be warmer in the future represents one such strategy.Under the general umbrella of AM, I am working on a number of projects:

  1. How do community diversity and species traits vary with latitude in a latitudinal and longitudinal transect through eastern and northeastern North America? What relationships exist between these characteristics of forest stands and climatic variables, such as growing degree days, chilling days, winter temperature minima, and growing season precipitation. And can we derive recommendations for the composition of multi-species forest stands in the context of Canadian forest management? The primary goal of this study will be to characterize tree communities in which complementary functional traits lead to robust, healthy and consistently productive forest stands, given the regional and local climates of which they are a part.
  2. Continue measurements on the conifer selection trial initiated in eastern manitoba during 2015. This trial features geographically distinct varieties of four North American conifers.  In addition to growth and survival, we have been measuring chlorophyll fluorescence throughout the growing season and fall hardening, seasonal phenology, and tree health.
  3. Establish an evaluation framework to assist forest managers in choosing candidate species for AM activities. This framework, which has already arrived at its first iteration under graduate student Carolyn Talbot incorporates ecophysiological constraints, climatic distance across which MR occurs, and socioeconomic considerations.

Work on AM has implications for commercial forest management, the selection of trees for urban forests and parks, and both the practice and philosophy of ecological restoration. All of these areas of endeavour will be touched by ongoing climate change, and will have to adapt their practices accordingly. The ongoing research in my lab will provide tools to enable managers to maximize the chances that such adaptive efforts will meet with success.

Environmental Sustainability and Economic Growth

Last but not least is my interest in what is, arguably, a global crisis bigger than climate change.  Many people, both economists and non-economists have asked whether continued economic growth is compatible with environmental protection and sustainability. The recent (some would say) ongoing economic crisis has added fresh voices to this growing list of commentators.  Some have dared to ask “is Capitalism finished?”.

Although there is nothing new about experts questioning the basis of economic growth, two circumstances may put a definitive answer to this question within reach.  First, evidence is mounting that our impacts on the natural world are growing, and as those impacts grow, we may be moving recognizably closer to key thresholds of sustainability for many resources.  Second, publicly available data sets on all many key environmental and economic variables are more available than ever before.  These data sets can be used to address explicit hypotheses about whether growth (or at least our current version of it) is sustainable.

This project steps away from traditional academic research, in that it will be a work that is (hopefully) accessible to educated laypeople.  My overall goal is to answer the question “What do concerned citizens need to know about the environmental challenges of the 21st Century?”.  This is a project that I have been thinking about for quite a few years.  It is also likely to be a few years more before it is ready for final publication.

Investigating carbon storage, climatic sensitivities, and biological diversity in plantations and natural stands of jack pine and red pine. This project is now closed.

Several commercially important tree species approach their geographical range limits in Manitoba.  Among these are the jack pine (Pinus banksiana Lamb.), which approaches its southern range limit, and red pine (Pinus resinosa Ait.), for which the prairie-forest ecotone represents the northwestern limit of its continuous range.  Thousands of hectares of red pine, have been planted on former jack pine sites since the late 1940’s, especially in the southeastern section of the province due to the increased commercial value of red pine over jack pine.


The goal of this project was to gain insights into the effects of changes in forest cover and forest management on selected aspects of forest growth and resilience to climate change in the SPF.  We approached this work from an interdisciplinary perspective, with three major objectives:  1) quantify ecosystem carbon storage in these contrasting stand types, controlling for the effects of management history, 2) use dendrochronology to compare the responses of red pine and jack pine to climatic anomalies, and 3) use surveys of terrestrial vegetation and lepidoptera to develop comparative indicators of relative biological diversity in jack pine and red pine forests. By integrating the results of these three objectives, we will be able to describe the effects of current silvicultural practices on important elements of the regional biota, and make initial projections of potential stand responses to climate change.

Red pine plantation, Sandilands, 2010 field studies. Photo © Brian Desautels.