Project Overview

Announcing The TRIA-FoR Project: 

Transformative Risk Assessment and Forest Resilience Using Genomic Tools for the Mountain Pine Beetle Outbreak

Additional information on this project is also available on the Genome Canada website. Please feel free to contact us with any questions.

The current mountain pine beetle (MPB) epidemic has killed approximately 20 million hectares of mainly lodgepole pine forests in British Columbia and Alberta. Climate change and forest management practices have allowed MPB to spread from its original occurrence in central British Columbia, through new regions in Alberta, establishing in a new host, the jack pine. Jack pine is a boreal forest species that extends to the Atlantic Ocean, raising the potential of continued eastward spread of MPB across Canada.

Lodgepole and jack pine are highly important to the Canadian forest-related economy, are major components of recreational areas and associated tourism, and are of key cultural importance to indigenous and other communities. To meet this challenge, we are working to understand the risk of further MPB spread, what to do about this risk, and how to help vulnerable areas resist MPB.

TRIA-FoR will use state-of-the-art biology, math, and social sciences to help reduce the impact and risk for the current MPB epidemic, and to help predict and deal with future epidemics. We will study MPB-pine-climate interactions that affect MPB population changes, the decision-making processes in forest resource management, and the impacts on diverse communities and groups connected to forests at risk.

We have three major goals to be addressed during this study:

Goal 1: Enhance lodgepole pine genetic resiliency to MPB.

We will identify genes and genetic markers, as well as the tree characteristics they control, that predict lodgepole pine resistance to MPB. To understand how these genes and markers contribute to overall forest resiliency to MPB, mathematical modelling will help predict the impact that planting MPB-resilient lodgepole pine will have on populations of MPB during outbreak conditions.

Goal 2: Improve risk assessment efficacy for northern and eastern spread into the Boreal forest.

We will determine if the pure jack pine forests of Eastern Alberta will support MPB populations, or if expanding MPB populations require the areas of mixed lodgepole-jack pine to enable their further spread. At the same time, the environmental and host tree conditions the beetles are exposed to during their winter dormancy period will be studied to determine if these conditions affect the ability of, and the amount by which, MPB can spread the following summer.

Goal 3: Develop a social sciences framework of risk management planning and resilience building that can facilitate adoption of genomics-informed practices or technologies.
Improve forest management by providing a framework for managing and communicating about forest risks

As MPB spreads into new regions, the region’s local jurisdictions, stakeholders and communities need to respond. We will study how these groups communicate and exchange knowledge about risk and compare preferences for different policy and management approaches, including the potential use of genomic selection for MPB resilience in lodgepole pines. Our work compares across areas that have experienced outbreaks in the past (British Columbia), areas that are currently experiencing outbreaks (Alberta), and areas that could potentially experience outbreaks (Saskatchewan). This integration of biological and social sciences will help these various groups as they plan for forest management, as well as manage risks associated with current and future MPB outbreaks.

The complementary and interdisciplinary expertise of the research team and active involvement of partner organizations on the front lines of MPB risk management and resiliency building in Canada ensure a high likelihood of deliverable adoption. Beyond MPB, this research will provide novel outcomes applicable to other forest and agricultural pest species in Canada and around the world.