Why is the RES-FOR project important:

Canada’s forest industry generated $28B in exports, and contributed $19.8B to the gross domestic product in 2013.  Fifty communities alone in Alberta are dependent on forestry with 13,000 direct jobs. Key commercial tree species such as spruce and pine account for 48% and 12% of natural forests respectively.  Across Canada, commercial forestry is reliant on productive and sustainable forest ecosystems. However, sustainability of a healthy forest requires trees with resistance to biotic (eg: insects), and resilience to abiotic (eg: drought) stress factors to provide a foundation for the forest industry and dependent communities. Climate change is threatening Canada’s 348M hectares of forests (24% globally), which occur at higher latitudes and are therefore expected to sustain a more rapid change in projected climate compared to the world average. A 2014 Price Waterhouse Cooper Global CEO Survey showed 65% of respondents (1,344 forestry leaders) ‘felt resource scarcity and climate change will transform their business in the next 5-years’.

Alberta is particularly vulnerable to climate change, facing unprecedented moisture deficits and also subject to frequent climatic extremes. The pace of such change is outstripping the adaptive capacity of trees to evolve through natural selection. Likewise, traditional tree improvement is the ultimate long-game, with testing, breeding, and production cycles often taking upwards of 30 years. Therefore, we must use emerging technologies such as genomics and metabolomics to accelerate our ability to provide well-adapted genetic material for reforestation and ensure sustainability of our forests. Use of genomics is particularly relevant and timely in light of the rapid emergence of genomics technologies that are transforming breeding programs across every discipline reliant on measures of parental performance to enhance productivity. Our team, including academics, industry and government breeders, is well placed to integrate tree phenotyping (‘phenomics’) and genotyping (‘genomics’) capabilities, enabling early identification (eg: reducing selection times by ~20 years) and incorporation of more desirable and adaptive traits, into future forest breeding stock.  Our work will focus on three high impact areas: 1) Drought resilience, water use efficiency, photosynthetic capacity, and growth; 2) Pest resistance to mountain pine beetle and spruce budworm; and 3) Wood quality characterized by density, and microfibril angle.  To provide solid evidence for precautionary government policy-making in an unpredictable climate and market-driven industry, our GE3LS research will review perceived risks, adaptive capacity and communication barriers between and within sectors (academics, industry and government). An economic analysis will be done on biotic, abiotic and wood quality traits to show benefits to the forest sector with access to resilient stock through genomics-enhanced tree selection. The results will be used to support policy for genomics-enhanced reforestation.

RES-FOR Deliverables:

Through seven interrelated Research Activities (1-7) and one Translation Plan Activity (8), the RES-FOR project is aimed at producing six major deliverables: 1) Novel ‘omics’-based tree breeding technologies; 2) Genomics-based heritability and breeding values for key economic traits; 3) Improved knowledge sharing and decision-making processes; 4) Quantitative economic impact models for tree improvement programs; 5) An interactive tree genomics & phenomics resource website; and through Activity 8; 6) End-user oriented technology and policy workshops.

This project will provide new mathematical models, combined with new ways of identifying naturally resilient trees and ultimately, allow us to shorten the time it takes to complete a typical tree breeding cycle of ~30-years to less than ~10-years. These new tools will enable the selection of a broader range of important tree traits to improve wood quality, and develop better adapted tree stock to deal with emerging threats from climate change and pest outbreaks. The results of this work will enhance the climate adaptive capacity of Canadian forests through technology uptake and optimization of selection for resilient trees. In total, the deliverables will result in broader economic benefits to Canadians. The forest industry is expected to benefit from a technology improved tree breeding process by being more competitive and sustainable and thereby increase export markets. Urban communities will benefit from a growing forest industry by increasing employment rates and associated local services. Governments will have the science-based foundation to make policy decisions ensuring forests in the future.

RES-FOR Team Members

We have assembled a world-class team of researchers, collaborators, and front-line end-users to undertake a large scale applied genomics and metabolomics-enhanced program with eight inter-connected Activities.  Learn more about this awesome research team.