TRIA-FoR: Transformative Risk Assessment and Forest Resilience Using Genomic Tools for the Mountain Pine Beetle Outbreak

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 contributed to unprecedented range expansion of MPB. From its historic range in central British Columbia, MPB has spread through novel habitats in Alberta, establishing in a new host, the jack pine. Jack pine is a boreal forest species with a range that extends to the Atlantic Ocean, raising the spectre of continued eastward spread of MPB. Given the importance of lodgepole and jack pine to the forest industry, their central role in providing ecosystem services and their cultural importance, there is an urgent need to enhance resiliency of forests replacing MPB-killed stands, and to quantify eastward spread risk potential of MPB.

In TRIA-FoR, we will adopt a state-of-the-art multidisciplinary and integrative approach to develop genomics-informed knowledge, tools and application frameworks that mitigate risk for the present MPB epidemic and improve resiliency in future epidemics. Risk and resiliency will be investigated in the context of MPB-pine-climate interactions that affect MPB population dynamics, human dimensions in forest resource management, and impacts on diverse communities connected to forests at risk.

TRIA-FoR research encompasses three overarching goals. (1) Enhance lodgepole pine genetic resiliency to MPB. We will identify gene-based markers that predict MPB resiliency in lodgepole pine and identify traits that contribute to MPB resiliency. To understand how genetic resiliency translates into forest resiliency, we will model the impact of planting MPB-resilient lodgepole pine on outbreaking MPB populations. (2) Improve risk assessment efficacy for MPB northern and eastern spread into the boreal forest by examining MPB – pine host – climate interactions. We will test whether jack pine forests east of Alberta can support MPB populations, or whether expanding populations require immigration from the lodgepole x jack pine hybrid zone. In tandem, we will determine how overwintering temperatures and pine host characteristics in these marginal habitats affect MPB success. (3) Develop a social sciences framework of risk management planning and resilience building that can facilitate adoption of genomics-informed practices or technologies. We will investigate geographic, sociological, economic and policy aspects of risk related to the MPB epidemic, identifying factors that influence stakeholder willingness to adopt genomics-informed applications. This collaborative cross-scale research will enable a genomics-informed total risk and resilience management approach that can enhance forest health in the face of present and future MPB epidemics.