Connected forests to prepare for climate change

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Des connected forests to prepare for climate change

Drought, fires, insect epidemics, late frosts… Climate change is high a series of threats to the logging industry. From now on, a tree planted today will face a very different environment 50 or 100 years from now. To counter the blow, researchers are imagining the forest of tomorrow.

Biologist Annie Deslauriers in her open-air laboratory located in Monts-Valin

Biologist Annie Deslauriers shows us how to measure the voltage of a tree using a small piece of branch inserted into a pressure chamber. Like humans, plants have vessels, but they carry sap. It is one of many tools available to the biologist to assess plant health and growth.

We are in the heart of the forest of the Parc des Monts-Valin. It is here that his team from the University of Quebec at Chicoutimi conducts research on tree physiology in the boreal zone.

A few meters more far away, she reveals pins stuck in the bark of a tree. These devices are connected by wires to a box which allows the measurements to be collected in a database.

The average annual temperature is projected to be 3°C to 6°C higher by the end of the century in southern Quebec.

Global warming should, among other things, lead to an increase in drought periods, which is why researchers are focusing on the reactions of trees to temperature variations.

These electrodes measure the amount of water circulating in the trunk.

The experiments conducted by Annie Deslauriers make it possible to measure loss of tree water reserves. There is a certain limit, a point of no return, she says. If the drought continues, there may be voltage drops, the water will no longer reach the leaves and there will be mortality.

Among the conifers of the boreal forest, she has already found that the fir is the species most sensitive to drought. White spruce proves tougher, but the golden palm of adaptation goes to black spruce which, in general, resists well to lack of water.

“We make models that are based on physiology and allow us to make predictions to help managers make the right decisions for managing our forests. »

— Annie Deslauriers, professor at the University of Quebec at Chicoutimi

Annie Deslauriers shows conifers losing their needles. No mystery as to the identity of the person responsible for this devastation: it is the spruce budworm, an insect pest that invaded Quebec in 2006. According to various predictions, she specifies, epidemics of 'insects will be longer and more frequent in the future.

For 10 years, his team has been closely monitoring the foliation of trees in the area, that is, the growth and development of leaves and needles.

His research has shown that with rising temperatures, buds open earlier and earlier. For the period from 2030 to 2070, the biologist anticipates that needle growth will begin five to six days earlier, on average. For the period 2070-2100, it will be 13 or 14 days earlier.

These discoveries will make it possible to fight against insects that love buds when they are tender. Our models help organizations like SOPFIM to better synchronize their watering of B.T. p>

A better understanding of the annual cycles of plants also makes it possible to prevent the risks linked to the multiplication of late frosts in certain sectors. New growing leaves are waterlogged. When the water freezes, the cell can explode and new growth is lost.

Annie Deslauriers takes tree tension with a pressure chamber.

The consequences can be dramatic for a tree that is repeatedly interrupted in its growth by frost, which is why researchers like Sergio Rossi are trying to identify more resilient varieties.

He is also a professor at the University of Quebec in Chicoutimi. This specialist in forest ecology conducts his experiments in the Simoncouche Teaching and Research Forest.

His playground is a plantation of black spruce, made up of 500 specimens that come from five sites located at different latitudes in the closed boreal forest of Quebec.

All trees are equipped with a smart card. This is why Sergio Rossi walks around with a reader that will help him compile the information in a database.

His research has notably highlighted northern spruce populations which, in the spring, reactivate a week to 10 days later than populations established further south.

Sergio Rossi draws conclusions for the future: sites that have recurrent late frosts could host trees that reactivate later. Otherwise, earlier trees will be planted.

Sergio Rossi in the Simoncouche Teaching and Research Forest

These findings are of course of interest to the forestry industry, whose yield from plantations could, in some cases, be threatened because of climate change.

We are working closely with the forest industry and the Ministry of Forests to identify the best strategies to adapt forest management in this changing context, explains the researcher.

With global warming, the scientific community logically expects a migration of several species to the north. At the pace of nature, this process can take hundreds of years with loss and crash.

A time of adaptation which turns out to be too slow and which does not correspond to the needs of the industry. The trees are harvested at maturity, that is to say around 80 years old on average.

Across Quebec, a handful of multidisciplinary teams are working to plan what is called assisted migration, explains Émilie Champagne, biologist at the Direction de la forestry research at the Ministry of Forestry.

According to her, this is the most innovative method at present and potentially the most effective, but to implement it, there is still a lack of reliable scientific data.

“Assisted migration is the planting of populations or species of trees to locations where future climatic conditions would be suitable. »

— Émilie Champagne, biologist

Émilie Champagne studies herbivore browsing of eight tree species

His team is currently studying the migration potential of eight iconic tree species in the Portneuf Wildlife Reserve.

The ministry intends to increase research on this subject. We also meet Émilie Champagne at the forest of Simoncouche, where she is passing through to do some scouting. She is looking for a field to carry out her experiments, in particular on the influence of fauna, her favorite field.

White-tailed deer and moose can lead to planting failures and regeneration failures. However, everything indicates that deer populations will benefit from milder winters.

As part of assisted migration, his studies consist of selecting trees that are less popular with herbivores. Here again, the spruce does well, unlike the black cherry, for example.

The Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs led last year a public consultation to establish its Strategy for adapting forest management and development to climate change.

According to our sources, the document is ready, but the Legault government did not wish to make it public before the elections.

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