UNB News
News and stories from one of Canada’s top universities

UNB professor’s study on how Eastern Canada’s forests will adapt to climate change named one of top 10 discoveries of 2018

Author: UNB Newsroom

Posted on Mar 4, 2019

Category: UNB Fredericton

A UNB forestry professor’s research has been selected as one of 10 Discoveries of the Year 2018 by Québec Science magazine. Dr. Loïc D’Orangeville and his team studied the effects climate change will have on Eastern Canada’s boreal forest.

In recent decades, field technicians from the Québec government have compiled an impressive tree ring collection by sampling tree species across 400,000 plots of provincial woodland.

“You can really track the climate with the growth of a tree,” says Dr. D’Orangeville. “By measuring the rings, we were able to determine how much the tree grew any given year and relate that growth to climate conditions for that year.”

Tree growth depends on a number of factors like temperature, precipitation, soil type, age, size of the tree and crowding – the number of trees surrounding a tree. Using this information, the team was able to measure how each species reacted to a wide climate gradient. Six species of tree were modelled, including black spruce, white spruce, balsam fir, jack pine, white birch and aspen.

“All climate models don’t exactly agree on changes to come. Once the tree ring data was collected, we tested the range of projected climate scenarios,” says Dr. D’Orangeville. “We increased the temperature between 1 to 4 degrees Celsius, and increased and decreased precipitation.”

Dr. D’Orangeville found each species’ response varied greatly depending on region. In the warmer part of the boreal forest there was a decline in growth for most species, as they are already at the southern range of their limit. But response in northern range had massive increases in growth, because those trees are typically constrained by low temperatures.

“What we saw across the boreal is that if you increase the temperature by two degrees there is an overall positive effect. While the southern edge showed a decline in growth with this increase in temperature, it evened out because of the wood growth in the north.”

An increase of three to four degrees in temperature, however, had negative results: the northern increase in growth was not enough to make up for the southern decrease.

With one of the most comprehensive forest datasets in the world, Dr. D’Orangeville felt compelled to perform the study.

“The US doesn’t even have access to such comprehensive datasets. This is not something you come across often.”

Climate change is a reality that Dr. D’Orangeville believes many people, including in the forestry sector, do not pay enough attention to.

“It takes a tree 50 to 60 years to grow. In that time, our climate is going to be completely different from what it is today.

“The people I work with feel an urgency to gain an understanding of what is going to happen, and how we can prepare for those changes now. We now have access to some of the best type of data to prepare, and these results give a first glimpse of what happens under a business-as-usual scenario. It’s going to help a lot of people decide what type of species to favor – the potential ‘winners’ – as some may not do well in the future.”

Media contact: Hilary Creamer Robinson

Photo credit: UNB