The recent mountain pine beetle (MPB) outbreak in British Columbia, which is now spreading into Alberta, has caused significant damage to the Canadian forest industry. The current infestation has affected more than 14 million hectares of pine forests, an area equivalent to over 30 million football fields, and is the largest such epidemic in recorded history. The raw material from conifer forests are Canada’s largest renewable source of lignocellulose (the woody part of the plant). By harvesting this material from forests affected by MPB to produce biofuels, the impact of the epidemic on the economy and environment can be decreased.
Understanding the biology of MPB to anticipate and to control future outbreaks is important to Canadian forest economics, particularly related to energy production. Although massive amounts of dead timber from the MPB epidemic have created an unexpected surplus of potential fuel source, this abundance will not necessarily provide a sustainable energy supply in the future. Before strategic investments are made in the forest industry, current methods of predicting feedstock need to be improved.
The mountain pine beetle infestation has three interacting components: (1) the host trees, lodgepole pine and jack pine, (2) the beetle itself and (3) multiple tree-killing fungal species that are associated with the beetle. This trinity gives the project its name Tria, which means “three” in Greek and Latin.
This project will focus on the genes of these organisms to study how they interact with each other and map that relationship in relation to geographic location, time, environment and climate. From this information, the research team will create computer models that could forecast the likelihood of a MPB outbreak in any location at a particular time. Finally, the team will analyze the economics of forest use for energy production given the variable nature of MPB outbreaks.
A unique aspect of this project is the ability to combine all the genetic and genomic data with geographic and economic information to provide a detailed picture of the threat of a mountain pine beetle outbreak. By generating new genomics-based information and tools for improved prediction of renewable energy feedstock supply from conifer forests, this project will maximize the economic potential of the bioenergy industry in Canada.
Jörg Bohlmann (University of British Columbia)
Janice Cooke (University of Alberta)
For more information on the project, please visit the following websites: