UNBC to continue key role in research network investigating pine beetle’s spread

January 9, 2014

An inter-university and inter-organizational research network dedicated to studying the spread of the mountain pine beetle has received funding for an additional five years to build on the network’s research to date, and to investigate the insect’s spread into new areas such as the boreal forests of Alberta, it was announced today.

UNBC to continue key role in research network investigating pine beetle’s spread
Media Download: Drs. Dezene Huber (left) and Brent Murray.

The University of Northern British Columbia is among five Canadian universities participating in the newly funded NSERC Strategic Network grant known as TRIA-Net that will receive $4.4 million in funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and Network partners. UNBC Ecosystem Science and Management Professors Dezene Huber and Brent Murray have been involved for the past five years with the TRIA project and will continue their research with the NSERC funded TRIA-Net.

“So far, the TRIA project has been able to sequence the genomes of the beetle, the tree, and the fungus that allows the insect to break down the tree’s defenses. We have discovered many new aspects about the physiology of the organisms in the system,” says Dr. Huber, who is also a Canada Research Chair in Forest Entomology and Chemical Ecology. “With TRIA-Net, we intend to look at how differences in a host tree’s defences affect pine beetle larvae survival over the deep cold of winter.”

The current mountain pine beetle epidemic has affected more than 15 million hectares in Western Canada. Researchers are predicting that it will spread northward beyond the 60th parallel, as well as further eastward into Alberta.

“We will be investigating how the insect might spread into new regions, like the jack pine forests of Alberta and beyond. We’ll also study genomic variation across the entire Western North American distribution of the pine beetle to uncover differences in adaptation among populations, and explore how they interact with the various host trees and their environments,” says Dr. Murray. “This new funding will also allow us to train many new researchers at the graduate and postdoctoral levels, who will then be well-positioned to help advance Canada's forest industry,"

The stated goals of the NSERC TRIA-Net are to fill knowledge gaps of the pine beetle-pine tree-fungus system, that limit the ability to monitor, assess, and predict pine beetle risk to Canada's forests, and to use the knowledge to inform environmental and socioeconomic risk model development, and provide data and advice to industry, governments, and communities in time for them to take meaningful action.

“UNBC’s involvement is integral to the NSERC TRIA-Net, particularly in providing answers to how beetles contend with winter and other stressors that they encounter during their life cycle,” says NSERC TRIA-Net Director Janice Cooke of the University of Alberta. “The ecosystems and communities in BC’s Central Interior have felt the impacts of the epidemic. Having grown up in Prince George, I have witnessed this with dismay. The research that will be conducted at UNBC will be important not only in combatting the current spread of mountain pine beetle into new regions, but also in addressing the next outbreak that arises in BC’s Central Interior.”

In addition to UNBC, the NSERC TRIA-Net includes researchers from universities and institutions from across Canada, including UBC, the University of Alberta, the Université de Montréal, and Université Laval, Natural Resources Canada, and forest industry leaders such as Weyerhaeuser and West Fraser.

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