Forests in British Columbia have been damaged by clear-cutting, drought and fire from increased aridity, and damaging insects. They are struggling to regenerate. Rapid, innovative action is needed to protect them from further loss and help them rebound. The Mother Tree Project is showing that such practices are within our reach.
The Mother Tree Project was launched in 2015 as a large, long-term field experiment by world renowned forest ecologist Dr. Suzanne Simard of the University of British Columbia. Its purpose is to identify future forestry management practices that will help our forests remain productive, diverse and resilient as the climate changes. This proposal seeks support for continuing that research.
This project builds on Simard’s extensive research showing that elder trees, or mother trees, facilitate recovery of the forests from disturbances such as fire and logging by transmitting resources and information through mycorrhizal fungal networks to germinating seedlings, helping them survive and grow. This research has transformed how global ecologists view forests - from simply a collection of competing trees to an interdependent web of organisms in a complex adaptive system.
With a focus on Douglas fir forests in British Columbia, the Project’s overarching objective is to identify harvesting and regeneration practices that best protect biodiversity, carbon storage, and forest regeneration as climate changes. Nine replicated forests (27 stands) are being examined across a 900-km climate gradient from the Canada-US border to north-central B.C.
A range of current forest ecosystem conditions are being examined across several regional climates, from dry to wet and from hot to cool, in order to predict how climate change will affect the forests over time. Field experiments are matched with laboratory and greenhouse studies carried out by graduate students to help us understand the mechanisms of resilience, with computer modeling to project carbon dynamics over the coming century.
The Project has measured post-logging effects on carbon stocks and plant diversity, and it has made an early assessment of requirements for regeneration. The results of these studies have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
To build upon this work the Mother Tree Project will plant two forest areas covering an area of 30 acres, with 25,000 seedlings custom-grown in a forest nursery and planted into field sites. A two-year research effort will examine key aspects of regeneration, biodiversity and connection, including the effects of climate, harvesting and regeneration treatments related to five processes: (1) mycorrhizal fungal community and networks, (2) plant community diversity and assembly, (3) cavity nesting bird habitat, (4) role of arbuscular mycorrhizal networks in seedling regeneration, and (5) Aboriginal wisdom about connection and reciprocity in the forest.
The Mother Tree Project will contribute much-needed scientific data to guide management of Douglas-fir forests in a warming world. Without such data to inform practices, all our forests are at risk of substantial decline in their capacity to sequester and store carbon, function as storehouses of biodiversity, and provide consumer products and clean water that we all use.