By Dan Rubinstein
Photos by Chris Roussakis
A small insect is causing big problems in Canada’s western forests.
The mountain pine beetle (MPB) is about the size of a grain of rice and it’s common to find more than 100 of them on a mass-attacked tree. Foresters first noted the beetle’s devastating impact on British Columbia’s lodgepole pine forests in the 1990s. A series of warm winters fuelled the outbreak, and the MPB soon spread east into Alberta, where it began to attack other species, including the jack pine, which is prevalent throughout the boreal forest that stretches all the way to the Atlantic.
Since then, the MPB has affected roughly 20 million hectares of trees—half of the total volume of commercial lodgepole pine in B.C.
Understanding why some populations of lodgepole pine have a genetic resilience to the pest and mitigating the risks faced by jack pine are the main goals of a new project co-led by Carleton Biology Prof. Catherine Cullingham. She recently received $6.4 million for research that will better inform policy makers and forest managers in government and industry—an interdisciplinary collaboration between pure science and social sciences with a team of Carleton colleagues: Vivian Nguyen, Stephan Schott and Heath MacMillan.