Ethical, Environmental, Economic, Legal and Social Issues Related to Genomics Research (GE3LS)

Although dead timber from the MPB epidemic has created an unexpected surplus of potential bioenergy feedstock, the supply is not necessarily sustainable over the long-term. For strategic investments to be made in the sector, current feedstock prediction tools need to be significantly enhanced.


Ecological Risk Modeling

Susceptibility; Peace River region, BC

Over the past forty years, modeling approaches for predicting outbreaks of MPB have captured various aspects of insect behaviour, from the individual to the population level.  Historical approaches have included both deterministic and analytical process models, simulations at the landscape level, and stochastic modeling at stand and landscape levels.  Opportunity now exists in ecological risk modeling to additionally incorporate genomics information from the insect, associated microorganisms, or tree components of the MPB epidemic. Genomic studies provide information on the ecological processes that mediate the dynamics of the MPB epidemic, and can be incorporated into spatially-explicit models to enhance their operational value. By improving model parameters and structure, and characterizing population-level variation, we will create a platform to better estimate MPB spread. This, in turn, allows more accurate prediction of pine feedstock supplies for various possible industrial uses, including bioenergy production.


Deterioration of Mountain Pine Beetle Killed Pine

In the case of a natural disturbance such as the MPB epidemic, once all or part of the infested forest dies, the trees begin to deteriorate. It is important to determine how the physical properties of the different pine trees (lodgepole pine, jack pine, and their hybrids) change as they deteriorate in order to understand how long the feedstock remains viable for use by various industries. Combining estimates of tree deterioration rates with estimates of MPB spread, resulting feedstock supply forecasts can be used to more accurately inform investment decision-making in sectors such as the emerging bioenergy industry.


Economic Determination of Forest Feedstock Supply

Currently, forests are managed overall to provide a sustained flow of timber for principal use in the existing forest products industry. However, new bioenergy conversion technologies are increasing interest in alternate forest feedstock allocation, although no tools yet exist to connect any effects of insect epidemics with the uncertainties in feedstock supply and pricing that would impact the economic viability of such an emerging industry.

Using improved estimates for MPB spread, combined with estimates for MPB-killed forest deterioration, economic variables (such as prices of biologically-based energy, costs and discount rates) will be assessed for inclusion in a model to determine the economic viability of the bioenergy industry on the basis of feedstock availability and price variability. We anticipate that this conclusion to the Tria Project will help clarify the economic potential of the bioenergy industry in Canada, and inform decisions regarding investment in future bioenergy facilities.

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