University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine
Winter 2013

Future Forest

Will higher air temperatures affect Canada's evergreen forests?

Students Alyssa Molinaro (right) and Emmanuelle Frechette at the Koffler Scientific Reserve

In a warmer world, we expect glaciers will melt and sea levels will rise, but what impact will higher air temperatures have on Canada’s vast – and economically vital – evergreen forests? Ingo Ensminger, a professor of biology at U of T Mississauga, is heating a patch of land at Koffler Scientific Reserve north of Toronto as part of an experiment he hopes will yield some answers. Earlier this year, Ensminger and his team planted 1,200 white pine seedlings on a dozen small plots at the U of T facility (a portion of the site is shown at left).

Using infrared heaters controlled by a network of sensors, the researchers have elevated the air temperature in six of the plots during daytime by 1.5 degrees Celsius and during the night by three degrees to mimic air temperatures predicted in southern Ontario 50 years from now. Six of the plots are unheated; seedlings planted there experience regular temperatures. Ensminger says he will be monitoring photosynthesis and growth in each tree, as well as gene regulation. By comparing the heated and unheated plots, he and his team will assess how well the trees will survive in a warmer climate. The study began in August and will continue for three years.

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