Trent University Researchers Awarded $253,700 to Study Effects of Climate Change on Ganaraska Forest


New Study to Determine Links Between Forest Health and Bird, Insect Populations

Monday, May 11, 2009, Peterborough

A new study led by Trent University biology professor Dr. Erica Nol to understand how climate change is affecting birds and other fauna in the Ganaraska Forest will receive $253,700 over three years from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).

“While scientists have a great deal of evidence showing the dramatic effects of climate change in more northerly reaches of the planet, there is less hard data available to help us understand how southern environments are impacted by climate fluctuations,” said Professor Nol, who is collaborating with fellow Trent professors Dr. James Buttle of the Geography Department and Dr. Shaun Watmough of the Environmental and Resource Studies Department. “Thanks to NSERC’s strong support of this project, we can start to develop models of forest health that can help us predict how changing environmental conditions will affect birds and insects in this region.”

The project is being funded through the NSERC Strategic Project Grants. The program seeks to increase research and training in areas that could strongly enhance Canada’s economy, society or environment in the next 10 years “NSERC wants to make Canada a country of discoverers and innovators, for the benefit of all Canadians,” said Dr. Suzanne Fortier, President of NSERC. “Professor Nol and her partners are helping us realize that vision. I congratulate them on their success.”

Prof. Nol’s study will be conducted in the Ganaraska Forest, the largest single tract of forest cover in the settled landscape of southern Ontario. As such, it is a major refuge for forest trees and associated bird species, including some rapidly declining insectivores; in fact, this region contains greater avian biodiversity than any other region in south-central Ontario.

Since 1970, the Ganaraska Forest has experienced significantly less snow as a proportion of total precipitation, a strong signal of the effects of climate warming. Prof. Nol and her team hypothesize that this decline in snow cover is impacting soil moisture, a key regulating factor of forest biodiversity. Her study will investigate causes of variation in soil moisture among different forest stands and at different slope positions, and how that variation relates to nutrient availability for vegetation, and insect and avian biodiversity and productivity.

Through this research she will also test the strength of connecting links between precipitation inputs, soil moisture, soil nutrients, vegetation, insect prey and birds. If the connecting links are strong then changes in the pattern of winter precipitation due to climate change will have cascading effects to the bird communities. If these links are weak, this will reflect greater resiliency in the ecosystem to changes in precipitation patterns.

“Our ultimate objective is to construct a predictive model that will allow us to identify the most productive forest types and slope positions for long-term persistence of the avian community and forest sustainability,” said Prof. Nol, whose research team will include two Trent graduate students and nine technicians/research assistants. “The model will use inputs from the field work and a range of values within those predicted for variation in the ratio of snow to total precipitation.”

Prof. Nol noted this work will be useful for complying with the Crown Forest Sustainability Act of Ontario, and is supported in part by the Ganaraska Forest Conservation Authority and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.


For further information, please contact Professor Erica Nol, Biology Department, at (705) 748-1011, ext. 7640.