Assisted migration of Whitebark Pine in B.C. and Alberta in response to climate change

Assisted migration—“the human assisted relocation of genotypes through reforestation and restoration intended to mitigate future impacts of climate change on forest health and productivity”—is an emerging adaptation strategy that is gaining attention globally. By expanding populations in the direction that climate change will eventually take them, forest health and the ecosystem services they provide can be maintained. Whitebark Pine (Pinus albicaulis) is a tree species that is foundational to diverse high elevation and sub-alpine ecosystems in the mountainous areas of British Columbia and Alberta. The Whitebark Pine has been listed as “endangered” under Canada’s Species at Risk Act since 2012, due to its population being in steep decline over much of its range. This is resulting from the combined effects of drivers such as the Mountain Pine Beetle, an introduced pathogen that causes white pine blister rust (Cronartium ribicola), and climate change. The recovery strategy for the Whitebark Pine in Canada reports that assisted migration techniques may need to be part of the approach used to combat habitat loss as a result of climate change, and that suitable habitat for growth needs to be identified. Despite the ongoing debate on the long-term success or appropriate methods of assisted migration, there is a general agreement that more field studies are needed to better evaluate and quantify the effectiveness of this approach as a long-term climate change adaptation strategy.

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