You Are What You Eat, Even if You're Only a Tree
When you step into one of Canada's forests-from the iconic landscapes of Group of Seven paintings to the run-of-the-mill woodlots that dot the land-it may feel like you are visiting untouched wildness. However, the truth is that humans have touched all forests, if only from afar. No matter how pristine they may seem, we have to accept the reality that today healthy forests no longer happen by chance.
As Canada Research Chair in Watershed Sciences, Dr. Irena Creed's job is to understand how to properly preserve Canada's forests-not just for recreational use, but for the good of people who depend on them for their livelihoods, not to mention the greater goods they supply to us all, including fresh oxygen to breathe.
But how do you ensure the health of something as large and complex as a forest? Just like with humans, one way is to start with what they eat. That includes water, nutrients and, unfortunately, the pollutants that are along for the ride.
Understanding this natural process requires four key steps. First, Creed and her team examine the exchanges between land, air and water, figuring out what rules govern these complex processes.
Second, Creed will work to build forest-wide management principles by consolidating existing scientific research. The need for this comes from the fact that most research is small-scale, studying a single hilltop, not an entire watershed. To scale up this information, the team uses computers to blend data from airborne and satellite images, geographic surveys and a variety of simulation models.
Next, Creed and her team will see how their models vary in different areas, comparing their simulations with existing data, and testing models both in controlled climate chambers and in the field.
Finally, they work to understand how all these models interact with the biggest variable of them all-humans. Using teams of experts from science, engineering, medicine and social studies, they will work to understand how forests and their waters impact the cultural, economic, ecological and even spiritual life of neighbouring communities.
Current projections for climate change suggest forest and water resources will become front and centre for Canadian social, economic and environmental decisions. Creed's research program creates the science, technologies and opportunities that will enable governments, industries and communities to meet their needs while managing forests and their waters in the most sustainable way they can.