August 16, 2022

La Ronge Northerner

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Pike River | A newly created ecosystem

How long will it take to transform former agricultural land into a rich and diverse forest ecosystem adapted to climate change? This is the question UQAM’s research team is trying to answer by conducting an unusual experiment on the Pike River in Monterrey.

Posted at 5:00 am.

Eric-Pierre Champagne

Eric-Pierre Champagne
Pres

On Molleur Road, on the Pike River, between the cornfields and the Prossets River, there is a container bearing the name of the University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM). On the right, a construction site where a bridge will be built to ensure the expansion of Highway 35 in the south of the province.

This is where researcher Daniel Nisha’s team from UQAM launched a research project last year that aims to replace an old cornfield with an entire forest ecosystem. A project funded by the Ministère des Transports du Québec committed to compensating for the loss of natural environments as part of the expansion of Highway 35.

  • Already, within two years, the old cornfield has been radically transformed.

    Photo by Alain Roberge, The Press

    Already, within two years, the old cornfield has been radically transformed.

  • Many types of plants are found on the ground.

    Photo by Alain Roberge, The Press

    Many types of plants are found on the ground.

  • Milkweed plant

    Photo by Alain Roberge, The Press

    Milkweed plant

  • Monarch Butterfly

    Photo by Alain Roberge, The Press

    Monarch Butterfly

  • Leopard frog

    Photo by Alain Roberge, The Press

    Leopard frog

1/5

About one hectare of land was occupied by maize crops two years ago. Already there are monarch butterflies, northern leopard frogs, two-tone oaks, silver maples, hickories, milkweed plants, Virginia iris and white trillium.

“The goal is to rapidly regenerate the forest ecosystem,” says Natacha Jeda, a research officer at UQAM. Pres His colleagues at Pike River were Mary Bergen and Mathieu LaMarche. To achieve this, the team only planted saplings and then did not watch them grow. We are trying to rebuild the entire ecosystem, and UQAM has not cut corners on the means to achieve this.

Photo by Alain Roberge, The Press

Researchers Mathieu Lamarche and Natacha Jetha while planting a tree

Displaced trees

Nearly 50 “large caliber” trees were transplanted, some of them ten years old. Among them, slippery elms, willows, hawthorns, dogwoods, shockbark hickory and other species have been transplanted. A longer, more expensive and riskier operation than planting young trees from a nursery. All transplanted trees were harvested from the forest near the site.

Photo by Alain Roberge, The Press

A view of the sites covering a total area of ​​25 hectares

“Having large trees accelerates the colonization of ecosystems by different species,” explains Matthew LaMarche, one of the project’s research officers. Almost 500 trees, including young trees, have already been planted, including some at-risk species such as butternut, Carolina hornbeam and hackberry. By 2023, 35,000 trees will be planted on two sites covering an area of ​​25 hectares.

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Of the 500 trees planted or transplanted, about 30 did not survive, although the work was carried out in autumn, when trees are dormant, the most favorable time for such an operation. On the other hand, many plants have colonized naturally, with surprising speed, reports Natacha Jetha.

Photo by Alain Roberge, The Press

To date, 500 trees have been planted or transplanted.

“The aim is to recreate the natural habitat of the area, adapted to the conditions of the site, so species that tolerate wet ground conditions or flooding”, explains Daniel Neesha, an expert in the study of the impacts of climate change on forests. Environmental systems.

Like diversifying a portfolio of stock market investments, we want to increase the number of individuals of endangered species, contribute to their recovery, improve resilience to future changes, and improve diversity.

Daniel Neesha is an expert in the study of the impacts of climate change on forest ecosystems

In order to reproduce a forest ecosystem as faithfully as possible, the team placed branches and trunks of dead trees on the ground. We also added soil and dead leaves. Already, within two years, the old cornfield has been radically transformed.

Photo by Alain Roberge, The Press

Branches and trunks of dead trees on the ground

Carbon capture

Who says forests and climate change are carbon sequestration? One aspect of the project is to measure the amount of carbon absorbed by the soil over the next few years. Two sensors are installed to take the necessary measurements and monitor the carbon footprint. As the research project will run until 2033, the UQAM team will be able to collect valuable data for many years.

Photo by Alain Roberge, The Press

Two sensors are installed to take the necessary measurements and monitor the carbon footprint.

Natacha Jeda and her colleagues are happy to benefit from more favorable weather this year compared to last year, with a very dry summer. As the rains have been frequent this year, the group has been called on less often to water the trees. “We had a very dry season last year. It’s not difficult to do well this year,” says Matthew LaMarche.

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However, the aim of the project is not to find a recipe for destroying the natural environment by claiming that it can recreate exactly what was there before, although Mr. Lamarche warns. “We can never do like nature. But if our plan helps other compensation plans…”