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Mountain Pine Beetle Ecology Program Request for Expressions of Interest for Research

Mountain pine beetle remains a serious threat to Alberta’s pine forests. Surveys clearly indicate the beetle is expanding its range eastward through Alberta and southward along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. As novel habitats are encountered science needs to remain current by adjusting its emphasis in anticipation of new dynamics within the beetle-host community. Scientists are convinced that surprises will be encountered necessitating the science agenda to be forward looking to meet new and unexpected challenges.  In addition, resource managers are eager to receive information related to forest rehabilitation and future stand dynamics.

The Mountain Pine Beetle Ecology Program promotes research within four Research Theme areas. Each Research Theme has a series of critical questions, answers to which are considered key results to aid in responding to the management and control of the MPB and the rehabilitation of damaged landscapes. As the challenges have become more complex our need for additional information has expanded and is reflected by the myriad of questions under each Research Theme.

The research community is invited to review the Research Themes to gain an appreciation of the breadth of interest held by the program. The four Research Themes are (click for a full description):

  1. MPB Biology and Management
  2. Hydrological Impacts of MPB
  3. Landscape and Stand Dynamics following MPB
  4. Social and Economic Implications of a Changing Landscape

To date, the MPBEP has funded 36 research topics and now wishes to encourage attention on six preferred topics noted below.  Topic 7 is an open category and an Expression of Interest can be submitted that is relevant to a Research Theme and a specific critical question (see above links).

The opportunities provided under preferred topics are:
Topic 1: Annotated Bibliography and evaluation of the impact of research on operational decisions and policy development

Topic 2: Assessment of policy decisions in BC related to control of the MPB following its outbreak to present and the resulting impacts

Topic 3: Jack pine is a host species, but can the species support the eastward spread of the MPB?  It is unclear whether the eastern spread of the MPB can be supported by jack pine as a host species

Topic 4: Post beetle stand disturbance dynamics of pine dominated stands

Topic 5: Shelf life of beetle killed pine

Topic 6: Susceptibility of young pine stands to beetle attack and protection

Topic 7: Other opportunities

The Expression of Interest is not a formal research proposal, instead, it outlines your ideas about the topic or critical question you have selected to address along with a brief overview of your objectives, methodology, expected results, requested budget, time frame and deliverables. Your Expression of Interest will be reviewed by a panel and should the panel deem your submission acceptable to proceed to a full proposal, proponents will be notified with specific details. The elements for the Expression of Interest can be found here.

Expressions of Interest are due February 6, 2020 and must be sent to Keith McClain.

Topics of Concern to the MPBEP

Topic 1

Annotated bibliography and evaluation of the impact of research on operational decisions and policy development
Since 2007 the MPBEP has supported 36 research projects that address critical questions identified under four research themes outlined below in the Supplemental Information. Seventeen of these projects have been completed, with the remaining projects expected to be completed by December 2020. As the program approaches its 13th year of supporting research, the MPBEP Activity Team has deemed it prudent to prepare an annotated bibliography of 150 reports (published research reports, technical reports, Quick Notes, and presentations).  The annotated bibliography will provide a centralized compendium of the research supported by the MPBEP and will facilitate future access to its findings.
Scope of Work
Reports fall within one of four Research Themes, which are described under supplemental information (see below). Each report will be summarized, objectives listed, overviews of results and conclusions provided and recommendations provided in the report for the necessity of future research. In instances where statements of future research are not evident or clearly stated, authors will be provide additional input and clarification. Importantly, the review of each report will allude to their relevance in supporting operational decision making and informing policy. Hard copies of each report appearing in the annotated bibliography will be secured and prepared for electronic storage.

Topic 2

Assessment of policy decisions in BC related to control of the MPB following its outbreak to present and the resulting impacts
Alberta is well along in its management of the Mountain Pine Beetle since its major inflight from British Columbia in 2006. While verifiable progress in controlling the spread of the beetle has been made, the MPBEP wants to explore the opportunity of making better decisions using as a basis the outbreak of the beetle in British Columbia.
The breadth of concern includes policy decisions, actions taken to control the beetle, and consequences of those decisions from a control standpoint and resultant forest condition.  Also of interest is how operational activities post beetle have influenced forest dynamics, forest composition and its future susceptibility to insect infestations, hydrology, wildlife, recreational opportunities, communities and their economies.  Additionally, it is essential to understand the consequences of silviculture prescriptions post beetle, e.g. salvage harvesting, no harvesting, and conceivably, prescribed burning. Interest in this regard is related to resultant stand conditions, regeneration capacity and possibly, the need for further rehabilitation actions.  
Knowing the extent of these actions and associated outcomes, and judging them along a continuum from bad to good, how would alternative decisions, both policy and tactical, might have resulted in more desirable outcomes.  What are the notable differences between BC and Alberta in their respective efforts to control the beetle, and can an enhanced construct for decision making to achieve desired outcomes be developed for Alberta?

Topic 3

Jack pine is a host species, but can the species support the eastward spread of the MPB?  It is unclear whether the eastern spread of the MPB can be supported by jack pine as a host species
Please note that the content of this paragraph relies heavily on Cullingham Molecular Ecology (2011) 20, 2157–2171.
Upon the discovery that the MPB could successfully attack and breed in jack pine (Cullingham et al. Molecular Ecology (2011) 20, 2157–2171) lead the authors to ask whether MPB would be able to sustain populations and spread further eastward into the boreal forest. They also recognized that many factors are at play for this to happen, particularly the interaction between the host physiology – defense mechanisms, population dynamics of the beetle and environment.  They describe the system as being complex where many biotic and abiotic factors need to be considered collectively if there is to be a clear understanding of the actual threat that the beetle poses to the health of boreal pine. There is a strong sense that as climate changes and temperatures become more moderate during the winter months, the larval development cycle will occur unabated and will serve to maintain eruptive beetle populations. Canada’s pine resource is the backbone of the economies of many northern communities, making it a resource that must be protected. The MPBEP is looking to bring acuity to the questions posed by the leading-edge research of Cullingham et al. 2011.

Topic 4

Post beetle stand disturbance dynamics of pine dominated stands
The devastation caused by the Mountain Pine Beetle to Alberta’s pine resource is astonishing. Nearly 2.4 million hectares of prime pine forests have been variably affected by the mountain pine beetle, and its legacy has heightened concerns over wildfires, wildlife populations, water supplies and the future economies of forest-dependent communities. The renewal of killed pine stands is receiving special attention from the forest industry. Important questions include, will pine forest regenerate, will they exhibit similar productivity similar to stands before the beetle infestation. If rapid forest renewal is inhibited, what silvicultural prescriptions can be applied to rehabilitate killed stands to ensure they minimize a fall-down in future wood supply?
Affected stands will inevitably regenerate naturally, albeit slowly and over a long period since as opposed to rapidly as a result of an event consistent with the silvics of pine, e.g. stand-replacing fire. Since understanding how forests grow underpins the development of wood supply modelling and forecasting, monitoring stand dynamics, regeneration recruitment, and vegetation is critical. Monitoring will also provide essential information on likely stand outcomes and timelines that can be used for deciding which stands to target now and in the future for rehabilitation.
Better information also supports more accurate timber supply analysis. Currently, assumptions are made about the period of the time it takes for full or particle stocking of regeneration to occur after mortality. Still, there is limited data to support growth curves of pine strata for partially or fully killed stands in the numerous FMUs currently affected.
The MPBEP supports the establishment of permanent sample plots and acquisition of data for use in understanding stand dynamics of pine following mountain pine beetle attack.

Topic 5

Shelf life of beetle killed pine
With nearly 2.4 million hectares of lodgepole pine affected by the mountain pine beetle, the province stands to suffer significant economic loss as a result of foregone crown dues and revenue from wood processing. The potential economic loss has prompted investigations into capturing the economic value of killed pine. Experience elsewhere has revealed that it is important to understand the changes in fibre quality before making decisions on the timing of salvage logging since tree mortality and wood milling. With increased time from tree mortality, fibre quality degrades, but the rate of decline in wood quality is known to be affected by a combination of ecosite factors, most notably moisture.     Dr. Kathy Lewis , supported by the fRI Research (previously, the Foothills Research Institute), conducted an early study on the post mortality rate of wood degradation and tree fall in lodgepole pine trees killed by the mountain pine beetle. The scope of this study was restricted to the Foothills and Central Mixedwood Regions of Alberta. Since the beetle has expanded its range since this study was conducted, the MPBEP and its industrial partners are interested in having additional sampling and analysis undertaken in un-sampled regions impacted by the mountain pine beetle.
Note: Members from the forest industry will provide guidance in the selection of sites and act as an Advisory Committee.

Topic 6

Susceptibility of young pine stands to beetle attack and protection
The expanding threat of the Mountain Pine Beetle in Alberta has intensified efforts to manage the spread and to protect younger pine stands. It is generally accepted and supported by science that beetles preferentially select larger trees to attack, and if they successfully colonize the tree, the tree invariably dies.
Research provides convincing evidence of the relationship between stand characteristics and their susceptibility to attack during population expansion. Larger and older trees generally have thicker bark. When site resources are ample on a per tree basis, tree crowns are larger and fuller and possess a thicker, more nutritious phloem layer than larger, less thrifty trees.   During a mass-attack episode, younger, smaller and seemingly less desirable trees are also attacked. Forest managers are concerned over the safety of young regenerating pine stands in age classes from 20 to 40 years of age. There is a heavy reliance on these stands to support timber supply, and their loss would cause a critical fibre supply shortage in the future.  Young trees exhibit nutritious but thinner bark than larger trees, which are not equally conducive to supporting successful brood production as in large trees and as often happens, there is a breach in the bark during larval feeding to the outside that can lead to an abandonment of the tree. Nevertheless, beetle boreholes may subsequently encourage other insects or pathogens, rendering them susceptible to further damage.
The question that arises is what indicators can be used to determine the susceptibility of young stands to beetle attack and what, if anything, can be undertaken to provide a cloak of protection over young stands during periods of high beetle activity.

Topic 7

Other topics
A Research Prospectus provides guidance to the Mountain Pine Beetle Ecology Program as it considers making investments to address information needs to support operational decision making and to inform policy development.  Topics 1-6 listed in this request for Expressions of Interest are of special concern to the Activity Team and preference will be given to responses that address these topics.  However, the Activity Team is prepared to consider other submissions addressing any of the Critical Questions listed under the Research Themes presented in the supplemental information below

Elements for an Expression of Interest

If you wish to submit an Expression of Interest in response to one of the specific research topics outlined in this announcement, please note that you are not being asked for a full proposal, but rather, for your ideas surrounding the opportunity of the topic. However, we require an indication of your objectives, methodology, budget requirements, time frame and deliverables. Apart from formal deliverables such as research papers, technical reports etc. other reporting responsibilities are required, for example, quarterly reports, Quick Notes, participation in Research Sessions / Webinars.

Specifically, we are interested in the following attributes, but first, identify the Research Theme that you believe your proposed research falls under, then:

  1. Provide a description of your idea relative to the opportunity or critical question (if you chose Topic 7) and explain why you think it is important and how your proposed research will advance our knowledge to better inform management and operational decisions,
  2. State the objectives of your proposed research,
  3. Provide an overview of your methodology that you intend to use to achieve your objectives,
  4. List potential collaborators,
  5. Describe intended deliverables and timeline (maximum 2 years)
  6. Describe how you will communicate your results,
  7. State required budget. Budgets need to be conservative in concert with available program funds. Please review the fRI Research administrative fee policy.
  8. Will other organizations contribute to projects costs? Who? Confirmed or not?
  9. Provide the anticipated start and end dates of your research,
  10. List those that will participate in the research.

Your Expression of Interest must not exceed 2 pages using 10pt Calibri font.

Submissions must be sent to Keith McClain by February 6, 2020.

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