Gordon McNickle

Host institution

Wilfrid Laurier University

Granting agency

NSERC

Project description

Games in the Boreal forest: Getting to the root of forest dynamics

To the untrained eye plants might appear to be more like an inanimate object than the type of organism that can play games. But research by Wilfrid Laurier University biologist Dr. Gordon McNickle is studying exactly this type of activity.

Like any living organism plants are faced with shifting pressures from the environment, competitors, enemies and mutualistic partners where a plant's best strategy will depend on the strategy used by the organisms around them.

Dr. McNickle studies plant strategies using the theory of games, a mathematical framework known as evolutionary game theory. His research focuses on understanding how plants forage for nutrients in the soil, and acquire carbon with their leaves, particularly in northern regions hardest hit by climate change. His research also seeks to assess whether plants can adjust to these changes.

Northern parts of the globe are hit the hardest and are experiencing the most rapid changes in terms of temperature increases and permafrost thaw. The boreal forest, which covers 1.2 billion hectares in both North America and Eurasia, is a globally significant ecosystem and is home to many pulpwood species central to Canada's country's $60-billion per year pulpwood industry.

"There much we can learn from a basic scientific understanding of this important ecosystem and its resilience in the face of climate change," says McNickle. "The research will also provide the evidence managers are seeking to protect this economically important natural resource."

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