Ph.D. project : Forecasting the spread of spruce budworm outbreaks

Context

The spruce budworm  (SBW,  Choristoneura fumiferana) is the most important defoliating insect of coniferous stands in North America. In 2017, this insect affected an area of 7 million hectares, more than 12% of Quebec’s boreal forest.

The frequency of SBW outbreaks has changed over the last century, and both their frequency and severity are expected to increase due to climate change. Thus, if we could improve our capacity to forecast which areas will be affected by an ongoing outbreak, the economic (timber loss and growth reduction) and ecological (carbon emissions) impacts of the outbreaks could be partly mitigated.

Objectives and Methodology

This project aims to develop spatiotemporal models of the spread of SBW outbreaks at the scale of Quebec, as a function of the climate and the structure of the forest landscape. Those models will synthesize various sources of data already available (aerial surveys, remote sensing, dendrochronological series). Several advanced approaches to ecological modeling (hierarchical models, machine learning) will be used and the resulting models will be evaluated on their ability to predict the dynamics of an outbreak after being trained on data from the previous outbreak. Access to Compute Canada supercomputers will allow the application of complex models to large datasets.

Keywords: sustainable forest management, climate change, forest ecology, spatial modelling, natural disturbances.

Location: The student will be based at the Forest Research Institute (IRF; https://www.uqat.ca/programmes/irf/) at the Rouyn-Noranda or Amos campus of the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue, and will be co-supervised by Philippe Marchand (https://bit.ly/2DFyGl6) and Miguel Montoro Girona (https://bit.ly/34LfttX). The IRF is dynamic, multicultural and international and provides a quality environment for students to develop their research, with 12 professors and more than 60 graduate students working on very diverse topics such as forest dynamics, silviculture, genetics, biodiversity, ecophysiology and sustainable forest management. IRF students also benefit from professional development resources and opportunities (scholarships, participation in conferences, workshops) offered by the Centre for Forest Research (www.cef-cfr.ca). In addition, the student will be a member of the Chair in Sustainable Forest Management (http://chaireafd.uqat.ca/). As part of this project, the student will also have the option of completing an international internship funded with our collaborators in the United States (Harvard University) or the Netherlands (Wageningen University).

Funding: $21,000 annual scholarship for 3 years.

Preferred qualifications: Master’s in ecology or forestry with an interest in statistics and modelling, OR Master’s in mathematics, statistics, geomatics or informatics, with an interest in their environmental applications in a context of climate change.

Preferred start date: Summer or Fall 2020

Project collaborators: Yves Bergeron (UQAT), Mathieu Bouchard (MFFP), Louis De Grandpré (SCF), Matthew Duveneck (Harvard), Élise Filotas (TÉLUQ), Anouschka Hof (Wageningen), Hubert Morin (UQAC), Pierre Therrien (MFFP).

Are you ready to begin your Ph.D. on this fascinating topic? Send your CV, a cover letter, a transcript and contact information for two references to Philippe Marchand (philippe.marchand@uqat.ca) and Miguel Montoro Girona (miguel.montoro@uqat.ca). Review of applications will start on January 20, 2020 and continue until the position is filled. A professional adventure in the great boreal forest of Abitibi awaits you!

Links :

Abitibi-Témiscamingue Tourism : https://www.abitibi-temiscamingue-tourism.org/

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