Tackling climate change and preserving biodiversity a key priority for McGill and Quebec
The Fonds de recherche du Québec announced its latest rounds of funding earlier this month in support of research, training, and initiatives to tackle major societal challenges—including climate change and biodiversity loss.
Across the three Fonds (Nature et Technologies (FRQNT), Santé (FRQS) and Société et Culture (FRQSC)) McGill secured 389 masters and doctoral scholarships, 18 Career and Salary Grants, and 40 Research Grants. McGill’s two Strategic Clusters, the Quebec Centre for Biodiversity Science/Le Centre de la Science de la Biodiversité du Québec (QCBS/BSBQ) and the Research Center for High Performance Polymer and Composite Systems/Centre de Recherche sur les Systèmes Polymères et Composites Haute Performance (CREPEC) were each renewed for six years at $500,000. The QCBS and CREPEC will also benefit from a $60,000 supplement announced by the FRQNT for all Strategic Clusters. The total investment for McGill's research activities is $12.7 million.
“The critical support of the Fonds de recherche du Québec enhances McGill’s research expertise across multiple disciplines, drives technology development and stimulates collaborative partnerships,” said Benoit Boulet, Associate Vice-Principal (Innovation and Partnerships). “With these investments, the Strategic Clusters are generating biodiversity knowledge at an unprecedented scale and developing next-generation sustainable materials, which in turn support health and innovation throughout the province.”
Agriculture for an unstable climate
Climate instability is projected to cause greater spring and fall flooding, as well as more frequent and prolonged summer droughts in North America, according to McGill Assistant Professor of Natural Resource Sciences, Cynthia Kallenbach. She was the recipient of a $1 million FRQNT Research Grant to explore how crop diversity—the planting of different crops—can reduce the negative impacts of agricultural practices including pesticide use on organic matter in soil.
“One of the great benefits of this project is the support for collaborations,” said Kallenbach. “There are seven other investigators on the project including people from Agriculture Agri-Food Canada and from Regeneration Canada.”
Kallenbach and her research group are investigating how to leverage new agricultural systems to improve ecosystem functions, such as the soil-crop microbiome and soil carbon sequestration, that will help reduce the impacts of climate change on soil health and, more broadly, the practice of agriculture. Over a four-year period, her research group will determine if increased crop diversity lessens the effect of changing precipitation through higher microbial diversity and soil organic matter storage. Informed by the results, Kallenbach expects to develop a predictive crop-soil model to help growers, including Quebec producers, and policy makers reduce pesticide use and manage crops in a changing climate.
Funds are also supporting the training of several graduate and undergraduate students in multiple disciplines related to biophysical modeling, soil biogeochemistry, ecology, and agronomy. “We hope that our field trials at McGill's Macdonald Campus with the combined crop diversity and precipitation manipulation treatments will attract other students from outside the project and will continue long after project funding is over,” Kallenbach added.
One of McGill's Strategic Clusters, the Quebec Centre for Biodiversity Science (QCBS), has brought together 105 members from 15 universities to to enhance Quebec's capacity to monitor the state of its ecosystems and their biodiversity. In December 2021, the QCBS released the white paper, « Plan Sud pour le Québec » in collaboration with the Canada Research Chair in Ecological Economics at the Université du Québec en Outaouais, the Liber Ero Chair in Conservation Biology at McGill University, the Regroupement national des conseils régionaux de l'environnement du Québec and the Réseau de milieux naturels protégés (RMN). The white paper was the result of a broad consultation with more than 200 stakeholders, and proposes a set of recommendations to accelerate the protection of natural environments located south of the 49th parallel, where most of Quebec's biodiversity is found. The recommendations include to integrate biodiversity conservation into land-use planning at all governmental levels, and to better equip municipalities in their conservation efforts by offering more legal protection for natural environments.
With the renewed funding, the QCBS will expand its mission to lead training initiatives, fund student scholarships, stimulate collaboration and learning, and organize symposia and workshops. Through these activities, the QCBS will share datasets, tools, equipment, field sites, and the technical expertise needed to monitor and predict biodiversity change, and support the science needed to establish an integrated biodiversity monitoring network in Quebec.
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