Lab Canada

$4M research chairs focus on biodiversity conservation

Edmonton, AB – The University of Alberta Biodiversity Conservation Chairs program is creating two chairs that will focus on biodiversity challenges related to the energy sector. The university has received $4 million in funding to create the chairs.

Dr. Stan Boutin, an ecologist and a professor in the university’s Faculty of Science, and Dr. Scott Nielsen, conservation biologist and an associate professor in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences, have been named as the chairholders.

Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), Alberta Innovates – Energy and Environment Solutions (AI-EES), Alberta Innovates – Bio Solutions (AI-Bio) and the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) as well as the U of A’s faculties of Science and Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences each contributed to the program, which is being funded for five years.

Dr. Boutin previously held an NSERC Industrial Chair in Integrated Landscape Management designed to help people ecologically informed land use decisions. His research interests include cumulative effects monitoring and management, forestry-wildlife interactions in the boreal forest and woodland caribou conservation.

Dr. Nielsen’s lab, the Applied Conservation Ecology Lab, studies the conservation ecology of species to ecosystems with the goal of understanding the processes affecting their distribution, dynamics and interactions in order to inform biodiversity conservation.

The two chairs will conduct a number of research projects focussed on key biodiversity challenges related to the energy sector under four different themes:

• Rare and endangered species conservation

• Cause-and-effect assessment of biodiversity change as the foundation for effective management.

• Improving monitoring, modeling and management of biodiversity for land use planning

• Integrated restoration: from site to landscape scales

Their overall goal is to understand how the combined effects of human activities affect biodiversity, and to design and test mitigation strategies.

They are expected to share the scientific knowledge they uncover to inform management strategies and policy recommendations, using their own studies, supplemented extensively by data from the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute. While Alberta has the ABMI and a land-use framework, there is no dedicated science capacity for testing cause-and-effect relationships related to the monitoring information the ABMI generates. Research is necessary for supporting policy decisions and ensuring that industry has the information it needs to develop and implement solutions. These chairs will provide a dedicated science capacity to link biodiversity monitoring programs to policy development and strategic planning.