Dr. Jennifer Baltzer

A changing boreal landscape: the role of fire and permafrost thaw in modifying forest composition and function

Dr. Jennifer Baltzer, Wilfrid Laurier University

Dr. Jennifer Baltzer is a Tier I Canada Research Chair in Forests and Global Change at Wilfrid Laurier University (Laurier), whose work focuses on the drivers of forest composition, structure and function and responses of these systems to global change. She has worked in a range of systems from the tropics to the tundra but currently leads an extensive boreal forest research program throughout the Northwest Territories. Her interdisciplinary research program examines the impacts of climate warming, including permafrost thaw, wildfire regimes, and biome shifts, on the distribution and function of high latitude boreal forests and its implications for northern communities. Within Canada, she works closely with the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) through a 20-year Partnership Agreement between the GNWT and Laurier. Dr. Baltzer plays leadership roles in NASA’s ABoVE campaign, the Smithsonian Institute’s ForestGEO Network, and the CFREF-funded Global Water Futures program. In 2017, Dr. Baltzer was elected to the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists.

Abstract: The boreal forest forms a circumpolar belt between 45˚ and 70˚N and is the second largest forested biome globally. It is important in climate regulation and the global carbon cycle and is one of the few remaining terrestrial biomes where large-scale ecological processes are largely unimpeded. The boreal biome is floristically simple but forest dynamics and ecosystem processes arise from complex interactions amongst a range of factors including climate, physiography, permafrost, large natural disturbances, and species ecology. Boreal forests occupy latitudes that are warming 3-4 times faster than the global average; this rapid warming has already been shown to be having marked impacts on both the wildfire regime and rates of permafrost thaw. Here, I will overview some recent efforts to understand the impacts of wildfire, permafrost thaw, and their interaction on the ecological resilience of North American boreal forests. These changes will be discussed in the context of the current and future functioning of high latitude boreal forests.