A researcher at the University of Northern British Columbia will be taking a closer look at the effects of a widely-used herbicide in northern B.C.'s boreal forests, thanks to a new five-year grant.
Dr. Lisa Wood, a plant biologist and forester, will be studying the effects of glyphosate-based herbicides, some of the most widely used herbicides in the world. In B.C., they are used to encourage the growth of coniferous trees, at the expense of other plants.
"One of the tools forest managers have at their disposal is to apply herbicide to get rid of all the competing vegetation that's impeding the growth of those coniferous trees," Wood told host Wil Fundal on CBC's Daybreak North.
Wood's study will focus on the lesser-known effects of the herbicide on smaller plants within the forest — like changes in leaf morphology, petal colours, and pollen production.
She says that even though these changes may seem small, they can have a big impact on the broader ecosystem.
"For example, if we have less pollen being produced, then we can expect less fruit production in the shrub crops that are available for animals to forage on," she said.
"Which means that animals like bears ... would have less food."
Glyphosate use is a hotly debated topic in the forestry world. First Nations groups in Ontario, for instance, have protested the use of the herbicides on northern forests because of environmental and health concerns.
Many people are keen to see what Wood's research will reveal.
"I'm covering some of the less obvious, small interactive effects that had really been overlooked for 30, 40 years," Wood said.
"It's nice to have a really clear picture about what everything means so that, potentially, policy makers can make better decisions about whether things go forward [and] which tools we choose to use in our forest."
Listen to the full interview with Lisa Wood on CBC's Daybreak North: