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New technology helping plan the forests of the future in Sudbury

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Sudbury's celebrated re-greening efforts are continuing to inspire Canadian researchers.

Scientists are using new technology to help plan forests, including a pilot project going on in Sudbury.

PlantR is an interactive tool created by Isabelle Aubin and her team at Great Lakes Forestry Centre in Sault Ste. Marie. Aubin said it’s a way to ensure new forests thrive by including the right plant species for that specific area.

“When we select species to plant, you know, it's an important ecological question but it's also an important question to make sure that we get the maximum of what we want from those trees we plant," she said.

"This tool (is) a virtual thinking tool that helps the forest managers to select the species to plant to get more of their restoration goals."

The interactive platform uses a data-rich algorithm to generate solutions for forest managers. Although still in the early stages, the initial response to its potential as a modelling tool has been promising.

“Personally I have played with it somewhat to try it out and see what kind of plants it might tell me to use," said Peter Beckett, chair of VETAC, Sudbury's regreening advisory panel.

"There are some we haven’t considered before and … some that might be adapted to ones we might have to use due to climate change in Sudbury because we know it's going to get warmer and perhaps more dry on the landscapes during the summer."

Despite making great strides in ecological recovery, Sudbury still has challenges when it comes to elevated water quality and the lack of organic soil matter.

That makes it the perfect place to test out the new technology.

“When the program first started way back in 1978, there were just a few grasses that could be used," said Beckett.

"But we used about 75 other species in the regreening effort in Sudbury based upon the characteristics of those species and the great thing about the app is that all of these characteristics are now in one place."

PlantR is already being put to good use through a joint project between Laurentian and College Boreal that has researchers looking at how abandoned gravel pits may be restored.

The hope is that eventually PlantR will be able to be used not only across northern Ontario, but Canada and beyond. 

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