Building Resilience in a Changing World

Written by: Summer Graham


The world around us is changing, we can see it every day. With forest fires in the west, tropical storm aftermath in the east, and record-breaking heat waves scattered across the country, resiliency in our environment is needed now more than ever. 


What is ecosystem resilience? 

Resiliency is the ability of a system to maintain its function, regardless of external stressors or events that might disrupt it. Resilience also refers to the ability to recover after a disturbance. In a climate that tends to be shifting to extremes, ecosystem resiliency is essential for any chance of stability in the years ahead. 


Regarding our ecosystems, resilient communities are those that are better suited to withstand the negative impacts caused by a variety of events, such as:

  • fires, 
  • flooding, 
  • windstorms,
  • disease outbreaks,
  • insect population increases and,
  • human activities such as deforestation, fracking, pesticide use, and introduction of non-native, invasive species. 


Native Plants and The Biodiversity Crisis

Native plants play a critical role in the health of Canadian ecosystems. Climate change and settler colonial encroachment have eliminated enormous tracts of native plants in Canada, and around the world.  When native plants are lost, replaced with non-native species or urban areas and concrete, wildlife is also lost, leading to collapse of ecosystem function. 


Environments that have been weakened by the introduction of invasive species into a natural area, or those that have little or no native species remaining (such as in an urban environment) will be less resilient in a changing climate. 


How do we build resilient ecosystems? 

By adding more trees, native plants, and restoration efforts like mini forests to our communities, we can create more resilient ecosystems across Canada. Native species planted in urban areas do not replace the natural forests around us, but rather are a method of reforesting areas that currently serve little or no ecological function. Benefits of planting trees and other native species include: 

  • improved air quality 
  • better storm water retention (reduced flooding and runoff) 
  • wildlife habitat 
  • cooling effect to counter the warming impact of paved urban areas
  • reduction in noise pollution 
  • soil stabilization
  • improved mental, social, and physical health in the community 


To better help Canadians across the country build resilient ecosystems by planting native species in their own communities and backyards, CanPlant is excited to announce the next chapter in our story.


Details coming soon! Stay tuned for more… 


Additional reading: 

Government of Canada - Planting 2 Billion trees 

Nature Canada - Trees Help Fight Climate Change 

Government of Canada - The power of trees 

Canadian Geographic - What if we could plant trees as quickly as we cut them down? 


Creating Phylogenetic Trees with Network of Nature

Written by: Cole White


There are many ways of understanding plants. Scientific study, home gardening, ecological restoration work, and traditional knowledge modalities all offer people significant ways to meaningfully connect with plants and gain an appreciation for the services and beauty they offer.


My interest started with growing up in a rural area and being intrigued by the wild edible plants, such as Lamb's Quarters and Mint, that could be found in my backyard. Later I worked at a botanical garden, which got me interested in more big-picture topics like forest succession and pollination. Now, as a GIS technician at Dougan and Associates and part of the Network of Nature team, I often engage with plant knowledge using data, and databases.


A green icon representing a database, surrrounded by illustrated branches and leaves


The species pages you can explore on the Network of Nature website are powered by an underlying database– that is, an organized collection stored and accessed on a computer. This database contains names, photographs, and various traits (such as native and introduced geographic ranges, bloom colour, and compaction tolerance) for about 5,000 plant species that occur in Canada, all stored in a way that is structured and easily retrieved, modified, or analyzed.


While there may be nuances of biology a typical database system cannot capture, and complex questions these technologies cannot answer in full, the beauty of storing information this way is that it allows us to analyze the collected data in ways that can give us useful (or at least interesting) insights, or raise new questions to inspire further investigation.


One question we recently considered is what a phylogenetic tree created from the Network of Nature database would look like and what further research and exploration this could inspire.


A phylogenetic tree (or 'tree of life') is a branching diagram, visually tracing the evolutionary lineage of a set of organisms back to a common ancestor. All of life on Earth could be traced back to a single ancestor this way. Phylogenetic trees created from more specific datasets are increasingly being used in ecological and biogeographic studies that allow us to learn more about biology and evolution.


An early hand-drawn tree of life by Ernst Haeckel

A 19th-century phylogenetic tree.


Phylogenetic trees used to be hand-drafted by scientists, but can now be created quickly and easily using open source tools developed by unselfish computer programmers. I used the R programming language and an R package called V.Phylomaker to generate a phylogeny based on the Network of Nature database, and a Neo4j graph to store and visualize the results.


A modern tree of life based on genome sequencing

A modern tree of life based on genome sequencing.


R is a programming language widely used by statisticians and data analysts. It incorporates machine learning, linear regression, statistical inference, and other techniques to perform data science work that has applications in many different fields.


The R Logo


The things R can do are extended by add-ons called packages. One of these packages is V.Phylomaker, which uses a 'mega-tree' containing data related to all extant flowering plant families to build phylogenetic trees from a simple spreadsheet of plant species information.


A list of species exported from Network of Nature

A list of species exported from Network of Nature.


Neo4j is a type of database that focuses on relationships between entities, rather than just storing rows of data. We thought this would work as an interesting tool to model the relationships between plant species.


To try this out with Network of Nature, I installed the package and used an export of the Network of Nature database as an input for a small R script using V.Phylomaker. The output of this was a phylogenetic tree in Newick format, a mathematical way of representing this kind of data.


Working with Plant Data in RStudio.

Working with plant data in RStudio.


Next, I used a Python script and the Biopython package to read this Newick data and use it to populate a Neo4j graph.


The result was a dataset of interconnected plant species that could easily be visualized, queried, and explored.


A Network of Nature phylogenetic tree visualized using a graph.

A Network of Nature phylogenetic tree visualized using a graph.


We’re excited to continue exploring the benefits of incorporating a phylogenetic approach into the Network of Nature database. We anticipate that capturing evolutionary relationships among plants will help to deepen our collective understanding of the diversity of plant species found across Canada, and advance the tools and approaches that are used in conservation planning, ecological restoration, gardening, and a wide range of other biodiversity initiatives.


Feel free to reach out to our team if you’re interested to learn more about what we’re doing at Network of Nature.


Further Reading

National Forest Week 2021

Written by: Manpreet Dhaliwal 

National Forest Week


Welcome to National Forest Week! Have you never heard of it? Well, let me tell you a little bit about it. For one week in September every year, the Canadian Institute of Forestry (CFI) takes the opportunity to raise awareness and educate about the Canadian forest sector, as well as the important social, 

environmental, and economic role that this resource plays in our daily lives.


This year, they are encouraging people of all ages to participate in activities such as photo and youth drawing contests, and "Treevia Tuesday" to celebrate our national forests. Interested in participating? Check out the CFI website for more information on campaigns and other resources. This year, I decided to participate by answering the question "What does the forest give you?"




What does the forest give you?


It's a difficult thing to put into words because it's as unique to me as the meaning of life; it is indescribable how much forests give to us, and I couldn't be more grateful for the forest's contribution to my survival every day. Especially when you learn how 6 million trees are planted on Ontario public land each year, and how at 10 acres of forest per person, we have more access to forests than any other country. The most exciting part of it all is knowing that as of 2017, Canadian forestry operations, planting enhancement, and planting initiatives removed 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent from our own backyard. We have the potential to reduce carbon dioxide by 50 million tonnes by 2050 if we continue to use greater sustainable forest management like this during the coming years.


Every Tree Counts


After learning this, I took a step back and asked myself, "How can I contribute to future emission reductions while also giving the gift of trees to future generations?" I had no idea where to begin, but as I worked through my research and consulted my network, I became more familiar with the Canplant database and all the resources it offered. I was able to collaborate with local sustainability and environmental groups in the Kitchener Waterloo Region to raise awareness of the trees and plant species that local organizations and residents could plant on their properties.




Now I'd like to ask you to pay it forward by planting a tree and sharing your hopes for future generations. If you're not sure where to start, check out the Network of Nature database to see what plants you might be able to grow in your area. Do you require funding for a project? The Network of Nature team has compiled a list of grant opportunities to assist you in getting started with your project to plant trees and other native plants.



"Our Roots, Forest" -

Carbon Visuals:


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