January 27, 2022

Cultivating Diversity

The Expert Panel on Plant Health Risks in Canada

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Plants sustain life on Earth, providing humans and other organisms with food, shelter, and clean air. They are foundational to the economic, cultural, physical, and spiritual well-being of people in Canada. Although plants are a constant ― often unnoticed ― presence in our lives, they are increasingly at risk and under pressure.

Plants face many threats, such as rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, extreme weather events, disease, and new predators, all of which have been exacerbated by climate change, the global movement of people and goods, and evolutionary processes. There is still a great deal to learn about how stressors affect plants and their relationships with pests and the environment. It’s clear, however, that the risks to plant health also threaten the health of broader ecosystems, affecting climate, human and animal health, biodiversity, and food security. Addressing current and emerging risks to plant health is vital to the survival of life on Earth.

Cultivating Diversity examines the existing and emerging risks to plant health in Canada and offers insights into promising practices that may help to mitigate them. The report focuses on key areas of risk, rather than specific risks, as well as strategies to reduce vulnerability and increase resilience.

The Sponsor:

Canadian Food Inspection Agency

The Question:

What are the most significant current and emerging risks to plant health in Canada?


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The Panel identified three main categories of risks to plant health: Changes to the environment, including higher temperatures, extreme weather events, changing precipitation levels, and land-use changes; Pests, including predators (e.g., insects), competitors (i.e., weeds), and disease (i.e., pathogens); Issues of governance, including failures in surveillance, communication, and coordination among relevant actors in the plant health system.

Key exacerbating factors — climate change, the movement of people and goods, and evolutionary processes — can increase the likelihood of adverse events, the rapidity of changes, and the severity of potential impacts to plant health. These exacerbating factors can act directly on pests, plants, and the environment, but also act indirectly by altering plant-pest-environment relationships. Moreover, interactions among exacerbating factors (e.g., environmental changes that favour the establishment of novel pests) can accelerate and amplify adverse events in unanticipated ways, making the assessment and management of plant health risks more complex and uncertain.

Report findings

  • The rapid pace of environmental change challenges the ability of plant populations, as well as the ability of the plant health system, to adapt.
  • There is a need for the assessment of appropriate and relevant indicators and metrics across all aspects of the plant health system.
  • Ecosystems with fewer barriers to introduction and spread, that have more available habitat, and that have limited control options face greater threats from plant pests.
  • Promising practices in plant risk management include better detection, identification, and modelling of pest populations and environmental conditions to inform decision-making.
  • Challenges to adopting and applying digital technologies to manage plant health risks include availability of expertise, issues of data governance, and cost.
  • Coordination among diverse actors is essential for the successful deployment of resources and knowledge to mitigate emerging risks to plant health.
  • Including Indigenous people in the plant health system is an opportunity for Canada to help mitigate risks, meet its obligations, and move towards reconciliation.
  • An inclusive, connected, and responsive plant health system is key to addressing current and emerging plant health risks in Canada.

Expert Panel

The Expert Panel on Plant Health Risks in Canada