China is one of the world’s top exporters of tea. But climate change threatens the country’s tea plantations with floods, drought and invasive species caused by shifting weather conditions.
Enter Liette Vasseur.
A professor of Biological Sciences at Brock, Vasseur has been named a Minjiang Scholar at the Fujian Agricultural and Forestry University in the province of Fujian, China. For the next three years, she will spend time in Fujian studying ecological issues related to climate change. This includes its impact on the region’s tea plantations and invasion of exotic species.
The plantations are encountering problems with droughts and flash floods, which is impacting the important socio-economic activity, Vasseur said. The tea industry in the Fujian is estimated to be at least 1,000 years old, and is a major economic driver in the province of more than 35 million people.
Vasseur hopes to use field and greenhouse approaches to replicate the extreme events experienced by the plantations to learn what can be done to offset the impacts of climate change.
“It’s not a question of if (climate change) is coming,” Vasseur said. “It’s a matter of adapting to it.”
Vasseur will also study the impact of a North American plant species, Spartina alterniflora, and its impact on Fujian’s coastal mangroves. The species was planted to prevent erosion, she said. But it has since spread uncontrollably and is choking out valuable shoreline, threatening the fish and shrimp industry.
“This plant, probably because of lack of competition, has started to grow aggressively,” said Vasseur, who will spend two or three months a year in China. “It’s displacing the livelihood of this coastal community.”
Vasseur is an internationally recognized expert on the impacts of climate change. Her research projects have spanned from Cambodia to Burkina Faso, and she has been involved in numerous committees and initiatives. These include serving as a current member of the Commission in Ecosystem Management of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, as well as past membership on the science advisory council of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. She was also lead author for the Atlantic chapter of the Climate Change Assessment Initiative of Natural Resources Canada.
Vasseur’s Minjiang scholarship is the result of a long affiliation with entomologist Minsheng You, an academic, and Vice-President, Academic, at Fujian Agricultural and Forestry University with whom she will collaborate with during her time there. She hopes to make her first journey to China as a Minjiang Scholar in late April or early May.
“I’m looking forward to good long-term collaboration, and a good experience,” said Vasseur, who hopes to involve Brock undergraduate and graduate students in her work in China.