Partnering to Explore the Potential of Sweetgrass to Sequester Carbon

Alberta, Canada: The Resilience Institute (TRI) and partners from the Piikani Nation, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), the University of Lethbridge, and Environment Canada and Climate Change (ECCC) are collaborating to evaluate the ecological role of Sweetgrass in native grasslands and its potential to mitigate climate change through carbon sequestration.

“This research brings together a transdisciplinary team of knowledge holders on new and conventional research methods to assess carbon flow through the Sweetgrass ecosystem and study the soil microbiome while further developing good practices that weave together Indigenous ways of knowing with agricultural research methods,” explains the Resilience Institute’s president, Laura S. Lynes.

Sweetgrass is a culturally significant plant to the Piikani community and many other Indigenous Peoples. Piikani Nation is a member of the Blackfoot Confederacy located in Southern Alberta. Within the traditional territory, the aromatic Sweetgrass is found in wetlands, wet meadows, and marshes — ecosystems that are in decline due to human impact and the climate crisis.

“We are really excited about the potential for reciprocal knowledge sharing that this initiative will foster and in outcomes that will inform land management practices in the Piikani Nation” says Noreen Plain Eagle, Manager Piikani Nation Lands Department.

Scientists from AAFC, including Drs. Wade Abbott and Monika Gorzelak, will analyze soil and Sweetgrass samples from Piikani Lands and help set the stage for a systems-level understanding of carbon flow through the Sweetgrass ecosystem.

“Contributing to soil health and mitigating climate change are important priorities, and addressing these priorities is made possible by working together in partnership with Indigenous Peoples. This investment will help transfer knowledge, advance research and provide insight on traditional Indigenous plants, helping strengthen the agriculture sector, while protecting our ecosystems for future generations,” says the Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.

Tony Montina from the University of Lethbridge specializes in nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and metabolomics analysis for biological systems. He will assess metabolite variation in Sweetgrass samples, contributing to a long-standing history of the University of Lethbridge’s collaboration with Blackfoot communities in Southern Alberta.

“This research will include a metabolomics-based systems biology approach that allows for a better understanding of how each part of the plant functions and differs based on the growing environment. Ultimately, we are hoping to get a better understanding of how the plant is connected to both the earth and climate and to bring this together with Indigenous ways of knowing,” says Tony Montina, Director of the University of Lethbridge Magnetic Resonance Facility.

Dr. Philippe Thomas, a researcher with Environment Canada and Climate Change (ECCC) will provide ecotoxicological expertise through assessments of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and trace element levels in Sweetgrass samples from Piikani Nation lands and their impacts on carbon cycling and grassland health.

“Having the opportunity to work alongside the Piikani Nation, the Resilience Institute and all these great partners to answer complex questions that matter to Traditional Land Users, and Canadians at large is the best part of this job. The importance of weaving Traditional Knowledge with our Western Science to address questions on the impacts of climate change in Sweetgrass helps us contribute towards the implementation of the Pan- Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change; and it engages strategic partners (including Indigenous peoples) to provide stronger, evidence-based research that supports meaningful policy and regulatory development,” says Phil Thomas of Environment and Climate Change Canada’s National Wildlife Research Centre.

The Resilience Institute is a national charitable organization based in Canmore, Alberta, Canada that works with diverse partners to advance education and research on strategies to reduce the impacts of climate change.

The Government of Canada’s AgriScience Program aims to accelerate the pace of innovation by providing funding and support for pre-commercial science activities and cutting-edge research that benefits the agriculture and agri-food sector and Canadians.

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