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Université de Montréal

Portrait of a researcher

[Translate to English:] Etienne Laliberté

Trees help fight climate change

Etienne Laliberté



Department of Biological SciencesPlant Biology Research Institute

Canada Research Chair in Plant Functional Biodiversity

Director, Canadian Airborne Biodiversity Observatory (CABO)

Thanks to advances in technology, plant researchers no longer have to worry about “missing the forest for the trees.” Aerial imagery and drones are enabling researchers such as the University of Montreal’s Etienne Laliberté to map vegetation remotely and at high resolution over vast areas. The result is a precise portrait of plant diversity throughout the year and under all conditions.

According to Laliberté, climate change and biodiversity loss are not separate problems: “It is becoming increasingly clear that they are interconnected.”

To prevent or at least slow global warming, it is imperative that we reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Fortunately, nature has a way of removing CO2 from the atmosphere: trees. We have to let plants “do what they’ve been doing for hundreds of millions of years,” says Laliberté: absorbing CO2 and storing it. “We need to measure how much carbon is stored in plants and then increase it by restoring degraded ecosystems and changing forestry practices.”

Laliberté has devoted the past 15 years to research. “I want to continue doing research but I also feel the urgent need to act,” he says. “The situation is deteriorating fast and we need to find ways to use existing knowledge to optimize our solutions to climate change.” Our survival is inextricably linked to that of the planet’s ecosystems.

How did you become interested in nature?

I have always loved the outdoors, perhaps because I grew up outside Montreal close to Mont-Saint-Bruno National Park. My earliest memories are of spending long hours in this large park. As a child, I felt a deep connection to the forest and this has stayed with me throughout my career.

What led you to study in New Zealand and then teach in Australia?

It was purely by chance. After finishing my bachelors in biology at McGill University, I worked in environmental education at the Montreal Botanical Garden, teaching children and adults about the importance of trees at the Frédéric-Back Tree Pavilion. I then completed my master’s at the University of Montreal and published a number of scientific papers. This led to a scholarship to study at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand’s third largest city. After my Ph.D., I was offered a position at the University of Western Australia, so I moved to Perth with my young family. In 2015, a position opened up at the University of Montreal and we returned to Canada. But I still have ties to Australia—one of my doctoral students is working on a reforestation project there.

Follow Etienne Laliberté and his research on UdeMNouvelles