Current Students & Postdoctoral Fellows

Tara Androschuk, BSc, MSc (PhD Student)

Underlying causes of low seed yields in lodgepole pine seed orchards in Alberta

I joined Dr. Thomas’ Tree Improvement Lab as a PhD student in September 2019. I received my master’s degree in Environmental Science from the University of Toronto and my bachelor’s from MacEwan University in Biological Sciences. My research interests lie in applied science particularly reforestation and conservation. My PhD project will look at determining the underlying causes of low seed yields in lodgepole pine seed orchards in Alberta. The objectives of this project are to understand the influence of grafting on conelet abortion, determine the relationship between site conditions and conelet abortion, and determine if unsuccessful pollination is linked to conelet abortion.

Office: Earth Sciences Building 4-52


Raiany Dias de Andrade Silva, BSc, MSc (PhD Student)

Mechanisms driving clone size and gender performance in trembling aspen in Alberta

I joined Dr. Thomas’s lab in May 2019 as a PhD student. I received my MSc in Forest Biology and Management from the University of Alberta in 2019, and my BSc in Environmental Management from the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2016. My research interests are forest management, conservation, restoration, and genetics.  My PhD project will focus on patterns and mechanisms driving clone size and gender performance in trembling aspen in Alberta. The specific objectives of this project are to: describe the pattern of clone size and gender distribution in the active aspen forest management regions in Alberta using a genetic marker for sex; determine if drought stress influences clone size and gender distribution; and determine seedlings response to abiotic drought stress under greenhouse conditions.

You can learn more about my work on LinkedIn

Office: Earth Sciences Building 4-52


Dr. Esteban Galeano Gomez, RA

Parental selection and assessing the potential impacts of elite breeding in white spruce

I am a Forest Engineer (2008) from the National University of Colombia with a PhD (2015) and a Postdoc (2016) in Plant Molecular Biology from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil. I have experience in project management, research and lecturing. My expertise is in Tree Breeding and Plant Molecular Genetics, in both temperate/tropical trees and in native/exotic species. Furthermore, I have worked on the innovation and development of plant biotechnology programs in public and private companies. I joined the Thomas Lab in April 2018 to work on Barb Thomas’s Industrial Research Chair in Tree Improvement program. Some information for this project includes:

Hypothesis: (a) Gene expression of gibberellic acid and ecophysiological analysis together can be used as indicators of superior growth characteristics in white spruce seedlings. (b) Linear mixed models and differential evolution algorithms are useful for advanced breeding strategies, using large and long-term databases of white spruce.

Objective: To select elite parents of white spruce (Picea glauca) for Controlled Mass Pollination (CMP) and advanced breeding strategies using gene expression profiles of gibberellic acid, ecophysiological traits, mixed models and differential evolution algorithms.

You can find out more about me on Researchgate, LinkedIn and Orcid

Office: Earth Sciences Building 3-32 C


Yue (Bobby) Hu, BSc, MSc (PhD Candidate)

Assessing the potential for hybrid vigour within a species: disparate population breeding of balsam poplar

I received my BSc in Environmental Sciences from the Dalhousie University in 2009 and MSc in Soil Sciences from the University of Alberta in 2012. My interests are salinity problems in oil sands reclamation, application of nutrient-loading technique, and tree breeding and genetic improvement in Alberta. My PhD project will test the hypothesis that within species breeding of balsam poplar will lead to the express of hybrid vigour and explore potential underlying mechanisms through field and greenhouse assessments. Hypothesized mechanisms to be tested in this project include:

1. Hybrid vigour is due to dominance or overdominance gene interactions

2. Hybrid vigour is due to exogenous hormone levels and linked to physiological performance

3. Phenology resulting in a longer growing season explains increased growth

You can find more of my work on LinkedIn or Research Gate

Office: Earth Sciences Building 3-32 A



Dawei Luo, BSc, MSc (PhD Student)

Incorporating genetic gain into growth and yield projection

I joined the Thomas Tree Improvement Lab as a PhD student in October 2017. I received my MSc from the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2017 and my BSc from Fujian Normal University in China. I have a background in forest ecology and my MSc research focused on understanding the radial growth response of Pinus massoniana and Schima superba to climate and competition using dendrochronology.

My current interests lie in incorporating genetic gain into growth & yield models for improved trees in Alberta. GYPSY and MGM are the currently used growth & yield models in Alberta and they were developed based on wild forest stands. Both models are mainly used for simulating growth of white spruce, black spruce, aspen and lodgepole pine. As a part of the IRC program, the objectives of my current project are:

1. Evaluate performance of diameter function and height-diameter curve of MGM and GYPSY to current improved trees, modify current function or develop alternative function if necessary

2. Incorporate genetic gain into the GYPSY and MGM to evaluate contribution of tree improvement and simulate growth of improved stands

Office: Earth Sciences Building 3-41



Eden McPeak, BSc (MSc Candidate)

Establishment of realized gain trials

I received my BSc in Evolutionary Biology from the University of Alberta, and am currently an MSc candidate in the Thomas Lab. My project is focused on assessing the first Realized Gain Trials in the province for overwinter survival and growth. This includes comparing the survival and growth of white spruce and lodgepole pine seedlings grown from wild and genetically improved seed.

Office: Earth Sciences Building 3-32 C


Current Support & Technical Staff

Stacy Bergheim, BSc (Forestry) - Tree Improvement Lab Coordinator

Formerly RES-FOR project coordinator

RES-FOR website

Office: Earth Sciences Building 3-32B


Phone: 780-492-0447

Cell: 780-499-5914

Lucia Secchia - Tree Improvement Lab Coordinator

Office: Earth Sciences Building 3-32A


Phone: 780-937-9986

You can find out more about me on LinkedIn

Kayla Frankiw, BSc - Research Technician

I received my BSc in Environmental and Conservation Science from the University of Alberta. I joined the Thomas lab in April of 2020 as a Research Assistant. My work here has been a mixture of greenhouse, field and lab work including growing and harvesting of white spruce trees, cone and conelet collection, grinding needle samples and so much more.


Stephanie Rudnew, BSc - Research Technician

Response of Aspen to Mechanical Wounding
In 2020, I received my BSc specializing in Ecology from the University of Alberta. After completing an undergraduate research project in the Thomas Lab studying the growth response of aspen families under soil warming, I began working as a Research Assistant in spring 2020. My work includes greenhouse, lab, and field work related to the growth, harvesting, and sample analyses of aspen and conifer trees.