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

Yue (Bobby) Hu, BSc, MSc, PhD

PhD thesis: 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. I completed my PhD in Dr. Thomas' lab in 2021.  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


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

Research Gate


Dr. Jaime Sebastian Azcona, PDF

As a member of Barb Thomas's lab, I investigated the adaptation of white spruce and lodgepole pine clones to drought stress as part of the RES-FOR project. Specifically, I used dendrochronological methods to analyze how the different families were impacted by drought periods experienced in Alberta during the last 30 years, and how well they were able to recover from that stress. My results will be used for the genomic selection of drought adapted trees as seed sources for reforestation. My previous research has always been linked to climate adaptation, either analyzing physiological traits (PhD thesis) or remote sensing and GIS models (MSc).

In 2021 I started a Postdoctoral Position with the Riego y Ecofisiología de Cultivos (REC) / Irrigation and Crop Ecophysiology at the Instituto de Recursos Naturales y Agrobiologia de Sevilla (IRNAS) / Institute of Natural Resources and Agrobiology of Seville (

You can find out more about me on ResearchGate.



Dr. Xiaojing Wei, PDF - Resilient Forests

My research interests lie in the intersection of plant eco-physiology, evolution of functional traits, and community ecology. In Thomas lab, my works focuses on examining drought resistance and multi-trait strategies in lodgepole pines and white spruces at Alberta. This work includes a) measuring gas exchange, δ13C, and other drought related traits in field progenies trials, and b) examining responses of seedlings to drought (and herbivory) treatment in greenhouse. Before coming to Alberta, I received a Ph.D. degree in Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior from University of Minnesota and a bachelor degree in Ecology from China Agricultural University. My Ph.D. works examined the assembly processes in natural willow and poplar communities in Minnesota, focusing on how traits related to water stress and herbivory resistance influenced assembly processes, and phylogenetic patterns in these traits. As a new member of the Thomas lab, I am excited about continuing research in plant stress resistance in the context of forest management.


Robert Matheson, MSc

Trade-offs between wood density, drought resistance and growth for breeding programs based on comparisons of parent trees, progeny trials and adjacent wild stands

I graduated from Concordia University of Edmonton in 2016, whereupon I received a BSc in Biology. A few of my interests include ecology, resource management, conservation and reclamation – particularly where these topics intersect with sustainability and real-world applicability. My research project will focus on trade-offs in volume growth rate and wood quality (e.g. wood density) of commercially important conifers – mainly lodgepole pine and white spruce. This research will be used to inform decision making in regards to the selection of parents/progeny from seed orchard programs to meet industrial priorities (i.e. maximizing growth rate without compromising strength).

Office: Earth Sciences Building 3-32 A


Dr. Simon Bockstette, PDF

Simon has a background in temperate and tropical forestry and received his PhD in Land Reclamation and Ecosystem Restoration from the University of Alberta in 2017. His past research focused on tree responses to abiotic and biotic stress. Simon's project in Dr. Thomas’s lab focused on chronic underproduction in a lodgepole pine seed orchard. Objectives for this project were to:

1. Determine if gibberellic acid injections can be used to induce the development of female cones  to increase overall seed yield

2. Detect the underlying causes for low seed production and high conelet abortion rates.

Simon is currently a Tree Improvement Forester with the Government of Nova Scotia. You can find out more about him on ResearchGate and LinkedIn.

Diana White, MF







Dr. Shanjida Khan, PDF

I am currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Renewable Resources at the University of Alberta, Canada. I received my PhD in Plant Molecular Biology and Genetics from the Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta in 2015. In Dr. Thomas’s lab, my research focuses on understanding the role of the major intrinsic protein family in adaptation of important forest plants to abiotic stresses. This research is based on two approaches. First, molecular cloning of genes of interest to investigate their structural features and biological functions. Second, to investigate gene expression profiles for better understanding the molecular processes occurring in plants while coping with a stress.

I have great expertise in the use of genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, molecular markers, genetic engineering and computational biology in various plant species. My long-term research goal is to integrate molecular and genomic tools to develop improved plants.

Office: Earth Sciences Building 3-38 B


Dr. Ricky Kong, PDF

Clonal drought responses of female and male Populus tremuloides previously exposed to drought

I completed my PhD at The University of Western Ontario and my Bachelors of Science (Honors) at the University of Alberta. My research examines the impact of abiotic stress on plant physiology and productivity. I am interested in how stresses interact and the mechanisms behind these effects.

In the Thomas lab, I investigated the effect of drought on trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides) and examined the impacts on the drought tolerance of asexual offspring. I also examined how drought tolerance in offspring interacts with tree gender and genotype.

You can find more about my research at ResearchGate or  LinkedIn



Dr. Stefan Schreiber, Research Associate - NAIT Boreal Research Institute

Valuation of tree improvement in Alberta

Stefan was a postdoctoral fellow primarily working in the fields of plant ecophysiology, ecological genetics and climate change adaptation. He received his PhD in Forest Biology and Management from the University of Alberta in 2012. His project in Dr. Thomas's lab focused on the development of a valuation model for tree improvement in Alberta. His research aimed to answer three main questions:

  1. How are plants adapted to the environments in which they occur?
  2. How do plants acclimate to environmental change?
  3. How can this information be utilized in forest resource management?

Stefan is currently a research associate at the NAIT Boreal Research Institute.

You can find more of his work on his personal website, Google Scholar or Research Gate.


Dr. Raúl de la Mata, Research Associate - Institute of Agrifood Research and Technology

Assessing drought resistance and genetic variation in lodgepole and hybrid pine

As a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Thomas's lab, Raul was interested in understanding the causes and consequences of genetic variation in adaptive traits in forest trees. By using experimental trials and genetic sources from forest breeding programs, he addressed the topic of micro-evolutionary processes as drivers for adaptation to current and future environmental conditions. In particular, he focused on the evolutionary and physiological processes underlying life history tradeoffs in trees (growth vs. drought resistance vs. pest resistance) and their consequences for forest tree breeding programs. His work combines quantitative genetics, geostatistics, dendrochronology and eco-physiological techniques.

Raul's project in Dr. Thomas's lab focused on exploring genetic variation in drought resistance in lodgepole and hybrid pine. The main research objectives were:

  1. Assessing genetic variation in drought resistance in two Pinus contorta breeding programs in western Alberta
  2. Understanding how environmental gradients in the source location of the breeding populations could determine their ability to cope with drought
  3. Evaluating the effects of introgression with Pinus banksiana in determining drought resistance

Raul is currently a Research Associate at the Institute of Agrifood Research and Technology in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. You can find more of Raul's work on Research Gate.


Past Technicians, Research Assistants and Administrators:

  • Michelle Mjolsness, IRC Research Technician, (Summer 2019)
  • Ryota Kawamura, BSc - RES-FOR Research Technician (May 2018 - Jan. 2019)
  • Rob Johnstone, IRC Research Technician (Oct. 2015 - Aug. 2016)
  • Adam Zwiazek, IRC Research Technician (Sept. 2016 - Apr. 2017)


Lucia Secchia - Tree Improvement Lab Coordinator







Jana Bockstette, MSc - Research Technician, RES-FOR

Jana joined the Thomas Tree Improvement Lab as a Research Assistant in 2018. She has a background in forest management (BSc) and graduated with an MSc in Land Reclamation and Remediation from the University of Alberta in 2018. As part of the RES-FOR team Jana's main responsibilities were to provide research support in field and greenhouse work, data management and data analysis. She is interested in plant physiology and forest ecology research.

You can find more of his work on his personal website, Google Scholar or Research Gate.


Morgan Randall, BSc, MSc - Tree Improvement Lab Coordinator

Morgan received my BSc in Plant Biology from the University of Alberta in 2013, and her MSc in Integrative Biology from the University of Guelph in 2015. Her main duties and responsibilities in the Tree Improvement Lab were to: assist in coordination of field and greenhouse activities, oversee lab and field safety, purchase and maintain equipment, train new staff and students, provide administrative and financial assistance to the PI, and provide research support such as fieldwork, data management and analysis.

You can find out more about me on LinkedIn or ResearchGate


Laura Vehring, BSc - Research Assistant, Res-For

Laura's duties in the Thomas Lab included providing research support for the Resilient Forests (RES-FOR) LSARP project team. Her work focused on assisting postdoctoral fellows with field research, collecting tissue samples for DNA extraction, overseeing contractors and summer technicians in the field, and data entry and checking.



David Kamelchuk, BSc, MSc - Research Assistant

Dave completed a BSc and an MSc in Forest Management from the University of Alberta and is currently a Forester at Al-Pac. His interests include tree breeding and genetic improvement, installation of field trials and the promotion of tree improvement in Alberta.



Undergraduate Alumni

Summer Students

  • Jessica Hermary, University of Alberta Undergraduate Student (Summer 2020)
  • Joshua Balak, University of Alberta Undergraduate Student (Summer 2019)
  • Andrew Groenendyk, University of Alberta Undergraduate Student (Summer 2019)
  • Megan Sorenson, University of Alberta Undergraduate Student (Summer 2019)
  • Aileen Sturges, University of Alberta Undergraduate Student (May 2018 - Dec. 2019, Summer 2019)
  • Hannah DuPerron, Undergraduate Student (Summer 2018)
  • Jillian Dyck, University of Alberta Undergraduate Student (Summer 2017)
  • Calvin Jensen, University of Alberta Undergraduate Student (Summer 2017)
  • Jesse Shirton, University of Alberta Undergraduate Student (Summer 2017)
  • Sarah Suzuk, University of Alberta Undergraduate Student (Summer 2017)
  • Michael Thomson, BSc Biology (Summers 2017 & 2018)
  • Gregg Hamilton (Summer 2016)
  • Briana Ledic (Summer 2015 & 2016)

University of British Columbia (UBC) Co-op Students

  • Ho-Chun (Aaron) Chen (May 2017 - Dec. 2017)
  • Arial Eatherton (Summer 2017)
  • Jimmy Sung (Sept. 2016 - Apr. 2017)
  • Victoria Diederichs (Summer 2016)