Climate testing the next generation of Snowy Monaro eucalyptus

With the release of the damning IPCC report, Australian National University has joined forces with Landcare in a series of temperature trials, testing the climate resilience of native Eucalyptus species – with the hopes of safeguarding the future of the bush against increasing extreme conditions.

Working together with Upper Snowy Landcare Network, ACT researchers are focusing on species from the woodlands and forests of South-East Australia impacted by drought, dieback and the Black Summer Bushfires. 

Dieback impacts on Snowy Monaro eucalyptus Credit Annette Ruzicka

Using high resolution real-time imaging technology, 700 Ribbon Gum and Snow Gum seedlings sourced and collected by Upper Snowy Landcare Network members, will be tested for heat and drought tolerance in climate chambers at the Australian National University’s Plant Phenomics facility. 

With $180,000 funding from Landcare Led Bushfire Recovery Grants, it’s hoped these trials will find Eucalyptus genotypes that can cope with the new local climate – and lead to replanted and restored native habitat which can survive increasing extremities of climate change.

“We’re at a moment where we can break down and decipher the genomic sequencing of these native tree species which make up our natural habitats. This can help predict how they adapt and impacted by climate factors, soil types and other environmental factors that vary across landscapes,” explained Margaret Mackinnon, Chair, Upper Snowy Landcare Network.

“Dieback has been a huge issue in regions across the Snowy Mountains and we have many farmers and landholders here who have requested help in restoration. But there have been examples where, upon receiving 1000 seedlings, they ask ‘Are they going to die? Where did you get the tube stock? Are they going to be any good?’”

Running the trials, Justin Borevitz, Professor at ANU’s Research School of Biology explained with the seedlings collected and on-ground knowledge shared by members of the Upper Snowy Landcare Network, they can learn which species, populations or families have the best shot at long-term survival, which can maintain diversity and better regenerate in ever harsher conditions.

“From the testing and trials done in the climate chambers at ANU, which can replicate and stage extreme climate conditions, we can interpret the most resistant. It gives us a better chance of success,” Prof Borevitz said. 

The grant will allow a systematic, large-scale scientific evaluation of climate-specific performance of a large number of genotypes sampled from across their full environmental and geographic range.

Prof Borevitz added the evaluation will be undertaken for two keystone species of the bushfire-impacted tableland-mountain environments which are both suffering from climate change-related dieback.  

“After learning which are the good seedlings to work with and which are the bad, we can return the best seed lots to Landcare who can distribute them to landholders and get them in the ground, with hopefully a better future potential. All going to plan, it will generate climate-specific predictions of genotype performance for any given restoration environment, increasing the odds of survival for our native habitats.”