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Eucalypt futures: using functional traits to predict species distributions and responses to environmental change

 Australia is characterized by low rainfall with high variability, severe droughts, frequent fires, and low soil fertility, relative to other continents. Yet, over 900 tree species in the genera Eucalyptus, Corymbia and Angophora have flourished in these challenging environments, dominating much of the landscape. To effectively manage the “adaptability of populations and species to climate change” it is important to understand the mechanisms that have enabled Eucalypts to succeed. New knowledge is required to inform management of Australia’s unique biological legacy and future environment.

Climate projections suggest unavoidable warming, 1.5 degrees above pre-settlement, brings more frequent hot days, fewer frosts, changes in precipitation, and increased fire weather. As the distributions of many Eucalypts span narrow bioclimatic ranges, it has been postulated that many Eucalypts are highly susceptible to climate change. In contrast, physiological studies and modelling, and plantation forestry (e.g., E. globulus, E. nitens, P. radiata), suggest that tolerances for many Eucalypts are much wider than observed ranges, implying resilience to climate change.

Through the use of functional traits (physical, biochemical, phenological, and physiological adaptations affecting how species grow, survive, and reproduce), collected on hundreds of Eucalypts across diverse habitats, this project will develop capacity to explain and predict distributions of diverse Eucalypts across environmental gradients. The research team will combine these trait data with species distribution, mechanistic eco-evolutionary, and physiological models to generate a robust, integrated assessment of the drivers of Eucalypt species distribution, and thereby the impact of climate change on Eucalypts.

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