Survival of the drought tolerant: do eucalypts have the genetic potential to adapt to a hotter, driver Australia?
In the face of rapid global change and increasing reports of forest dieback world-wide, the adaptive capacity of foundation tree species, such as eucalypts, is a key issue for managing native and planted forests. An understanding of adaptive capacity requires knowledge of population differentiation and local adaptation, the adaptive capacity of local gene pools, as well as the traits, genes and processes contributing to such adaptation.
This project will focus on Eucalyptus viminalis and closely-related white gums (E. rubida and E. dalrympleana). Eucalyptus viminalis occupies a diverse range of environments in south-eastern Australia. It is critical habitat for several vulnerable/threatened animals4. Over the past decade, there has been a rapid decline in the health of E. viminalis across its distribution following pest outbreak and climate stress. The extent to which this species has the genetic capacity to survive and adapt to a hotter, drier climate is, thus, a key question.
Using E. viminalis as a model, the research team will integrate field, glasshouse and laboratory trials with one of the first attempts to identify adaptive genetic diversity related to native tree dieback, to better understand the genetic potential of eucalypts to adapt to environmental change. Recent advances in genomics, bioinformatics and technologies for measuring physiological susceptibility to drought, will provide novel insights into the nature and sources of adaptive genetic variation available to respond to climate stress. Such knowledge is needed to inform strategies for ecological restoration, conservation and management of eucalypt populations under climate change.