Research: Climate Change and Forests

National Arboretum Canberra

National arboretum (pronounced ar-bo-re-tum) is a collection of living trees, cultivated for conservation, scientific, research and educational purposes.

The National Arboretum Canberra was officially opened on 1 February, 2013 and marked the realisation of a concept first envisioned in Walter and Marion Griffin's plan for Canberra,

The Canberra Bush fires of 2001 and 2003, dramatically impacted the pine plantation formerly occupying the site, presenting an ideal opportunity to progress the Griffin vision. 

40,000 trees across 100 forests have been planted on the 250 hectare site, with many of the trees being rare and interesting species from around the world including:  



The Research Site at the International Arboretum is being developed under an agreement between the ACT Government and the Australian National University, along with support by CSIRO and other Australian and international Universities.

The key questions this new research site will help answer include: how will eucalypt forests respond to climate change; how much carbon do eucalypt forests sequester out of the atmosphere; will eucalypt trees change their shape or the properties of their wood under different climate extremes?

We will plant and grow eucalypt trees under a variety of watering conditions, including conditions that mimic a drying country.

We will also be planting representatives of eucalypts that have adapted to a dry country in different ways – “avoiding” the water stress by use of extremely effective root systems; or “adapting” to stress by controlling the way they use water.

The Research Site at the National Arboretum is also focused on the dynamics of native Australian trees – Eucalypts, and is taking advantage of a previous experiment – The Biology of Forest Growth (BFG) – that was destroyed in the 2003 fires.

The BFG focused on Pinus radiata, a species that is endangered in its natural range but is very important for Australia.  Before its destruction, the BFG allowed scientists to more completely understand how trees and forests reacted to water stress and the availability of nutrients. 

For example, if two almost identical trees are planted in the Brindabella Mountains, and one has access to as much water and nutrient as it needs while the other only has access to natural rainfall, they will grow into very different looking trees.

One can continue growing all year round, while the other stops growing for several months; one will have over 2 ½ times the wood volume and over 2 times the amount of carbon stored of the other. The BFG supported the publication of many scientific journal articles and provided essential information that help developed the National Carbon Accounting System. The National Carbon Accounting System developers, including ANU, CSIRO and the Department of Climate Change, were awarded the Australian Museum’s Eureka Prize for Environmental Science in 2008. We expect the new Research Site will provide equally valuable information to help understand trees and fight climate change.

Trees are dynamic – they grow and some parts die every year, taking advantage of any resources they can access or trying to cope when resources are in short supply. Understanding this dynamic nature, especially with potential climate chances, is a long term and complex task, which is the objective of the Intensive Research Site at the International Arboretum.  For details on the experiment design click HERE.

Interested in finding out more about how trees grow and their interaction with the environment? Then a Forest Science Major at the Australian National University is a good place to learn as well as studying how the International Arboretum is developing. More interested in working with forests and people and how they both with impact on each other and change in our changing climate? Then a Bachelors of Science in Forestry or in Resource and Environmental Management might be a better choice. Have a look at for further details.

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Updated:  22 August 2018/Responsible Officer:  Director Fenner School/Page Contact:  Webmaster Fenner School