A Tale of Two (Hundred) Trees: academics showcase two methods of conservation in Canberra

23 November 2018

There are rivalries between Academics at the Fenner School of Environment and Society. This is mainly because we’d rather have conflicting opinions battling it out over scientific evidence, but also, some of our Academics just can’t help but prod at each other – like Associate Professor Cris Brack and Professor Jamie Pittock, and how they work with the environment to conseve and understand native species.

Over one weekend in October, Cris and Jamie decided to swap photos: Cris sent Jamie pictures of him planting 200 trees with a team of volunteers at the ANU Research Forest at the National Arboretum in Canberra, and Jamie sent Cris a picture of him preparing to cut down Acacia elata, an invading tree from the NSW North Coast, at Stirling Park in Yarralumla. It sounds like a strange exchange, because it is – but the two decided that sometimes it’s worth chuckling over your different approaches to research and conservation, rather than arguing over them. Here’s a breakdown of the difference in their work over one weekend in Canberra.

Associate Professor Cris Brack and the ANU Research Forest at the National Arboretum in Canberra

The ANU Research Forest is a long-term, detailed study on the adaptability and ecology of two different types of eucalyt trees: Corymbia maculata(spotted gum) and Eucalyptus tricarpa (red ironbark).

These two different species were chosen because they cope with low rainfall and drought in different ways; spotted gum is a drought ‘avoider’ and uses an extensive root system to maintain its water intake, whereas red ironbark is a drought ‘tolerator’ and alters its metabolism to stop growing during drought. Over the course of planting and growth, the forests are being manipulated to stimulate drought, so we can learn about how these trees survive and thrive in harsh conditions.

Before that can happen, the trees have to hit the ground, which is where Fenner School volunteers and a free barbeque become really helpful.

'I think we had a very successful day – lots of discussions between and across various members from the Institute of Foresters Australia, Fenner School students and graduates, and even a few “ring ins” interested in trees, environment and society. We also got 200 trees in the ground, watered and mulched in about half the time the national Arboretum staff anticipated!'

If you're interested in monitoring the environmental conditions at various parts of the forest (which is one of the technological research outcomes), you can visit this link, which allows you to see soil and canopy conditions across the site. There are also densrometers on some trees to show the change (in 15 minute increments) in diameter. One day soon we’ll be correlating these daily tree “breaths” with micro-environmental changes.

Professor Jamie Pittock and Restoring Stirling Park (Gura Bung Dhaura)

Jamie ran a work party for Friends of Grasslands (FOG) at Stirling Park (Gura Bung Dhaura) in Yarralumla. Stirling Park conserves old woodland eucalypts that develop hollows after around one hundred years. These hollows are important homes for wildlife, including birds, bats and possums. This Yellow Box - Blakely's Red Gum Grassy Woodland habitat is critically endangered and remnants are protect under federal environment law. Including efforts to conduct backburning, weed control and mowing, sometimes conservation means eliminating tree species - and on this particular weekend, while Cris Brack's team planted, Jamie's team hacked, uprooted, and chainsawed their way toward environmental conservation.

'The site has woodland of national conservation significance, including the White Box, Yellow Box, Blakely's Red Gum Grassy Woodland and Derived Native Grassland, which is listed as critically endangered under the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Yellow Box and Red Gum Grassy Woodland are also both listed as endangered under the ACT's Nature Conservation Act 1980. This woodland has a species-rich understorey of native tussock grasses, herbs and scattered shrubs, including the nationally endangered Button Wrinklewort daisy.'

You can find out more about Jamie's weekend conservation efforts at this link.