Widespread death of eucalypts has been observed in forested landscapes across Australia, including the alpine regions of Victoria, NSW and the ACT. The latter phenomenon, termed snow-gum dieback, poses a serious threat to biodiversity conservation at local and regional levels, with knock-on effects for ecosystem function, landscape hydrology, tourism, and bushfire risk and recovery.
A suite of factors have been associated with forest dieback in Australia. In the Australian Alps the impacts of drought and historical disturbance on the prevalence of wood-boring insects may explain tree decline. Research focussed on this issue aims to understand the causal factors and identify possible solutions for the protection of high-elevation forests. Primary areas of study include;
- dendroecological reconstruction of dieback phenomena;
- high-resolution analysis of stable-isotopic composition, wood anatomy, plant growth and water use;
- field- and laboratory-based entomological studies; and
- remote sensing and modelling of forest change.
In addition to dieback, research also focusses on the broader aspects of long-term variability in tree-ring series. This research places an emphasis on identifying potential impacts of climate change on forest growth and hydrologic function. Understanding wood anatomy as the basis of plant adaptations and response to environmental stimuli is a key focus. Primary areas of study include:
- identifying wood-density and hydraulic metrics suited to reconstructing temperature and hydrological variability from high elevation species; and
- identifying wood anatomical traits underlying species interactions within mixed-species forest stands and response to environmental conditions and disturbance.