James Cook University scientists will use genetic testing to discover better ways to regrow and ‘future-proof’ rainforests.
JCU’s Associate Professor Lucas Cernusak is the Chief Investigator on the project, funded by a $410,000 Australian Research Council grant.
“There’s been a dramatic decline in global forest cover, with a net loss of more than three percent over the last 25 years,” said Dr Cernusak.
He said the decline also obscures a potentially greater concern – that the types of trees brought in by reforestation programs may not provide the same benefits to the local ecosystem as the lost trees they are replacing.
“So it’s not just the total area of restoration plantings that is important, but also the specific attributes of the species and their genetic origin,” said Dr Cernusak.
The team will collect and grow seedlings of the same species, but which have grown in different environments, to explore local adaptation. The extent of the adaptation will be examined through genetic analyses.
“This will include growing them in climate-controlled glasshouses that will replicate what we think the climate is going to be like in the future,” said Dr Cernusak.
He said this will provide a detailed understanding of responses to different environments both within and among species.
“Ultimately, we aim to answer the question of whether it matters where people restoring forests collect the seed from, given present and predicted future climates of planting sites. And if so, which ones are the best fit for a given area,” he said.
Dr Cernusak said the obvious approach of using seeds found in nearby trees for reforestation may not be the best solution.
“They may not produce the best trees for what the climate in that area will look like in forty or fifty years,” he said.
Dr Cernusak said the project will run for three years and at least two PhD and four honours students will work on it. The results will be made freely available at its conclusion.