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Tree Genetics

Genetic research provides an understanding of how key economic and adaptive traits are controlled in trees. This research helps understand plants response to risk, future climates and informs our ability to breed productive and resistant trees.

Current Projects

Climate adaptation capacity in Australia's declining woodlands

Supervisors: Peter Harrison, Rebecca Jordan (CSIRO), René Vaillancourt, Julianne O’Reilly-Wapstra

This research project is on the adaptive capacity of a south-east Australian eucalypt species, Eucalyptus ovata to climate change. Eucalyptus ovata was once much more common across Tasmania, but land-use change has resulted in the clearing and fragmentation of populations and now climate change may be causing tree decline. Restoration of native ecosystems will be vital in mitigating the impact of climate change. Research into best practices for conservation and restoration under changing climate is imperative to ensure the best outcome into the future. This project is using population and landscape genomics to aid restoration of this important grassland and riparian species.

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Provenance choice in native forest management

Supervisors: Dr Peter Harrison, Assoc Prof Julianne O’Reilly-Wapstra and Dr Dean Williams

Forest tree species are expected to be negatively affected by climate change as unprecedented selective pressures cause an increase in local extinction events. This project will examine the influence of seed source (provenance) choice on the performance and resilience of eucalypt forest revegetation by generating new knowledge on the genetic basis of climate adaptation in the ash eucalypts (Eucalyptus obliquaE. delegatensisE. regnans).

Signals of adaptation will be detected at three genetic levels. At the individual-level, differences in gene expression through epigenetic modifications following a climate stress event will be examined using a controlled glasshouse experiment and an integrated DNA-methylation and metabolomics approach. At the population-level, changes in allele frequency of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) along climatic gradients will be uncovered using a genome-environment association analysis to identify regions and underlying gene families putatively associated with climate adaptation. At the species-level, parallel responses of the ash eucalypts to climate will be examined through a joint phenotype-genotype approach to understand the extent to which climate adaptation can be predicted and extrapolated to other species. The performance of seed will then be experimentally tested using field trials to determine early establishment transfer functions.

This project will contribute to our understanding of forest tree adaptations and their vulnerability to future climate stress, and provide an evidence-based framework for seed-sourcing to promote resilient forest revegetation in the face of climate change, thus improving the management of forest resources globally.

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