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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

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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Identification of elite Eucalyptus nitens genetic material and molecular markers for risk traits

Supervisors: Dr Rebecca Jones, Prof Rene Vaillancourt

Ensuring a future forest estate under changing climates is essential and vulnerability assessments indicate that climate change may have large consequences for sections of the industry in the future. There are opportunities to complement tools in the breeding of material to minimise threats.

This project aims to understand the genomic architecture of quantitative traits in E. nitens. The project will focus on traits affecting resistance to drought, heat, diseases, and pests - stressors that are expected to increasingly impact forests under climate change.

This research will allow breeders to rank trees (including the selections in the breeding programs) for novel and previously unmeasured traits.  It will provide molecular markers for these traits and information on the correlated effects of these markers on other selection traits (e.g., growth, basic density, and pulp yield).  It will also provide phenotypic information that can feed into the genetic evaluation system used for this species.

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