Finding ‘super seeds’ to help prevent widespread loss of Australia’s Alpine Ash forests due to climate change - Greening Australia FacebookGoogle PlusInstagramLinkedInTwitter

Finding ‘super seeds’ to help prevent widespread loss of Australia’s Alpine Ash forests due to climate change

A quest by Greening Australia and Minderoo Foundation to find ’super seeds’ suited to a changing climate will help prevent widespread loss of Australia’s Alpine Ash forests before it is too late. 

Burnt Alpine Ash Forest in Victoria. Image by Tom Fairman

Modelling by the University of Melbourne shows that without intervention, 20,000 hectares of Alpine Ash communities could be lost every 20 years as a consequence of hotter, drier conditions and more frequent bushfires.

The three year project, announced today by Greening Australia and Minderoo Foundation, will combine climate models with knowledge of populations exhibiting resilience to hotter, drier climates and repeated fires, and seek to understand the genetic basis of their beneficial ‘climate-adjusted’ traits. Seeds from plants exhibiting these traits will be sown in an experimental network of Climate-adjusted Seed Provenance Plots across Victoria and NSW.

The results of this work will help to identify which ‘super seeds’ will reduce the risk of local extinction of Alpine Ash communities as the climate changes.

Alpine Ash are extremely tall eucalyptus trees that cover 2 million hectares of Australia’s landscapes. Since 1997, these forests have been burned in successive fires.

Healthy Alpine Ash Forest in Victoria

Healthy Alpine Ash Forest in Victoria. Image by Tom Fairman

Elisa Raulings, Science & Planning Manager at Greening Australia said Alpine Ash trees do not normally produce seeds until they are 15-20 years old, which means that regeneration is not possible with the increasing frequency and severity of bushfires associated with climate change.

“In the time it takes for Alpine Ash to mature and produce seed, large areas of Alpine Ash in our snowfields have been burnt multiple times, which has driven large-scale local extinctions. To give these Alpine Ash communities the best chance of survival, we need to increase genetic variation into regenerating populations so they can adapt faster to our changing climate,” Ms Raulings said.

Greening Australia will partner with the University of Melbourne and Edith Cowan University to conduct glasshouse and genetic trials to identify plants with climate-adjusted traits and test the genetic makeup of their seeds to inform optimal seed sourcing strategies. This will allow identification of the best seed to use for restoration after fires and to better prepare Alpine Ash forests to survive future fires. It will include hand planting and drone seeding of 12,000 plants in up to 24 different trial locations.

Madelon Willemsen, Healthy Landscapes Missions Lead at Minderoo Foundation said her team were proud to partner with Greening Australia on this important project.

“We look forward to applying the insights from testing different climate-adjusted plant traits in different environments so that we can strengthen other vegetation communities in landscapes that are at risk of fires and floods across Australia with our network of partners,” Ms Willemsen said.

Alpine Ash trees play an important role in capturing carbon from the atmosphere, maintaining supplies in Melbourne’s water catchments and preserving the valuable and biodiverse ecosystem of subalpine forests. Alpine Ash trees also deliver high quality hardwood timber and are a feature of Victoria’s alpine tourist areas.

Greening Australia has been working with Parks Victoria, DELWP and Melbourne University researchers to better predict the potential loss of key forests as a consequence of climate change and increased fire frequency, and to explore what interventions may be effective in reducing their loss. This project is an extension of this founding research.

Greening Australia and the Minderoo Foundation’s Fire and Flood Resilience initiative are working together to build resilient landscapes that can better withstand the increased risk of fires and floods due to climate change.

This project is part of Greening Australia and WWF-Australia’s partnership for Climate-ready Restoration. For more information, visit wwf.org.au/climateready.