Ensuring the restoration and protection of Australia’s unique ecosystems in a changing climate is a common goal of Minderoo Foundation and Greening Australia. Together the organisations are working on a project that combines climate models with knowledge of Alpine Ash populations exhibiting resilience to hotter, drier climates and repeated fires, and seeks to understand the genetic basis of their beneficial ‘climate-adjusted’ traits.
A total of nine experimental climate future plots have been planted in 2022 throughout regional areas of Victoria and New South Wales (NSW) using seed collected from 21 Alpine Ash populations across Victoria, Tasmania and NSW. An additional plot at the University of Melbourne’s Burnley campus has been planted this month, allowing for intensive monitoring of plant physiological traits in response to stress conditions.
Genetic analysis of the seed is also underway at Edith Cowan University as part of the project to identify the genetic basis of climate-adjusted traits such as resprouting, thicker bark and earlier flowering that may help trees survive or reproduce after a fire.
With a strong focus on science-based innovation and climate adaption, the project is working towards a scalable nature-based solution – climate-adjusted seed – that can be used to pre-emptively help restore landscapes and prevent widespread loss of Australia’s Alpine Ash forests before it is too late.
Elisa Raulings, Science and Planning Manager at Greening Australia said the project represents the kind of cutting-edge climate adaptation required to help unique and vulnerable ecosystems like Alpine Ash forests survive in a changing climate.
“Climate change is already having disastrous impacts for nature and people across Australia, and future predictions are dire. To solve these big and complex problems we need to form strategic partnerships like this one that bring together different experience and knowledge to work towards shared goals.
“We’re using Alpine Ash as a case study to think about how ‘super seeds’ can help nature adapt to the challenges of climate change. We’re working hard to ensure that these results are transferable to other plant communities and that we understand how to deploy this solution at scale, so that we can build resilience into the landscape and safeguard the survival of ecosystems like Alpine Ash forests for generations to come.”
Milica Duric, Acting Healthy Landscapes Mission Lead at Minderoo Foundation’s Fire and Flood Resilience initiative, said the foundation is backing this innovative approach to restoring, adapting and future-proofing our once resilient native species ravaged by the Black Summer bushfires in 2020.
“Minderoo Foundation and Greening Australia understand the urgency of addressing climate and disaster-related issues for Australians and the landscapes in which we live.
“With a shared goal of building healthy landscapes’ that have a reduced risk to disasters such as bushfires and floods, we understand the innovations and scale required to improve the resilience of Australia’s plants, animals, and people. Through this project, we’re working towards a model that can fast-track efforts. We look forward to implementing the next tech-driven phase that will be announced in 2023.”
Alpine Ash forests cover two million hectares of Australia’s landscapes and have been burned in successive fires since 1997. Alpine Ash trees take 15-20 years to mature and produce seeds, so the increasing frequency and severity of bushfires associated with climate change is preventing regeneration and driving large-scale local extinctions. Without action, modelling by Melbourne University revealed Australia stands to lose 20,000 hectares of Alpine Ash every twenty years in a changing climate.
This project is part of Greening Australia and WWF-Australia’s Climate-ready Restoration partnership which aims to innovate, accelerate and amplify climate-adapted approaches to restoring Australian landscapes.