Hawkesbury Appeal Prize


PhD student Danielle Creek was recently awarded the inaugural Hawkesbury Appeal Prize

The Hawkesbury Appeal Prize is a very special award that reflects more than one hundred years of science excellence at the Hawkesbury campus. Supporters include John B Fairfax, the Hawkesbury Lunch 2015 and George Bennett. The Prize is offered for the first time in 2015 to postgraduate students based at the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment.

My Research Journey: "Living with drought: adaptive responses of Eucalyptus species to water deficit"

By Danielle Creek

Ms Danielle Creek The arid and semi-arid inland regions of "outback" Australia have inspired and helped define Australia's identity. Despite the harshness of climate, characterised by periods of extreme drought and occasional flooding, the area boasts extraordinary biodiversity and is able to support vast woodlands and forests on the edge of the desert interior.

However, the current transition in Australia to a hotter and drier climate, with more frequent and extreme drought (CSIRO 2015), presents a major risk to these ecologically and culturally important ecosystems. Drought-induced tree mortality is an emerging global phenomenon with mounting evidence that increasing temperatures and reduced rainfall associated with climate change are responsible for this acceleration of large scale forest die-back we are seeing across the globe (Breshears et al. 2005; Allen et al. 2010).

These dieback events have profound effects on the biodiversity and ecosystem function with flow on effects to carbon, nutrient and hydrological cycles. Locally, we are already seeing widespread tree dieback events in parts of Outback Australia including large areas of the iconic River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) in the Murray-Darling Basin as well as Savannah Eucalypts of Northern Queensland and the Northern Territory.

However, despite the many exciting advances in drought research over the recent years, our understanding of how climate drives plant hydraulic and other associated functional traits to confer adaptive drought tolerance, especially within an Australian context, is still limited. My research at the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment aims to assess the vulnerability of key semi-arid eucalypts to long-term drought and identify physiological mechanisms important to drought resistance and subsequent recovery.

My research will help to fill in some of the knowledge gaps surrounding physiological mechanisms responsible for drought-induced tree death...

I utilise a range of experimental approaches including detailed glasshouse and controlled environment studies at Western Sydney University to simulate drought events in order to characterise key plant physiological traits that determine species' drought tolerance as well as undertake field based research across semi-arid Australia to identify arid eucalypt species vulnerable to die-back events. With most of south-eastern Australia, including the Western Sydney region, facing more frequent and severe drought events under future climate scenarios, widespread tree dieback will not be isolated to the interior of Australia.

My research will help to fill in some of the knowledge gaps surrounding physiological mechanisms responsible for drought-induced tree death. This in turn will enable us to better predict how the future climate will affect tree species distributions and drive changes in vegetation structure and ecosystem function not only for trees of inland Australia but also other eucalypt species across Australia.

Comprehensive study of arid eucalypt physiology during drought and assessment of vulnerability to future die-back events. Clockwise: Common-garden plantation of River Red Gum in Deniliquin NSW, large-scale simulated drought experiment and detailed ecophysiology in a state-of-the-art glasshouse at Western Sydney University and field-based studies on the Darling River in Toorale National Park, NSW.

My research also adds to expanding body of international literature investigating this alarming phenomena of widespread tree mortality across the world. Most immediately, my research will benefit Australian land managers by providing crucial information about the risks of drought mortality that may impact biodiversity and conservation values across Australia's Outback.

What Will You Use The Prize To Accomplish?

Prize funds would enable further field work to be undertaken to Toorale National Park in far-western NSW to continue to monitor arid eucalypt species under a range of conditions including what is predicted to be one of the driest and warmest El Niño periods on record (BOM, 2015).

Being able to share my research with, and learn from world-leaders in drought mortality research is vital in order to gain a multi-disciplinary picture of forest vulnerability under future climates.

More News: New River Red Gum Planting Established To Select Future-Ready Genotypes

Hawkesbury Appeal Prize