Doctor Jennifer Peters


Graduated PhD 2019

Thesis Title

Hydraulic Vulnerability of Australian Forests to Drought

Project Description

Jennifer PetersWith current and future climate change resulting in increased temperatures and drought frequency, it is critically important to understand and predict physiological thresholds affecting tree mortality.  Drought-induced tree mortality has the potential to impact species distributions, forest community structure, and associated ecosystem services with potential feedbacks to ecosystem hydrology.  Plant hydraulic limitations have been identified as key traits contributing to forest mortality in a warmer, dryer climate.

My research is focused on characterizing hydraulic coordination and limitations in woody plant species from forests and woodland ecosystems across Australia, with the goal of understanding the vulnerability of Australian forests to drought.  Australian forests provide the ideal study system for this research, spanning a wide geographic and climatic range.  As well, Australian plant species are underrepresented in an ever-growing global database of plant hydraulic traits.  The Terrestrial Ecological Research Network (TERN) will serve as the platform for this research, with representative Supersites located in wooded ecosystems across Australia.  At each site, I measure key hydraulic traits for the dominant tree species, including vulnerability to embolism (the primary mechanism of hydraulic failure) of both leaves and stems.

Current water status from seasonal in situ water potential measurements, in conjunction with measures of vulnerability to drought-induced embolism, will be used to indicate the current and future risk of drought-induced hydraulic failure and tree mortality.  Comparisons of key hydraulic traits within and across species will allow for the identification of possible coordination of plant organs (i.e. leaf and xylem tissues) and the employment of preservation strategies whereby xylem tissue may be protected by the sacrifice of less costly leaf tissues.  This project will employ a wide array of techniques for measuring drought vulnerability, including time-lapse photography of embolisms within leaves and psychrometers for continuous measurements of water stress in leaves and stem tissue, contributing to the development of best-practice techniques for assessment of hydraulic function in Australian tree species.

This research aims to improve our understanding of forest vulnerability to drought; clearly defining hydraulic limits across Australian native tree species and contributing to efforts toward process-based representation of hydraulic function in terrestrial ecosystem models.


Gauthey A, Peters JMR, Lòpez R, Carins-Murpjhy MR, Rodriguez-Dominguez CM, Tissue DT, Medlyn BE, Brodribb TJ, Choat B, (2022) 'Mechanisms of xylem hydraulic recovery after drought in Eucalyptus saligna', Plant Cell and Environment, vol.45, no.4, pp 1216 - 1228

Griebel A, Peters JMR, Metzen D, Maier C, Barton CVM, Speckman HN, Boer MM, Nolan RH, Choat B,  Pendall E, (2022) 'Tapping into the physiological responses to mistletoe infection during heat and drought stress', Tree Physiology, vol.42, no.3, pp 523–536

Peters JMR, Gauthey A, Lopez R, Carins-Murphy MR, Brodribb TJ, Choat B, (2021) 'Non-invasive imaging reveals convergence in root and stem vulnerability to cavitation across five tree species', Journal of Experimental Botany, vol.71, no.20, pp 6623-6637

Pivovaroff AL, McDowell NG, Rodrigues TB, Brodribb T, Cernusak LA, Choat B, Grossiord C, Ishida Y, Jardine KJ, Laurance S, Leff R, Li WB, Liddell M, Mackay DS, Pacheco H, Peters J, Filho IJS, Souza DC, Wang WZ, Zhang PP, Chambers J, (2021) 'Stability of tropical forest tree carbon-water relations in a rainfall exclusion treatment through shifts in effective water uptake depth', Global Change Biology, Article no.108634

Gauthey A, Peters JMR, Carins‐Murphy MR, Rodriguez‐Dominguez CM, Li X, Delzon S, King A, Lòpez R, Medlyn BE, Tissue DT, Brodribb TJ, Choat B, (2020) 'Visual and hydraulic techniques produce similar estimates of cavitation resistance in woody species', New Phytologist, vol.228, no.3, pp 884-897

Peters JMR, Gauthey A, Lopez R, Carins-Murphy MR, Brodribb TJ, Choat B, (2020) 'Non-invasive imaging reveals convergence in root and stem vulnerability to cavitation across five tree species', Journal of Experimental Botany, vol.71, no.20, pp 6623-6637

Choat B, Nolf M, Lopez R, Peters JMR, Carins-Murphy MR, Creek D, Brodribb TJ, (2019) 'Non-invasive imaging shows no evidence of embolism repair after drought in tree species of two genera', Tree physiology, vol.39, no.1, pp 113-121

Li XM, Blackman CJ, Peters JMR, Choat B, Rymer PD, Medlyn BE, Tissue DT, (2019) 'More than iso/anisohydry: Hydroscapes integrate plant water use and drought tolerance traits in 10 eucalypt species from contrasting climates', Functional Ecology, vol.33, no.6, pp 1035-1049

Bourne AE, Creek D, Peters JMR, Ellsworth DS, Choat B, (2017) 'Species climate range influences hydraulic and stomatal traits in Eucalyptus species', Annals of Botany, vol.120, no.1, pp 123-133

Nolf M, Lopez R, Peters JMR, Flavel RJ, Koloadin LS, Young IM, Choat B, (2017) 'Visualization of xylem embolism by X-ray microtomography: a direct test against hydraulic measurements', New Phytologist, vol.214, no.2, pp 890-898


A/Professor Brendan Choat and Professor Mark Tjoelker