Researchers at the Australian National University Plant Phenomics Facility, a Canberra-based Node of the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility, have used sophisticated phenotyping technology to identify Eucalyptus seedlings that will provide climate resilient revegetation for bushfire-scarred regions of NSW.

Conducted under a Landcare-academia partnership, the work formed part of a collaborative Landcare Led Bushfire Recovery Grant 2021 project with Upper Snowy Landcare Network and Landcare Australia.

Diverse genotypes of several eucalypt species – including several types of Ribbon Gum (Eucalyptus viminalis, E. dalrympleana, E. rubida), Snow Gum (E. pauciflora) and Black Sallee (E. stellulata) – were grown using seed sourced from all along the New South Wales Great Dividing Range.

Above-ground phenotyping of 1,580 seedlings was conducted in climate chambers simulating future hot and historic cooler climatic conditions, to identify genotypes with superior heat and drought tolerance. Below-ground phenotyping was also completed across the samples. All the phenotyping was conducted using high resolution real-time imaging technology.
The results, along with full genome data of the maternal lines collected under an Environmental Trust-funded Dieback Research Grant, will be used to generate climate-specific predictions of genotype performance in restoration projects.

Project co-lead, Justin Borevitz from the ANU Research School of Biology said genomics and phenomics can help with ‘climate smart’ landscape restorations, so that recovery from land clearing, bushfires and droughts lasts for the long term.

“This project aimed to do just that by testing seedstock from all over NSW for climate resilience, using the most advanced technology available.”

The project has now advanced to field trials, with selected seedstock being planted into country around Berridale in the Snowy Mountains.

Information about the most successful genotypes will be released to practitioners via the Sydney Royal Botanic Garden’s ‘Restore and Renew’ webtool, developed by Dr Jason Bragg, to support the success of post-fire tree planting projects.

The project has introduced a data-driven approach to land restoration and embedded science-based climate resilience into the southern NSW landscape.

On a wider scale, it will help Australia be more ‘climate smart’ in the way it revegetates landscapes. The team’s successful methodology for large-scale climate testing of Eucalyptus provides a template that can now be expanded to other species and seed lines and applied to landscape restoration in any region after a major bushfire event or environmental damage.

Margaret Mackinnon, Chair of the Upper Snowy Landcare Network the people doing on-ground restoration work need to know they are not ‘working blind’ when it comes to choosing seedstock.
“After dieback, drought and bushfires, the Monaro community can’t take another environmental disaster,” she said.

“We must ensure we build long-term resilience back into the landscape.”

The APPF ANU team was led by Tim Brown with Justin Borevitz, who also did much of the related genomics work. Root data and climate analysis was collected by post-doctorate researcher Helen Bothwell. Shagufta Iqbal managed plant growth, analysis and report writing, while Ming-Dao Chia oversaw the technical aspects of climate management, imaging systems and image data analysis.