Project title: Managing ecosystem change requires the integration of above- and below-ground hydrological processes at relevant scales

geophysical analysis of soil profilesView image slideshow

Dates: 2014 - 2018

Funding: Australian Research Council (Linkage), SpecTerra Services Pty Ltd, Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority

Location: Kings Park Bushland

Research themes

  • ecohydrology
  • ecophysiology
  • geophysics
  • remote sensing
  • ecology
  • spatial modelling

Project description

Widespread but episodic tree mortality events are increasingly observed in Australia, and around the world, and are likely to increase with predicted climate change. Drought pushes plants close to their physiological thresholds of function and survival and this risk is known to be enhanced by higher temperatures during droughts. Over the past four decades, mean annual rainfall has decreased by >15% in the SW of WA and temperatures have increased by 0.5-1.0°C. During this time, significant shifts in Banksia woodland composition and structure have occurred, exemplified by a >60% decline in Banksia tree species just in Kings Park.

This project aims to assess interactions among soil water dynamics, tree function, demography and ecosystem change in a significant natural ecosystem that is undergoing major change. It aims to integrate data derived from an array of approaches (historic survey, remote sensing, spatial statistics, ecophysiology and geophysics) to:

  1. Determine the roles of varying fire and management history, groundwater access, and climate in patterns of tree decline and ecosystem change assessed since the 1930s
  2. Identify how biotic and abiotic processes interact with the physiological function and demographic patterns of two tree species whose respective increase / decrease in abundance is driving ecosystem change Banksia attenuata and Allocasuarina fraseriana.
  3. Model trajectories of ecosystem change under varying management interventions and climate scenarios to develop a predictive understanding of change and determine appropriate management responses.

Key staff

Dr Ben Miller, Dr Jason Stevens, Prof Kingsley Dixon

Collaborators

Prof Erik Veneklaas (UWA), Dr Gavan McGrath (UWA), Dr Nik Callow (UWA), Dr Alan Aitken, Mr Andrew Malcolm (SpecTerra Services Pty Ltd), Dr George Perry (Auckland University)

Students

Anthea Challis (Hons; 2014) Mortality patterns and physiological responses of the canopy tree, Banksia menziesii in relation to varying summer water availability in an urban remnant. Supervisors: Dr Jason Stevens, Dr Ben Miller, Dr Gavan McGrath.

Publications

Bader MK, Ehrenberger W, Bitter R, Stevens J, Miller BP, Chopard J, Ruger S, Hardy GESJ, Poot P, Dixon KW, Zimmermann U and Veneklaas EJ (2014) Spatio‐temporal water dynamics in mature Banksia menziesii trees during drought. Physiologia Plantarum DOI: 10.1111/ppl.12170.

SpecTerra imageZIM probes

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