How will Australia’s subtropical rainforests respond to climate change?

By 12/25/2020Current Projects
HSF 20050 | Amount: $89,630 | Project Leader: J Dwyer | Project Period:

A project undertaken at The University of Queensland, and supervised by John Dwyer

Australia’s subtropical rainforests face serious challenges in coming decades. In just thirty years the climate of Brisbane will be analogous to present-day Bundaberg (300 km to the north), even under the most optimistic climate change scenario (RCP 2.6). This means less rainfall in all seasons, higher average temperatures and increased likelihood of very hot days, all in the context of historical and ongoing habitat clearance and land degradation.

We urgently require knowledge and tools to better predict and manage how rainforest plant species will respond to climate change, both in terms of conserving intact ecosystems, and restoring degraded ecosystems. This project will combine field surveys and glasshouse experiments to reveal how subtropical rainforest plant species are sorted into distinct assemblages by climatic drivers. It will capitalise on existing climate gradients throughout Southeast Queensland and quantify how plant strategies (viewed as ensembles of functional traits) change in response to higher temperatures and lower water availability.

This general knowledge will be translated into models to predict viable strategies at different positions along gradients. In addition, because the seedling stage is crucial for successful recruitment in both natural and restoration contexts, field data will be validated using an experiment on rainforest seedlings assessing tolerance to drought, heat waves and their interaction. Outcomes will directly inform conservation of World-Heritage-Listed Gondwana Rainforests of Australia by revealing the trait ensembles most at risk under climate change. Furthermore, it will generate knowledge and tools to select plant species for rainforest restoration projects that are ready to meet the challenges of future climates head-on.