School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences - Theses

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    Improving species distribution models using extreme value theory and climate dataset ensembles
    Stewart, Stephen Blair ( 2020)
    The development of climate datasets at fine spatial and temporal scales has commonly been driven by the need to better understand vegetation distributions and ecological systems. While a wide range of global, national and regional climate datasets have been developed over the last two decades, they are rarely compared directly in the ecological literature. This thesis evaluates a range of climate interpolation techniques and investigates how the spatial and temporal characteristics of climate datasets may be utilised to improve the predictive performance of plant species distribution models (SDM). A series of spline-based and geostatistical methods for interpolating temperature variables are first compared across Victoria, southeast Australia. Secondary predictors (thermal remote sensing data and local topographic indices) which indirectly capture mesoscale microclimate and cold air drainage regimes were found to improve monthly mean minimum temperature interpolations by up to 39%. Thermal remote sensing data only reduced root mean square error (RMSE) by up to 6% for maximum temperature across Victoria and was most effective during the summer months. The interpolation methods used in southeast Australia were subsequently transferred to the Royal Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan to validate their effectiveness in a novel climate. In Bhutan, the predictive performance of minimum temperature interpolations was also improved considerably (up to 23% reduction in RMSE) when using thermal remote sensing data and local topographic indices as spatial covariates. Thermal remote sensing data also reduced the RMSE for maximum temperature interpolations by up to 16% in Bhutan. Interannual variability of climate extremes were used to evaluate how the temporal characteristics of climate may be used to improve the predictive performance of SDMs. Generalised Extreme Value (GEV) distributions were fitted to monthly climate data to generate variables which account for the skewed distribution of extremes. Models incorporating interannual variability (drawn from a range of expected return intervals) improved predictive performance compared to models using seasonal extremes only for 28 of 37 species assessed. Iteratively fitting models using alternate expected return intervals typically acted on the leading and trailing edges of current distributions, indicating that such methods may be useful for model calibration and characterising climate-driven source-sink population dynamics. The impact of spatial disparities in climate on the predictive performance of plant SDMs was evaluated using three distinct datasets developed for Victoria as part of this research, in addition to two global datasets (WorldClim v1 and v2). Individual models were compared against one another and as ensembles to explore the potential for alternate predictions to complement one another. The Victorian datasets demonstrated a significant improvement over the original WorldClim dataset (up to 17.3% mean increase in D2) and trended towards an improvement relative to WorldClim v2; however, no significant differences were found when comparing the alternate Victorian datasets. Multi-model ensembles achieved a mean increase of up to 13.8% and 29.2% in D2 relative to individual models when using regional and global datasets, respectively. Ensembles provide a pragmatic method to improve the predictive performance of SDMs and allow a trade-off between the uncertainties and potential biases embedded in competing climate datasets.
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    Making the connection between history, agricultural diversity and place: the story of Victorian apples
    Christensen, Johanna Annelie ( 2016)
    Apple growing practices are embedded in a productivist mentality aiming for ever higher efficiency and productivity. And while the climate change impacts are to a large extent known, there is little attention given to the coupling of the social and the ecological effects. I use apple growing as a case study to explore the relationship between place, biodiversity and rural change in Victoria. My research is based on historical research; including an analysis of the Museum Victoria’s collection of wax apple models, and in-depth interviews with orchardists. By drawing on environmental history, social-ecological systems thinking and Bourdieu's theory of practice, I highlight the importance of a systems perspective and inform it by emphasis on the critical role of underlying power structures and individual dispositions, or the habitus, of the growers. These dispositions have been shaped and internalised by the growers’ histories and their physical surroundings. Orchardists have been able to respond to intensifying production requirements by utilizing technologies and scientific nous to keep up with the continuous aim for efficiency. Growers are caught up in a self-reinforcing cycle of satisfying the demand for perfect apples by adopting expensive techno-scientific approaches to enable ever more intensive production. The symbolic violence and amplified biophysical pressure orchardists experience has driven many to despair; resulting in a significant decline in small scale apple growing businesses over the last decade. I offer some suggestions for government policy and support measures and argue that any services or support programs need to be tailored to the appropriate level and need of each orchard business and the individuals who are involved. My analysis shows that those growers, who engage more closely with their biophysical place as well as their history and identity as apple growers in that place are (re-)creating another version of what it means to be an apple grower. In some cases this is resulting in resistance to the vortex of agricultural productivism that has been the basis of their existence for many generations.
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    Effects of adding nutrients on soil chemistry and tree growth in native Eucalyptus forests of south-eastern Australia
    Severino, Dean Christopher ( 2007)
    The decreasing area available for timber extraction in south-eastern Australia, due largely to social pressure to reserve greater areas of forest, has led to the consideration of fertiliser-application to increase wood output from the remaining available forest. Potentially deleterious effects of fertilising on water quality must be assessed before implementation on a wide scale. This is in accordance with relevant forest management policies. This study examined the effects of applying fertilisers containing nitrogen and phosphorus, on soil and soil-water chemistry in two pole-sized stands of mixed Eucalyptus spp in the Wombat Forest, in the Midlands Forest Management Area, Victoria, Australia. The findings are synthesised and discussed in relation to management of regenerating mixed-eucalypt forests in south-eastern Australia. Fertiliser treatments were none (R); 400 kg N ha-1 as ammonium-sulphate (N); or 400 kg ha-1 plus 202 kg P ha-1 as triple superphosphate coated with 10% sulphur (NP). It was calculated that incidental additions of S were 1371 kg ha -1 (N treatments), and 1696 kg ha-1 (NP treatments). It was expected that P would be principally adsorbed on soil surfaces; N immobilised in the soil organic pool and that metallic cations would enter the soil solution to varying degrees. Fertiliser-addition increased both plot-basal-area (BA) growth and the rate of stand self-thinning. In 3.8 years, BA in reference (R) plots at two sites increased by 7.3% and 23.4%. Where N alone was added, BA increased by 14.2% and 27.1%, while in NP plots BA increased by 17.1% and 42.7% respectively. Mortality was 9% in untreated plots compared to 14% in NP plots. Estimated increases in biomass growth equated to additional above-ground nutrient accumulation of 0.4 to 1.5 kg ha-1 of P, and 5.5 to 20.8 kg ha-1 of N. This represented only 0.2 to 0.7% of added P, and 1.4 to 5.2% of added N. Soil solution was extracted from 10 and 50 cm with porous-ceramic-cup tension-lysimeters (-0.6 kPa). Concentrations of P and N were low both before and after adding fertiliser. Across all treatments the maximum median PO43- concentration in soil-water at 50 cm was 0.12 ppm (mean 0.28 ppm). Typically PO43- concentrations were not higher than 0.03 ppm. The 400 kg ha-1 of added N was rapidly immobilised in the soil organic pool. The greatest mean NH4' concentration from a single sampling occasion was 1.1 ppm. The mean NO3 concentration at 50 cm was never higher than 0.26 ppm. After adding N in fertiliser the proportion of NO3- relative to NH4* in soil-water increased and was correlated with decreasing soil-water pH. Less than 1% of added P and N was recovered from soil solution at 50 cm. The largest pool of added P recovered was PO43- adsorbed to soil between 0 and 20 cm, due to the soil adsorption capacity being well in excess of the applied 202 kg P ha-1. Phosphate desorption using sequential extractions with a mild acid extractant (0.3M NH4F, 0.1M HCI) recovered between 25% and 116% of added P. Differences were attributed to both the amount of P added and the effect of time since treatment at different sites. Soil disturbance during sampler installation was found to be more likely to raise soil-water P concentrations at 50 cm than would adding up to 202 kg P ha-1. Among the ions in solution. SO42- and CI' were the dominant anions while Cat+ dominated the cation chemistry. In untreated forest 5042- in soil-water ranged from 7.7 to 16.0 ppm at 10 cm and 7.9 to 12.2 ppm at 50 cm. In fertilised plots up to 100.5 ppm SO42 was measured in soil-water at 50 cm depth. In the N treatment at 50 cm, SO42- in soil-water accounted for 9.4 % of applied S. compared to 14.0 % in NP. In untreated forest, soil-water Cl- and SO42- accounted for over 98% of the total soil-water anions, in roughly equal proportions at 10 cm, and CI- slightly higher at 50 cm. Following fertiliser-application soil-water pH at 10 cm fell from 6.3 in R to as low as 4.81 (N) and 4.45 (NP). At 50 cm pH never dropped below 6 and there were no visible departures from reference concentrations. Relative activities of K+ and Mg2+ in solution increased with decreasing pH, indicating increased leaching potential. Sulphate in soil-water increased total anion charge further in NP than in N. Total charge (cmolc L-1) for cations followed anions. A slight deficit in anion charge was likely due to the unquantified contribution of organic anions. These results confirm that despite the quantity of fertilisers added in this trial being double likely operational quantities, the forest and associated soils had the capacity to retain these nutrients through a variety of processes. The study validates the environmental sustainability of proposed intensive management practices including fertiliser-application in this forest type. It also emphasises the importance of understanding fundamental forest nutrient cycling processes when aiming to carry out intensive forest management practices in an environmentally sensitive manner.
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    Effects of salinity on growth and wood and fibre properties in eucalypts
    Catchpoole, Stephen John ( 2001)
    Salinity, the presence of soluble salts in soils or waters, can be separated into naturally occurring primary salinity, and secondary salinity resulting from human activities such as land development and agriculture. Secondary salinity involving high, saline water-tables affects large areas, estimated between 4.7 and 6.1 'ha (Williamson 1990, Robertson 1996), of agricultural land in Australia, and tree planting is one approach to lower saline watertables. Such plantations could become a significant fibre source for the pulp and paper industry, but it is not known whether growth in salt-affected environments influences key fibre properties important in paper production. This work therefore examined the wood and fibre properties of Tasmanian blue gum, Eucalyptus globulus ssp. globulus, and river red gum, E. camaldulensis, grown under various conditions of soil salinity. Eucalyptus globulus was studied in trial plantations in the Shepparton region of north-central Victoria. The plantations were established in 1993, and field sampling was carried out from 1995 to 1997. Salinity in the top 20 cm of soil over the period of study (1994 to 1997), according to the soil salinity classes set lutin Marcar et al. (1995), ranged from non-saline at the fresh-channel water-irrigated plot to slightly saline for the saline groundwater-irrigated plots. Tree size generally did not differ significantly between plots at any age. Differences in foliar [Na±], {K±] and [Cl-] occurred between the field plots but were not consistent between years. The highest concentrations of foliar ions were also not always associated with the plot receiving the highest salinity irrigation water, suggesting that in only some years was the soil salt level sufficient to cause a plant response. Wood basic density differed between the plots, but it could not be attributed to salinity, and may have reflected other site-specific effects. Fibre morphology parameters did not differ significantly between the plots. There were some differences between the plots in the increase in fibre length from year to year but the differences were not consistent over the entire survey period and could not conclusively be attributed to differences in soil salinity. A pilot salinity pot trial was conducted on E. camaldulensis plants, as a precursor to a more elaborate experiment planned for potted E. globulus plants. The E. camaldulensis pot trial comprised a single concentration salt (NaCl) treatment and a control (freshwater) treatment applied over a 60 day period. A marked reduction of growth occurred with salt-treated seedlings relative to control seedlings. Concomitant with the reduction in growth, salt-treated seedlings produced significantly shorter, thicker-walled fibres than the control seedlings. The pot-trial on 18-month-old Eucalyptus globulus ssp. globulus trees applied different concentration salt (lRlaCi) solutions over a 10-week period. The salinity of the potting mixture increased markedly in the salt-treated trees relative to the controls. Foliar chloride and sodium were also significantly greater in trees on the higher salt treatments than in the control trees. Diameter growth decreased with the higher salt treatments, and five trees under high salt treatments had to be harvested prior to the planned completion of the experiment, due to their poor state of health. These results indicated the salt treatments had influenced some aspects of tree physiology. A wound made to the cambium allowed pre-treatment fibres (fibres formed prior to the start of the experiment) to be distinguished from post-treatment fibres (fibres formed during the experiment) in the E.globulus pot trial. Trees on higher salt treatments produced significantly longer, thinner-walled fibres compared to controls, but this pattern also occurred in fibres formed before treatments were imposed, implying that these differences were due to preexisting differences in the trees unrelated to the salt treatment. Statistical analysis of fibres formed during treatments, taking account of pre-existing differences, found that there was no significant effect of salt treatment on fibre length or wall thickness, although this was possibly because of the low sample size relative to the variation of the experimental material. The controlled application of salt for 10 weeks during the E. globulus pot trial thus had some effect on tree physiology, but no significant effects on fibre dimensions or wood formation. This was consistent with the observation in the field trial that fibre dimensions and wood formation were not influenced by factors that did not also reduce tree growth, at least in trees up to 4 years old. Higher levels of salt could cause rapid tree decline due to the inability of the trees to exclude the salt, and processes associated with fibre formation would then also cease. The combined results from the field and pot trials indicated that E. globulus, a slightly to moderately salt-tolerant species, suffered negligible or minor growth reductions on soils irrigated to a slightly saline level, and produced fibres of similar morphology to trees grown under non-saline conditions. If soil salinity increased above the moderate level, the trees would continue to grow provided sufficient water is still available, but internal salt levels would increase to the point where tree death would result. Based on the pot trial, where such internal salt levels were achieved, the decline and death of the trees would occur before the salt affects fibre morphology. Eucalyptus camaldulensis adopted a different strategy to cope with salt stress than E. globulus. Eucalyptus globulus continued to grow provided it was supplied with water, despite its saline nature. Finally, when salt levels within the plant reached a critical level, plant health rapidly declined. When E. camaldulensis was watered with solution of a similar salinity to the highest salt treatments in the E. globulus pot trial, there was a rapid cessation in extension growth, but there was no other sign of a deterioration in plant health. The mechanism by which E. camaldulensis was able to quickly cease shoot growth, which presumably allowed it to tolerate saline conditions by restricting salt uptake, was not investigated here. Material from Eucalyptus camaldulensis that had been growing for 14 years on a dryland plantation site in southwest Western Australia was also investigated. Trees from the high salinity area did not differ significantly in average height, diameter and volume from those from the low salinity area. Basic density were significantly greater in the high salinity group of trees than in the low salinity group, but no relationship with tree growth was established. The absence of a relationship between growth and basic density was not unusual, as natural variation in basic density makes it difficult to establish environmental or experimental effects (Downes and Raymond 1997). Fibre fractional wall coverage was greater in the high salinity group of trees than in the low salinity group, as was also the case for the E. camaldulensis pot trial. In the pot trial, however, a significant growth reduction due to salinity was recorded. There were no other differences in fibre morphology between the high and low salinity groups of the Western Australian plantation. Eucalyptus globulus is less salt and waterlogging tolerant than E. camaldulensis (Bennett and George 1995a; Bennett and George 1995b) but in the field studies the growth and wood and fibre properties for each species was similar across the range of salinities encountered. The exception was basic density and fibre fractional wall coverage in the 14-year-old E. camaldulensis, both of which were greater in the high salinity group of trees. It was expected that the growth of E. globulus would be adversely affected if irrigation with the saline groundwater continued for several more years, allowing a build up in soil salinity. Based on the results from the E. globulus pot trial, once soil salinity levels exceed the tolerance limits of this species, a rapid decline in tree health will occur, and fibre formation will cease. Eucalyptus camaldulensis, with its greater salt and waterlogging tolerance, will grow in areas where other commercial species, such s E. globulus, would not thrive. However, E. camaldulensis has disadvantages for farm forestry in Australia, due to low percentage pulp yields by comparison with E. globulus (Arnold et al. 1999), and poor growth rates and tree form (Mazanec 1999). In the USA, E. camaldulensis has equalled the pulp yield of the commercially proven E. globulus (Arnold et al. 1999). Further research into improving pulp yields, growth rates and tree form of E. camaldulensis in Australia, would allow expansion of eucalypt plantations for pulp and wood production, as well as land and water care, onto previously unsuitable land.
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    Long-term effects of frequent burning on fungal communities and the role of fungi in fire-prone forests
    Osborn, Madeleine Letitia Isaacs ( 2007)
    Bushfire is an integral part of the Australian environment. Animals and plants show adaptations to and dependence on fire and prescribed burning is an important management tool in eucalypt forest ecosystems. Responses of flora and fauna to fire regimes have been extensively examined in Australian forests, however one aspect of the biota abundant within all forest types that has received little consideration is fungi. Despite their undoubted ecological significance, little is known regarding the taxonomy, biology and ecology of fungi, let alone the impact of fire upon fungal communities. Knowledge of the responses of fungi to fire is of intrinsic interest and is essential for effective forest management. Fungi have significant roles in transporting, storing, releasing and recycling nutrients. Consequently, disturbances such as fire that impact upon fungi and their ability to perform these ecosystem processes may be of importance to forest structure, health, productivity and sustainability. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of repeated low-intensity prescribed burning on various aspects of the fungal community in two Australian eucalypt forests. Such research was deemed necessary to fill a significant gap in current knowledge regarding fungal ecology and to provide forest managers with recommendations for use of prescribed burning to enhance fungal biodiversity. Current knowledge of fungal community structure, function and contributions of fungi to forest ecosystem processes was explored, with a range of traditional and new techniques used to assess quantitative, qualitative and functional aspects of above- and belowground fungal communities. The diverse methods used enabled comprehensive assessment of numerous community dynamics and their application throughout the study was evaluated. Cost analysis showed that assessment of diversity and functional diversity of aboveground sporocarps was far more expensive than analysis of belowground fungal diversity. It was therefore suggested that future research should consider the relevance of aboveground sporocarps in the overall fungal community and that more attention should perhaps be given to diverse, abundant and functionally significant soil fungi. Assessment of fungal communities was undertaken in relation to experimental burning treatments within eucalypt forests and the influence of fire on vegetation, fuel and soil characteristics. Little overall difference was observed in richness and diversity of sporocarp morphotypes and functional groups among treatments in the Wombat Forest. No significant differences were observed among soil fungal biomass as indicated by ergosterol concentration in either Bulls Ground or Wombat Forest soils. In addition, molecular data showed that richness and diversity of soil fungi among treatments were similar and that no specific fungal community was associated with soils of any particular treatment in the Wombat Forest. Such findings suggest that low-intensity prescribed burning has little long-term effect on these aspects of the fungal communities investigated in Wombat Forest and Bulls Ground study areas. However, given the critical roles of fungi within ecosystem processes it could be assumed that even minor changes in community dynamics may be of functional significance within forests. It was therefore considered too presumptuous for the current study to offer management recommendations based on these findings and was suggested that further understanding of relationships between fungal diversity, functional groups and ecosystem function is necessary for appropriate management decisions and development of sustainable forests.
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    An investigation of the impacts of massive short distance spotting on the forward rate of spread of forest fires
    Macaulay, Andrew S. ( 2003-03)
    Massive short distance spotting has been suspected of increasing the forward rate of spread of bushfires since McArthur (1967) attributed a three-fold increase in rate of spread to short distance spotting at a fire in Daylesford. However, research into spotting has generally focussed on the prediction of long distance spotting, perhaps because of its more obvious effects on suppression of bushfires. The amount of spotting that a fire generates and the distance that spotfires start from the main fire is dependent on the amount and type of bark fuel present, as this is the primary source of embers. Existing models of fire behaviour have proposed only one model that allows spotting to influence the forward rate of spread of the main fire - the formation of pseudo fire fronts. This thesis proposes two new inl1uence mechanisms; pre-frontal burnout and the "indraught effect". Three hypotheses have been formed to test these three influence mechanisms. As it is difficult, costly and dangerous to use high intensity fires for experimental purposes, a fire simulation model (SAROS) was developed to run on a personal computer. The SAROS model is based on the McArthur fire behaviour model (1967), with the addition of mechanisms that allow spotting to affect the forward rate of spread of the main fire. SAROS has been tested against data from fires where spotting was thought to have significantly increased the forward rate of spread, and is shown to be a reasonable model of fire behaviour. Further experiments were carried out to test the sensitivity of the model to the input variables and the impact of each of the variables in the model on changes in forward rate of spread due to spotting. The SAROS model shows that it is possible for massive short distance spotting to increase the forward rate of spread by over 300% of the McArthur predicted rate of spread. However under the conditions where McArthur reported spotting increasing the rate of spread by a factor of three, the SAROS model accounts fbI' only around two thirds of that increase.