Forest dieback research program

Overseeing a research program focused on untangling the causes of tree dieback

The NSW Environmental Trust has asked the Commission to oversee the NSW Government’s $1.2 million investment in research to tackle the causes of eucalypt dieback.

The extent, frequency and intensity of tree dieback is increasing globally, across Australia and within NSW – from the Monaro plains, the Kosciusko Alps to the north coast of NSW. Such events pose a significant risk to ecosystem services that support community values such as biodiversity, water and timber resources, tourism, and cultural and spiritual values.

New research announced

The Commission provided advice to Trust on dieback research priorities in 2020 (see box below). The Trust has now awarded grants to leading research institutions.

  • Australian National University - Climate and dieback resilience of tableland and mountain eucalypt species of southeast Australia and Environmental drivers, landscape determinants and control of snow gum dieback
  • CSIRO Land and Water - Untangling the role of mycorrhizal mutualisms in eucalypt dieback to enhance revegetation outcomes
  • University of New England - Causes projections and reversal of eucalypt decline and dieback on the New England Tablelands
  • Macquarie University - Characterising the (a)biotic soil factors associated with bell miner associated dieback in eastern NSW
  • Western Sydney University - Determining the physiological underpinnings of eucalypt dieback in New South Wales

The Commission and its expert dieback panel chaired by Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte will work closely with the researchers to identify synergies between the research activities and ensure that the outcomes of research inform evidence-based landscape management. The Commission will engage stakeholders and general community on the research and deliver practical advice for future management.

More information on the Trust’s research programs can be found here.

Commission's role

The Environmental Trust engaged the Commission to oversee the delivery of a research program focusing on the causes of mass eucalyptus tree mortality or dieback.

This $1 million program will support research projects that inform the effective management of risks to the environment and economy posed by dieback.

The program will be delivered under the Trust’s Major Projects Program over four years, ending in May 2024.

The Commission aims to ensure:

  • the research provides robust and practical evidence to support decision making for policy and adaptive management of forests
  • policy and practice relating to the management of eucalyptus dieback is informed by objective scientific evidence.

The Commission will:

  • develop a paper identifying dieback research priorities
  • support the Trust to assess research project proposals
  • monitor the implementation of research projects
  • convene annual forums between researchers and practitioners
  • prepare a final report that synthesises research outcomes
  • convene a symposium to disseminate research findings.

Recommended research priorities

The Trust has adopted the Commission’s advice on research priorities for tree dieback. These include:

  • Research that investigates management interventions
    This includes research on the effectiveness of management interventions to supress dieback or interrupt trophic cascades. Managing dieback affected forests remains a challenge for forest managers on both public and private land. Management interventions are expensive and forest managers are seeking guidance on cost-effective approaches.

  • Research that investigates historical relationships
    This includes retrospective research that explores the temporal relationship between dieback events and potentially contributing environmental and biotic factors. Understanding these relationships can improve modelling the extent and impact of future dieback events.

  • Research that investigates species resilience and vulnerability
    Dieback affects eucalyptus species differentially, with some species being more vulnerable and others more resilient to dieback events. Understanding the functional attributes that drive these differences can help identify causal mechanisms, inform models of future projected impact, and inform management practice and conservation policy

  • Research that investigates soil factors
    This theme focusses on research that investigates the role of soil factors and processes in eucalyptus dieback. Although soil and soil processes has been a focus of dieback research in other jurisdictions there is comparatively little research for NSW.

These research priorities will address knowledge gaps, provide evidence to support policy and practice change for ecosystem management and inform the effective management of risks to community values.

To develop this advice, the Commission engaged leading researchers in dieback from Murdoch University to review the causes of dieback, identify knowledge gaps and advise on research priorities. In addition the Commission sought advice from independent experts as part of a project steering group (see below).

The Trust has developed research investment stream for dieback that will be delivered over four years under the Trust’s Contestable Research Grants Program.

Steering group and research panel

In collaboration with the Environmental Trust, the Commission has established and will independently chair a steering group to oversee the design, implementation and review of the program.

The Steering Group includes staff from the Commission, the Trust and the following three independent experts:

  • Professor Giles Hardy (Murdoch University WA)
    Giles is currently Director of the State Centre of Excellence on Climate Change, Woodland and Forest Health, and Director of the Centre for Phytophthora Science and Management.

  • Professor Ros Gleadow (Monash University VIC)
    Ros is the Head, Plant Ecophysiology Research Group, Board Member Eucalypts Australia, President-elect of the Global Plant Council and Past-President of the Australian Society of Plant Scientists.

  • Mr Bradley Moggridge (University of Canberra ACT)
    Brad is a fellow of the Peter Cullen Trust Science to Policy Leadership Program. A Murri from the Kamilaroi Nation, Brad is a leader in linking western science and traditional knowledge in the management of the Australian landscape.