Tree growth and mortality and implications for restoration and carbon sequestration in Australian subtropical semi-arid forests and woodlands

John Dwyer (2009). Tree growth and mortality and implications for restoration and carbon sequestration in Australian subtropical semi-arid forests and woodlands PhD Thesis, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland.

       
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Author John Dwyer
Thesis Title Tree growth and mortality and implications for restoration and carbon sequestration in Australian subtropical semi-arid forests and woodlands
School, Centre or Institute School of Biological Sciences
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2009-09
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Dr Yvonne Buckley
Dr Rod Fensham
Total pages 154
Total black and white pages 154
Subjects 07 Agricultural and Veterinary Sciences
Abstract/Summary Many researchers have highlighted the dire prospects for biodiversity in fragmented agricultural landscapes and stressed the need for increasing the area of, and connectivity between, natural ecosystems. Some have advocated the use of naturally regenerating forest ecosystems for sequestering atmospheric carbon, with opportunities for dual restoration and carbon benefits. However, no studies have explicitly explored the feasibility of obtaining such dual benefits from a regenerating woody ecosystem. This thesis aims to provide a detailed assessment of the restoration and carbon potential of Brigalow regrowth, an extensive naturally regenerating ecosystem throughout the pastoral regions of north eastern Australia. It combines observational, experimental and modelling techniques to describe the agricultural legacy of pastoral development, identify constraints to restoration and explore methods to remove these constraints. A review of existing ecological knowledge of Brigalow ecosystems is provided in chapter 3, along with discussion of policy and socio-economic issues that are likely to influence how and to what extent regrowth is utilised for restoration and carbon purposes in the Brigalow Belt. The review found restoring regrowth is likely to have benefits for a wide range of native flora and fauna, including the endangered bridled nailtail wallaby. Knowledge gaps exist relating to the landscape ecology of Brigalow regrowth and the impacts of management and climate change on carbon and restoration potential. Also, a conflict exists between short-term carbon sequestration and long-term restoration goals. Regional demand for high biomass regrowth as a carbon offset is likely to be high but ambiguities in carbon policy threaten to diminish the use of natural regrowth for reforestation projects. A large cross-sectional study of regrowth is presented in chapter 4. Data were analysed using multi-level / hierarchical Bayesian models (HBMs). Firstly, we found that repeated attempts at clearing Brigalow regrowth increases stem densities and densities remain high over the long term, particularly in high rainfall areas and on clay soils with deep gilgais. Secondly, higher density stands have slower biomass accumulation and structural development in the long term. Spatial extrapolations of the HBMs indicated that the central and eastern parts of the study region are most environmentally suitability for biomass accumulation, however these may not correspond to the areas that historically supported the highest biomass Brigalow forests. We conclude that carbon and restoration goals are largely congruent within regions of similar climate. At the regional scale however, spatial prioritisation of restoration and carbon projects may only be aligned in areas with higher carbon potential. Given the importance of stem density in determining restoration and carbon potential, an experimental thinning trial was established in dense Brigalow regrowth in southern Queensland (chapter 5). Four treatments were applied in a randomised block design and growth and mortality of a subset of stems was monitored for two years. Data were analysed using mixed-effects models and HBMs and the latter were subsequently used to parameterise an individual-based simulation model of stand structural development and biomass accumulation over 50 years. The main findings of this study were that growth and mortality of stems is influenced by the amount of space available to each stem (a neighbourhood effect) and that thinning accelerates structural development and increases woody species diversity. The examination of neighbourhood effects is taken further by considering drought-related mortality in a Eucalyptus savanna ecosystem (chapter 6). For this work a multi-faceted approach was employed including spatial pattern analyses and statistical models of stem survival to test three competing hypotheses relating to neighbourhood effects on drought related tree mortality. The main finding of this study was that neighbour density and microsite effects both influence drought-related mortality and the observed patterns can readily be explained by an interaction between these two factors. As a whole, this thesis contributes the following scientific insights: (1) restoration and carbon goals may be aligned for naturally regenerating woody ecosystems, but the degree of goal congruence will vary across the landscape in question, (2) while some woody ecosystems retain an excellent capacity to regenerate naturally, the agricultural legacy may still have long term effects on restoration and carbon potential, (3) neighbourhood effects that operate at the stem scale strongly influence dynamics at the ecosystem scale.
Keyword Brigalow, Acacia harpophylla, Silver-leaved Ironbark, Eucalyptus melanophloia, regrowth, restoration, carbon sequestration, agricultural legacy, biotic and abiotic legacy, multi-level models, hierarchical Bayesian models, intraspecific competition, neighbourhood effects, density dependence, drought, mortality

 
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