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How do Australian desert plants cope with heat stress?

Project Member(s): Leigh, A.

Funding or Partner Organisation: Port Augusta City Council

Start year: 2015

Summary: Recent years has seen Australia's climate records being broken almost yearly, with high temperature extremes being increasingly more frequent and intense. Over 70% of Australia is semi-arid or arid and it is now being found that plants in these regions play a key role in the carbon cycle and support much of the country's grazing industry. Future climate scenarios predict increased extreme high temperature events, threatening productivity and survival of desert vegetation. Insight into how plants in these environments survive critically high temperatures is fundamentally important, particularly if we are to understand how they will respond under future climate scenarios. The broad aims of our research are to determine: 1. how Australian arid plant species respond to extreme high temperatures; 2. which species are potentially most at risk during critical heat wave events; 3. how tolerance to heat stress varies over time and space; 4. whether other stresses, such as drought and low soil nutrients, influence plants' ability to tolerate heat stress; 5. how extreme high temperatures influence growth and/or survival of seedlings; 6. the nature of the recovery period between stress events necessary for tissue repair. This research is to be conducted at the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Gardens (AALGB) supported by a Research Collaboration Agreement between the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) and the Port Augusta City Council (PACC). The research at the AALBG is growing and we look forward to continuing the Collaboration. This proposal is to renew the Agreement, with PACC providing cash and generous in-kind support.


Drake, JE, Tjoelker, MG, Varhammar, A, Medlyn, BE, Reich, PB, Leigh, A, Pfautsch, S, Blackman, CJ, Lopez, R, Aspinwall, MJ, Crous, KY, Duursma, RA, Kumarathunge, D, De Kauwe, MG, Jiang, M, Nicotra, AB, Tissue, DT, Choat, B, Atkin, OK & Barton, CVM 2018, 'Trees tolerate an extreme heatwave via sustained transpirational cooling and increased leaf thermal tolerance', GLOBAL CHANGE BIOLOGY, vol. 24, no. 6, pp. 2390-2402.
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Curtis, EM, Gollan, J, Murray, BR & Leigh, A 2016, 'Native microhabitats better predict tolerance to warming than latitudinal macro-climatic variables in arid-zone plants', Journal of Biogeography, vol. 43, no. 6, pp. 1156-1165.
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Keywords: Heat stress, climate change, extreme temperature, thermal tolerance, heat shock proteins, arid zone, desert plants

FOR Codes: Ecological Impacts of Climate Change, Ecological Physiology, Plant Biology, Expanding Knowledge in the Environmental Sciences, Ecosystem Assessment and Management of Sparseland, Permanent Grassland and Arid Zone Environments, Effects of Climate Change and Variability on Australia (excl. Social Impacts)