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Fri, 3 Nov 2023

Scientists probe nature’s new balance

Rain forest
Image: David Clode

Scientists will be examining exactly what the cumulative effects of climate change – good and bad – are on tree growth with the help of a new grant.

JCU’s Associate Professor Lucas Cernusak is part of an international group of scientists who will look at the overall effects of elevated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide on forest growth.

He said the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration has risen from 280 parts per million before the industrial revolution to about 420 today.

“Plants interact directly with atmospheric carbon dioxide through the process of photosynthesis. Elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide can drive faster photosynthetic rates, but it has also caused warming of the atmosphere and land surface which can stress vegetation,” said Dr Cernusak.

He said the team of scientists will use a new Australian Research Council Discovery grant of more than $540,000 to examine the vapour pressure deficit (VPD) - a measure of the drying power of the atmosphere.

“We want to understand when and under what circumstances the negative impacts of high tropical temperatures and rising VPD can be expected to prevail over the positive impacts of CO2 fertilisation in tropical forests,” said Dr Cernusak.

He said understanding the conditions under which the competition between these drivers will swing in one direction or the other will improve understanding of the impact of global climate change on the composition and function of Australian and tropical rainforests globally.

“This will provide crucial information for land managers, conservation practitioners and the restoration sector to better prepare for the future,” said Dr Cernusak.


Associate Professor Lucas Cernusak
E: lucas.cernusak@jcu.edu.au