An international meeting of botanists at the University of New England earlier this month represented a significant step towards maintaining Australia’s plant diversity through a period of climate change.
Ten botanists from universities and herbaria throughout Australia and from South Africa and Spain met for the four-day Sprouting Behaviour Workshop organised through the ARC-NZ Research Network for Vegetation Function.
“This was the first international meeting that has brought together leaders in sprouting behaviour,” said the convener of the workshop, UNE’s Associate Professor Peter Clarke. “Our aim was to develop new perspectives on the way plants resprout – a major challenge for plant biologists addressing the threats of climate change.”
“Resprouting allows plants – unlike animals – to persist through an ecological disturbance such as a bushfire,” explained Professor Jeremy Midgley, Head of the Botany Department at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. “It’s important for us to find out how they do it.
“Resprouting has been largely neglected by scientists, who have focused on plant propagation through seedlings.”
“We talked about Australian trees’ unique resilience in the aftermath of a bushfire,” Professor Midgley said. “In Australia – and in Europe – fire is the dominant environmental factor that promotes resprouting, but this is not the case in South Africa.”
One of the implications of climate change that the botanists discussed was that increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could make “resprouters” more vigorous – altering the balance between such plants and the “seeders”. This has important implications for environmental management. “Through reviewing and collating the available information on resprouting, our group will have an influence on such management in the future,” Dr Clarke said.
Supported by the Australian Research Council (ARC) and Landcare Research NZ, the Network for Vegetation Function organised the first Sprouting Behaviour Workshop at the 2009 International Ecological Conference in Brisbane. This month’s meeting at UNE was the second of the workshops.
Clicking on the image of resprouting displayed here reveals a photograph of (from left) Dr Fernando Ojeda (University of Cadiz, Spain), Professor Jeremy Midgley (University of Cape Town, South Africa), and Associate Professor Peter Clarke (UNE) taken during the Resprouting Behaviour Workshop.