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Eucalyptus forest shows low structural resistance and resilience to climate change-type drought

Matusick, G., Ruthrof, K.X., Fontaine, J.B.ORCID: 0000-0002-6515-7864, Hardy, G.E.St.J. and Gilliam, F. (2016) Eucalyptus forest shows low structural resistance and resilience to climate change-type drought. Journal of Vegetation Science, 27 (3). pp. 493-503.

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Questions: Climate change-type drought (the combination of drought and heatwave) has become a widely documented driver of forest dieback yet, to date, limited measurement of post-event forest dynamics has been reported. Can climate change-type drought trigger structural and/or compositional changes in a forest type which is usually highly resilient to other disturbances? Location: Mixed Eucalyptus forest in southwestern Australia. Methods: Forest areas that were severely and minimally affected by drought were measured repeatedly at 3, 6, 16, 26 and 49 mo post-event for changes in forest structure and composition of the two dominant tree species (Eucalyptus marginata/ Corymbia calophylla). Means and dispersal from pre-drought conditions were analysed for each structural variable among drought severity classes and between measurement periods. Resprouting, the predominant resilience mechanism in Eucalyptus, was assessed at 6 and 16 mo, while regeneration type and density were determined at 16 mo post-drought. Results: Structural changes were observed after 49 mo on plots severely but not minimally affected by drought, including a 30% increase in stem density (P < 0.0001) and reduction in tree diameter (23%; P < 0.01), basal area (33%; P < 0.0001), canopy height (40%; P < 0.0001) and live biomass (36%; P = 0.01). On severely affected plots, all structural variables plateaued at levels different from pre-drought conditions. Large, old trees on severely affected plots were replaced by high densities of small stems (1-10 cm DBH). Resprouting among drought affected trees (P < 0.001) and tree regeneration (P = 0.02) were higher on severely affected plots. No significant shifts in the proportional abundance of the two dominant species, E. marginata and C. calophylla, were observed for structural attributes or regeneration after 49 mo. Conclusion: Climate change-type drought can cause structural shifts in a resprouting mediterranean-type forest, providing evidence for a shift to an alternate state, particularly with repeated disturbance. While the study area showed low structural resistance and resilience, tree species composition was resilient to change, as E. marginata is likely to remain dominant in the future due to its resprouting capacity. Findings support the view that climate change-type drought will drive replacement of large trees with short, multi-stemmed individuals, transforming ecosystem structure

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Centre of Excellence for Climate Change and Forest and Woodland Health
Publisher: Wiley
Copyright: © 2016 International Association for Vegetation Science.
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