31/07/2019

Cities Need Trees, But Which Ones Will Survive Climate Change?

ABC tripleJNkayla Afshariyan


So we've got less than 12 years to save the planet.
Actually, we've got less than that, depending on which scientific research you believe more and how much of an existential crisis you want to have today.
Either way, there's no denying the planet is warming at alarming rates, it's never been hotter, and we need to start thinking of ways to help.
Thankfully, Australian researchers are doing just that.
The Which Plant Where project is currently looking at what Australian plant species will be able to survive the oncoming changes in climate.
The project is a collaborative effort between Macquarie University, Western Sydney University, Hort Innovation and the NSW Department of Environment and Heritage.
The team is looking at what plants, in particular what type of common trees, can be planted in different urban spaces across Australia.
Leigh Staas, project manager for Which Plant Where, told Hack the project will span the next five years and look at three different time slices.
"We're looking at 2030, 2050 and 2070. At the end of the project, we're developing an online plant selector tool that will help growers and practitioners choose particular species that will survive in urban landscapes," she said.

Stress testing trees
The team recently published a study which analysed 176 of the most common tree species planted across our cities. The research found more than 70 per cent of those trees will experience harsher climate conditions by 2070.
Although the project is looking at what trees will survive in urban areas, Leigh said the research can be applied to what trees you can plant in your backyard.
The team are testing what plants will survive in different environments using a range of techniques, so they can be confident in which trees will survive in the future.
"We're using bioclimatic models, so climate modeling, to see how species will survive," Leigh said.
Rows of native trees being tested for the Which Plant Where project. Supplied: Which Plant Where
"We're also using glasshouse modules, where we test species in a glasshouse by putting them under drought and high temperatures to see if they survive.
"And we're putting some of the plants in the field."
Leigh said the multiple approaches will allow future planning for which trees will be fine, which will need extra care, and which will absolutely not survive.

Location, location location
Location plays an important role in what trees can be planted too.
"Different plants have different bioclimatic ranges - what that means is some plants like cooler temperatures, some like hotter temperatures, and they live within a bioclimatic envelope," Leigh said.
Essentially, trees are picky, and knowing where they'll thrive the best is important for future environmental planning.
Leigh says the bioclimatic envelope trees live in is shifting southwards, meaning "our areas are getting hotter by one kilometre each year".
Trees are "long-term assets", so while they can live up to 120 years, rising temperatures may mean "those trees might not survive in increasing temperatures in the next 20 to 50 years".
The researchers say some trees, like the golden wattle or the prickly paperbark, might not make it in northern, warmer cities.
Species like the native frangipani or the tuckeroo will probably be suited in southern cities
It goes without saying that trees are vital. And in urban spaces, they provide shade and cool suburbs during heatwaves.
"It's a much better shade provider than a sail or man-made structure," Leigh said.
Now is a really good time to plant trees, giving them enough time to become established before summer.
Check in with your local council to see if there are any community activities planned or free trees you can pick up to plant at home.
And if you're not sure what you can plant or where to plant it, local nurseries are usually a good place to start.

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