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Mr Des Stackpole

profile_stackpole_thumbMr Des Stackpole

PhD student

Topic: unravelling the genetic and environmental relationships between growth and wood properties in temperate eucalypts

University of Tasmania



I am studying the genetic and environmental effects on growth and wood properties of high rainfall temperate eucalypts. I started my three-year program in January 2005.

The study is based on two trials that are in northern Tasmania:

Trial One (1600 trees):

  • Four different genotypes (four different clones) of Eucalyptus nitens (4)
  • Four fertilizer treatments: each plot treated with either nitrogen, or phosphorus or both, or none (4x4)
  • Four replicates of the four genotypes with the four fertilizer treatments applied (4x4x4)
  • Each clone is planted in a plot of 25 trees (4x4x4x25)

This trial was established 12 years ago by foresters and technicians and I’m grateful that they had the foresight to set this up so well. It has made the initial part of my PhD possible.

Trial Two:

  •  In 1988 CSIRO collected seeds from about 570 mother trees of Eucalyptus globulus across its entire Tasmanian and Victorian range.
  • These were planted in 15 trials in Australia and other countries and formed the E. globulus base stock that most plantation managers and forest researchers have been using ever since.
  • This is the last intact E. globulus base population trial from that planting.
The trials are owned and managed by Gunns Ltd; and represents a formidable in-kind contribution.

I am going to use these trials to try and pick apart the environmental and genetic factors that control the growth and wood properties that are known as the profit traits of pulp production. For instance, a readily understood "environmental correlation" is the reason for decline in wood density where silvicultural treatment increases growth rate. The literature is equivocal; but I did observe such an adverse correlation in my E. nitens pilot study; both across different fertiliser treatments, and between genetically-identical big and small trees within a single clonal stand. So, in this trial, fast growth gives less dense wood. I've seen it.

However, environmental correlation is not necessarily the same as genetic correlation between the same pair of traits, and even if it is, the implications are more severe as the two traits are antagonistic. Select one and you lose on the other. More fundamentally, understanding how the profit making traits co-vary with environmental factors provides an insight into their physiological inter-relationships. Are we dealing with a single gene affecting both traits; or two genes with a single effect located near to each other on the same chromosome?

I'm running the wood sample collection and analysis program, and conducting the quantitative analyses so that by the end of my studies I will be able to provide new estimates of correlations between growth, density, pulp yield and several wood chemistry traits that greatly interest the forest products industry and geneticists as well.

I have lived in Queensland, Papua New Guinea, Canada and rural Victoria. I graduated from Melbourne University with a degree in Forestry. My first career posting was managing native forest operations around Mt Baw Baw, in the heartlands of E. nitens, before a 10 year career in land protection forestry and research. After gaining all this experience I decided to go back to study and gain my PhD. One proud achievement among many was to be awarded 1989 Rookie tree-planter of the year by the Smoky Lake tree planting Co. of Saskatchewan.  Appropriately, the prize was a slab of Molson Canadian stubbies.

My supervisors are Professor Brad Potts and Associate Professor Rene Vaillancourt (School of Plant Science, University of Tasmania), and Dr Chris Harwood (CSIRO Forest Biosciences). This research is funded by an ARC Linkage grant and the CRC for Forestry.

My PhD studies contribute to Research Programme Two: High Value Wood Resources, Project 2.1 (breeding for high value wood products) of the CRC for Forestry.

To browse other PhD projects available with the High Value Wood Resources research programme, click here.