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Programme two newsletter - The Wood From The Trees - Issue three

­Newsletter of the High-Value Wood Resources
research programme ­of the CRC for Forestry



From the Programme Manager
Dr Chris Harwood

Research Programme Two co-sponsored the first Australasian Forest Genetics Conference, which was held in Hobart from 11-14 April 2007.   Over 90 scientists from 11 countries discussed advances in breeding for improved plantations of pines, eucalypt and other species. CRC for Forestry scientists were well represented, presenting nine papers on the conference theme, “Breeding for Wood Quality”.

wood trees3 01
Dr Dean Williams explaining management of Forestry Tasmania’s clonal seed orchard of Eucalyptus nitens during the conference field tour.

Considerable improvement has been achieved by breeding plantation trees for faster growth, straighter stems and finer branches. However, there has been less improvement in density and other wood qualities, even though CSIRO pioneered research on breeding for wood quality in radiata pine 50 years ago. Now, there is rapid progress that will result in better wood from fast-growing plantations.  Major advances were reported in wood quality evaluation, applications of quantitative genetics, and prospects for gene-assisted breeding using single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) for earlier and more accurate selection.  

Written conference papers have been published on CD and are citeable. These will be available on the members' website soon.

I’m pleased to be able to report that we recruited three more enthusiastic and talented PhD students, all of whom are off to a great start (for more information on our students click here)

Programme committees' update

Research Programme Two member organisations have kept in touch through a series of project steering committee teleconferences in early 2007.

Project steering committees (members only) can view:

  • minutes of Project 2.1 Project Steering Commitee, 20 February. Click here
  • minutes of Project 2.4 Project Steering Committee, 24 April. Click here

What's on

The project steering committees have an invaluable role providing scientific guidance for our research projects, and some good advice to help us ensure our scientific outputs can add value to real-world forestry operations.  But there’s nothing like having the opportunity to discuss the progress and future of our science face-to-face, so I hope to see representatives of all CRC partners at the Annual Science Meeting which will be held at the Barossa Novotel 11-13 July. We’re organising a series of science presentations from our research programme that will showcase some of the exciting progress we’re making, with a focus on applying that new information and the potential for industry uptake. We’ll also review progress and strategic direction through a Programme Coordination Committee meeting.  See you there!

Project news

Project 2.1 Breeding for high value wood products

A new marker system is being developed to support gene-assisted breeding
Dr Dorothy Steane of the University of Tasmania who already contributes to Research Programme Four is now working part-time on the molecular breeding study in Project 2.1.  Dot’s first task is to coordinate the development of a set of DArT markers for eucalypts.
The CRC for Forestry is co-investing in the development of the DArT technology for eucalypts and we will use it to complement our studies on individual candidate genes for wood quality.  We anticipate being able to develop a set of over 3,000 variable DArT markers randomly distributed across the entire eucalypt genome and will use these to test the relative importance of different candidate genes in controlling economic wood traits.  The DArT markers will also enable us to tie our gene studies across to the complete eucalypt genome sequence, which should be publicly available within the lifetime of the CRC.  This will enable us to home in quickly on further candidate genes.  As we anticipated, molecular technology continues to develop and sample processing is getting quicker, so we are well ahead of schedule in meeting the project milestones and deliverables. The future of gene assisted breeding looks bright! You can read some interesting papers in this subject area that were presented at the Australasian Forest Genetics Conference.

Project 2.2 Silviculture for high-value solid and engineered wood products

A solid-wood genetic trials of  Eucalyptus globulus has been established
Tom Baker (University of Melbourne) and David Pilbeam of the Southern Tree Breeding Association (STBA) are guiding the conversion of two STBA progeny trials of Eucalyptus globulus in Victoria from pulp-wood to solid-wood silvicultural regimes.  These pedigreed trials will provide a valuable scientific resource to help determine level of genetic control of traits affecting sawlog production and to study clearwood production in E. globulus.

Progeny trial at Condah, Western Victoria, age four years, before thinning and pruning

Condah trial after thinning and pruning

Physiology of sub-tropical eucalypt plantations
CRC for Forestry PhD student Phil Alcorn is completing his PhD studies at the Australian National University where he has been studying the physiology of subtropical eucalypts in northern New South Wales (NSW) plantations. Phil has worked closely with Forests NSW researchers Geoff Smith and Dane Thomas. More detailed results from Phil’s studies will be available shortly to CRC members on the Project 2.2 web page.

Phil and co-workers from the Australian National University conducted silvicultural trials to examine the crown dynamics and effects of pruning intensity on the growth of young plantation-grown E. pilularis and E. cloeziana trees.  The trials were established in experimental and commercial plantations managed by Forests NSW near Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie.

A planting density trial suggested that increasing planting density from 1,250 to 1,667 stems per hectare (SPH) will improve early branch control. However, there was little advantage in establishing trees at 3,333 SPH.

Green crown pruning, as an alternative form of silviculture to control early branch development, was examined in dominant and co-dominant trees of each species grown at an initial stocking of 1,250 SPH. Trees were pruned to remove 20, 50 or 70 per cent of the green crown length.  Unpruned trees were also studied in the experiment. Results showed that:

  • Pruning to remove 50 per cent or greater of the green crown may temporarily reduce diameter at breast height (DBH) growth but not height growth.
  • Pruning to remove up to 50 per cent of the green crown at canopy closure had no adverse impact on tree size (height or DBH) or canopy dominance two years after pruning.
  • Stem form, stem taper and wood density were unaffected by pruning.

PhD student with Project 2.2, Phil Alcorn measuring photosynthesis in a young plantation

To better understand growth response to pruning, further measurements of leaf physiology, whole tree water-use, crown architecture and biomass partitioning in the upper, middle and lower thirds of the pruned and unpruned trees were also completed.

  • There was no change in leaf physiology six months after pruning to remove 50 per cent of crown.
  • After pruning, whole-tree water use rapidly increased to pre-pruning levels within three months.
  • After crown removal, leaf area of pruned trees was recovered to pre-pruning levels within nine months.
  • Residual branch growth above the pruned zone was unaffected by pruning.

These results suggest that removal of up to 50 per cent of green crown in either E. pilularis or E. cloeziana trees will have minimal impacts on growth, form, wood density, residual branch growth or canopy processes - this is important information for managers considering pruning as a tool to improve log value.  

More detailed results from Phil’s studies will be available shortly to CRC members on the Project 2.2 web page.

Visit to Chile
Peter Volker and Tom Baker visited Chile last October. CRC members can read Peter Volker’s report here.

Project 2.3 Impact of silviculture on wood quality and wood processing

Processing plantation-grown Eucalyptus nitens
The processing study that we carried out on 81 pruned trees from Forestry Tasmania’s 22-year-old Eucalyptus nitens silvicultural trial at Goulds Country in Tasmania (see newsletter edition 1) is pretty well complete. Results from the processing study and ancillary studies on log form, tree crown structure and prediction of product quality and value using non-destructive evaluation techniques are available to project partners as a series of technical reports on the Project 2.2, 2.3 and 2.4 web pages of the CRC for Forestry members’ website.  Scientists from Project 2.3 will submit a number of papers arising from this study for journal publication in coming months.

Technical Report 169 “Crown symmetry and stem shape in a Eucalyptus nitens plantation in relation to intra specific competition” by Jane Medhurst, Maria Ottenschlaegerand and Matthew Wood has been published and is available on the members’ website to members of Projects 2.1-2.4.

A draft of Technical report 168 "Gould’s Country Eucalyptus nitens thinning trial: solid wood quality and processing performance using conventional processing strategies" by Russel Washusen, Chris Harwood, et al. is available in draft form on the members' website to members of Project 2.3.

Project 2.3 is planning to hold seminars and field days to present key results to the tree-growing and sawmilling industry sectors (keep an eye out for the workshop dates on the CRC members’ calendar – the first in this series are planned to be held in Tasmania). In short, yield of saleable sawn product from the trees was moderate to good, but value was lowered substantially by surface and internal checking. We are now planning follow-up processing trials to test ways to reduce these problems.

Mr Dung Ngo of Ensis carrying out detailed assessment of selected boards at McKay Timbers sawmill, Glenorchy Tasmania, November 2006.

Boards cross-cut for assessment of internal checking

Project 2.4. Incorporating wood quality into plantation estate management

Near-infrared analysis to predict pulp yield
Dr Geoff Downes and co-authors have produced a CRC technical report detailing the development by Ensis of a global near-infrared (NIR) calibration for predicting kraft pulp yield (KPY) from eucalypt samples.  Project partners can access the draft report here. We have used this calibration to predict the pulp yield of core samples from Eucalyptus globulus trees from the Gunns Limited progeny trial at Shale Oil in northern Tasmania, for the association genetics study in Project 2.1.  Whole-tree pulps were conducted on 20 of these trees.  Predicted KPY explained 82 per cent of the variance of the whole-tree KPY of those trees. This “blind validation” result reinforces our confidence that NIR can provide cost-effective and accurate prediction of key wood traits to industry on a routine basis. 

Meanwhile, M.Sc student Juan Carlos Valencia and Ensis project staff are examining whether NIR surface scans can predict shrinkage in E. nitens wood samples taken from the Goulds Country processing study (congratulations to Juan Carlos and his wife Katia on the arrival of their new son, Sebastian, in February!).

Welcome to new PhD students and post-doctoral fellows

Francisco Jimenez de Gracia ( completed his Masters in
Agricultural Science (University of Salamanca) and Forestry Science (University of Cordoba) in Spain, with further studies at the Universities of Gottingen and Freiburg in Germany.  Francisco started his PhD studies at the University of Tasmania in March.  His topic is “physiology of branch shedding and silviculture to minimise the risk of branch-associated defects in Eucalyptus nitens and E. globulus stands”. Natural branch shedding doesn't occur in E. globulus and E. nitens plantations -the failure or delay of branch-shedding in plantations grown for solid wood products could lead to significant timber defects. Francisco’s work aims to better predict the risk of branch-associated defects and to help develop reliable silvicultural practices to minimise these defects in E. nitens and E. globulus stands grown for solid-wood products.

David Blackburn is an agricultural science graduate from the University of Tasmania. David’s study area is “improvement of eucalypts for solid wood products” and he commenced his PhD studies at the University of Tasmania in January. David will study biological and economic factors that can maximise profitability from processing plantation-grown hardwood timber.  It’s likely that he will study veneer production from E. nitens, which has so far received less attention than sawn timber.  His training and work experience in mechanical engineering and agriculture puts him in a strong position to undertake this project. 

Tim Sexton ( commenced his PhD studies at Southern Cross University (SCU) in February. He is examining the potential for gene assisted breeding to improve wood quality in blackbutt (E. pilularis), under the guidance of Professor Rob Henry and Dr Merv Shepherd. Merv has commenced work as the SCU post-doctoral fellow on the project.  Merv and Tim’s research will link closely to the molecular genetics studies being undertaken at the University of Melbourne and the University of Tasmania.