Champions of Climate Change Create Greener Cities

Champions of Climate Change Create Greener Cities
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The project initially saw more than 13,000 individual plants and over 500 popularly planted tree and plant species put through rigorous testing and bioclimatic models to see how each would perform in the years 2030, 2050 and 2070.

Preliminary results saw many of the more popular currently planted species fail to make the cut.

Climate suitability maps have already been developed for the five most densely populated Australian cities, with researchers hoping to culminate their findings in an interactive online database, with advice on how well a specific species can withstand the environmental changes forecasted for the next 50 years.

As a community at large, all Australians will benefit through more livable environments through greener cities...

Hort Innovation General Manager for Research and Development David Moore said, once live, the online tool would create market opportunities for growers through identifying native and exotic species resilient to climate change and enable urban planners to make more informed decisions around which species to plant to future-proof urban landscapes.

"This project will benefit growers by ensuring that plants are better matched to appropriate climatic conditions around Australia, improving plant survival and sales," he said.

"It will also benefit consumers and government stakeholders alike by allowing them to make more informed purchasing decisions, taking into consideration a plant or species best performance in varied urban environments based on tried and tested scientific research.

"As a community at large, all Australians will benefit through more livable environments through greener cities."

Western Sydney University Chief Investigator Professor David Ellsworth said conclusive results wouldn’t be available until the project was finalised, but they were halfway through glasshouse experiments with over 50 species and more than 600 individual plants already put through testing.

During the glasshouse experiments we exposed half of the plants to drought by gradually decreasing soil water content over several weeks, and then all of the plants were exposed to a 6-day heat wave, reaching temperatures of up to 41 degrees...

"During the glasshouse experiments we exposed half of the plants to drought by gradually decreasing soil water content over several weeks, and then all of the plants were exposed to a 6-day heat wave, reaching temperatures of up to 41 degrees," he said.

"We then measured individual plants to record stress indicators, plant performance and wilting point to determine which species were resilient and which were vulnerable to heat and drought.

"What we found was that some of the more popular plants would not cope as climate change intensified. This means that government and growers alike will have to better consider what plants they are investing in when growing and designing green spaces to achieve optimum sustainability."

This project is being delivered in line with the 202020Vision – a collaborative initiative working to make urban areas 20 percent greener for the benefit of all Australians.


Meet The Researchers

Video Transcript

I'm Dr Linda Beaumont. I'm a senior lecturer at Macquarie University in the Department of Biology. My research is all about biological responses to climate change. As you're probably aware, our climate is changing, and although climate has only changed by about one degree on average so far this has already had considerable impacts on plants and animals around the world including plants in urban areas.

With projections indicating the mean annual temperature is likely to increase by a further three to four degrees Celsius by the end of the century, this poses a really important issue for our urban environments: how plants going to cope with this. Therefore we need to know what species would be resilient to climate change, and the species that we plant in whatever environment in our urban landscape will be able to thrive and survive as the climate changes.

Now to find out this information we have to do a range of different types of research experiments for instance here we've got a number of my colleagues planting up a number of plants. The goal is to expose these to increasing temperature and to drying conditions and assess what the tolerance of different plant species are to those conditions.

We're also using computer models to identify which urban areas around the country would be suitable for a range of different species. So our goal is to assess the suitability of a whole variety of plants that are commonly grown in urban environments and to look at how they may respond to climate change further. Another key goal is that we want to identify other plant species that could be used to increase the palette of species available to choose from, such as which plant species are currently rarely used or not being used in urban environments that could withstand climate change into the future. These are species that we might want to focus on and plant them more widely in urban environments.

Ultimately we're going to incorporate all of this information into an online plant selection tool that people can use to help them identify which plant would suit their urban environment and given projections for climate change. The computer modeling that my group is doing will develop a range of maps for Australia that will show which areas in Australia which have significant urban areas in Australia are currently suitable for different species and are likely to be suitable in the future.

The end user can click on those maps and be able to see okay for their environment for their area what species are projected to be suitable and this is really important for those long-lived species assets such as trees that might be expected to survive 100 to 150 years climate by the end of the century is likely to be three to four degrees Celsius warmer and if we're increasing that average temperature that means that the extremes are going to be even greater.

Think of all of those really hot days these days above 40 - as mean annual temperatures are changing then the frequency of those days is also increasing. So we're getting more days above 40, more days above 45, more record heat days and we need spaces in urban environments to survive we need to know which of those tree species can withstand those types of conditions, so ultimately the plant selector tool will help people to identify those species.

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