Global foresters unite! Aussie science well represented during international congress
FWPA representatives and a host of Australian researchers were amongst the 2,500 scientists from 92 countries that assembled in Brazil for the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) World Congress. Throughout the presentations, the global challenges of deforestation and climate change were prominent themes. There was an evident willingness amongst attendees to collaborate on a global scale for the benefit of forests everywhere.
The IUFRO World Congress offered a unique opportunity to share evidence-based knowledge across disciplines and continents, to discuss the state of the world’s forests; the challenges and consequences, as well as possible solutions.
The goal of the congress is to recognise urgent issues and advocate for a collaborative approach, using the global IUFRO network to mobilise forest science for a sustainable future.
Jodie Mason, Forest Research Manager at FWPA, was in attendance, alongside the many Australian researchers who presented details of their FWPA-funded projects to delegates.
“It was great to see our home grown researchers networking in this way, promoting Australian projects, and updating themselves with international best practice. It was apparent that Australian researchers are well-regarded and well-networked in the global arena,” Ms Mason said.
Sharing some of her key insights from the event, Ms Mason noted that research on the impact and mitigation of climate risk was of high priority, both for supporting ecosystem function and commercial forestry.
“Climate adaptation measures presented included
the assisted migration of natural forest species, with much research focused on understanding and managing the changing species composition of forests as climates warm and dry,” she said.
"Another area of innovation focused on boosting the drought tolerance of plantation species through selective tree breeding, soil and clone matching, and the trialling of new species. Research into the physiology of root and wood formation of eucalypts under different climates is helping us better understand climate impacts and opportunities to adapt.”
Continuing on the topic of the climate, Ms Mason said silvicultural practices to improve site conditions were another major area of focus. This included trials of stump removal to increase moisture retention and tree spacing when it comes to planting.
Attendees also learned about how global agreements are incentivising forest restoration and the exploration of new models and approaches, such as greater commercial use of forest biomass for energy production.
In addition to climate issues, Ms Mason highlighted the soil microbiome as another interesting topic. This area of study looks at how complex microbial activity in soils interacts with tree roots, prompting the transfer of carbon and nutrients from soil to tree, and also between multiple trees.
“Research in this field has great potential applications for nurseries, plantations, natural forests and in laboratories where plantlets are grown, with increased productivity and healthier and more resilient forests being the ultimate goal,” Ms Mason explained.
“There was also a particular focus during the congress on the need to improve our communication around the importance and impacts of forest science, if we are to have stronger influence over policy decisions.”
Also in attendance to present several papers was Professor Rodney Keenan, from the University of Melbourne’s school of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences. Having attended a total of seven congress events in the past, Professor Keenan was in a strong position to share his thoughts on how the event has evolved over time.
“Compared to previous congresses, there was a much greater diversity in the program, themes, content and participants this year,” Professor Keenan said.
“There was a more distinct focus on using forest science for policy and decision making. As one keynote speaker said, a growing population and growing demand for resources means we need to make choices. Choices have consequences, and therefore we need to use science to help us make good choices.”
Professor Keenan identified forest landscape restoration as a strong theme running through the event, and believes this will become a key driver for landscape change.
“This can integrate multiple land use options, including tree plantations, agriculture, agroforestry and restoring natural ecosystems. The technical issues involved are generally well understood, yet the main challenges tend to be social and political. There are big expectations for private sector investment, but the question is how to design policies that best support responsible investment,” Professor Keenan said.
He also noted that plantations now supply 47 per cent of roundwood to industry globally. Sustainable intensification is therefore a key theme for timber production.
The outcomes of an FWPA-supported research project led by Professor Keenan, that investigated a new approach to addressing the need for investment in new forest plantations and thus meeting growing demand for timber, can be found elsewhere in this edition of ForWood.
Also on the line-up of presenters during the congress was Dr Angus Carnegie, a Principal Research Scientist at the NSW Department of Primary Industries’ Science & Research Division. Dr Carnegie presented FWPA-supported research on the impact of myrtle rust in Australia, and discussed invasive pests with key international experts.
“The presentation of this important work to a global audience has strengthened collaborations with international researchers working on the threat of exotic strains of myrtle rust,” Dr Carnegie said.
“As a result, there are now plans to work together on the development of ways to quickly diagnose the different strains, establish an early-warning sentinel program throughout the Asia-Pacific region, identify risk pathways into Australia, and test the susceptibility of Australia to exotic strains.”
During the congress, Dr Carnegie used the opportunity to establish an international working party to compare forest biosecurity systems around the world, with the aim of highlighting where improvements could be made to reduce the spread of invasive forest pests.
Another Australian scientist in attendance was Dr Mauricio Acuna, Senior Research Fellow with the Forest Industries Research Centre at the University of the Sunshine Coast.
During the congress, Dr Acuna presented the findings of his FWPA-supported research into forest logistics and supply chain optimisation. His presentation included a summary of recent projects conducted by the Australian Forest Operations Research Alliance (AFORA), including tools for tactical and operational planning, truck scheduling, moisture management and automated volumetric measurements.
Also highlighted during Dr Acuna’s presentation were examples of some of the disruptive techniques and technologies that will shape forest operations and supply chain management in future years, including robotics, data analytics, artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality and blockchain.
Dr Acuna went on to discuss some of the future challenges educators in forest engineering will face in coping with these technological changes and the new skills workers will consequently be required to develop.
Professor Jerry Vanclay, of Southern Cross University’s School of Environment, Science and Engineering, acted as chair of the Congress Scientific Committee and was responsible for developing the entire science-based program.
In his closing address to the Congress, Professor Vanclay concluded there had been much discussion in the corridors, and a buzz of excitement in the trade exhibition, many side events, excursions and training courses.
“We have had the opportunity to renew old friendships, make new friends, and strengthen our research networks,” Professor Vanclay said.