ARC Centre for Forest Value Newsletter, September 2020

In our September newsletter, find out what's happening at the Australian Research Council (ARC) Industrial Transformation Training Centre for Forest Value.

From our Director:

WELCOME to another edition of our newsletter on what's happening at the Australian Research Council (ARC) Industrial Transformation Training Centre for Forest Value.

This year has seen many of us embrace the virtual world as we navigate working remotely more than ever before. I'd like to congratulate two of our PhD candidates Rose Brinkhoff and Travis Britton who presented on a global stage virtually, at the Ecological Society of America conference last month. Despite being unable to attend the conference due to travel restrictions, Rose and Travis were able to share their research and engage with fellow presenters, which resulted in a great learning and networking experience. You can find out more about their presentations below.

For fellow PhD candidate Henry Nickolas, coming to Tasmania to study proved to be quite the life-changing experience after leaving his home of Kerala, India, to arrive in Hobart mid-July to five-degree weather. We're pleased Hobart grew on Henry and for four years he was part of the Centre through his research into the genetic control of economic traits in Eucalyptus globulus.

Another student profile shows how comparing beetle composition in Southern Tasmania’s Florentine Valley, has been the focus of a recent research publication by Centre-affiliated PhD candidate Mingxin Liu. The landscape ecology experiment used DNA metabarcoding, which is an emerging approach for monitoring biodiversity.

Our final story for this edition highlights the important work of PhD candidate Mihai Neagoe, who has been working with the forest industry for the past three years to help address port congestion. Mihai worked with several forestry ports in Tasmania and on the mainland, and collected data from the supply chain to get a better grasp of what’s causing port congestion and how it can be addressed.

Last month, the Centre was profiled in the Australian Forests & Timber News (page 6) and on the TERN website. Both articles profiled our work in capacity building for the forest and wood products industries and wood research, thanks to the Centre’s high calibre of higher-degree-by-research students and postdoctoral fellows.

Thank for your continued support and we trust you enjoy this edition of our newsletter. To find out more information on the Centre visit our website, click here.

Associate Professor Julianne O’Reilly-Wapstra


Centre duo takes global stage in virtual conference

ARC Centre for Forest Value’s PhD candidates Travis Britton and Rose Brinkhoff recently presented their research virtually at the 105th Ecological Society of America conference .

IN TODAY’S reality of travel restrictions, two of the Centre for Forest Value’s PhD candidates didn’t miss their chance to present on the global stage, at the Ecological Society of America conference last month.

Students Rose Brinkhoff and Travis Britton were invited to present their research virtually at the 105th annual conference, with this year’s theme being “harnessing the ecological data revolution”.

Rose’s presentation was titled the determinants of optimal leaf area in eucalypt plantations and highlighted data from her field experiments on the impact of nitrogen fertiliser on leaf area, photosynthesis, respiration, stomatal conductance and transpiration.

“Participating in a virtual conference was a good experience, and while there were some inevitable downsides of not being able to meet people in person, there were also some great aspects. I found the whole experience very rewarding and inspiring,” Rose said.

“My research results showed that extra leaves in response to high nitrogen may create carbon and water costs to Eucalyptus nitens on dry sites. It was great to see how my research fits in with what other people are doing across the world and connect with other researchers.”

For Travis, the opportunity to tailor his choice of preferred talks proved beneficial.

“I spent around two full days listening to all the talks. It was good being able to just pick and choose which talks you wanted to listen to, unlike a normal conference where you watch all the talks in between. But this had its cons as well, as some of these talks can be much more interesting than what you are expecting from the abstract,” Travis said.

Travis presented a talk titled Neighbours and tree size influence drought damage in an experimental forest with co-authors Chantelle Ridley, Tim Brodribb, Shane Richards and Mark Hovenden.

“I presented data from my first chapter which opportunistically involved assessing canopy damage at my field site following a severe drought (the driest on record for the area since 1874) in January 2019,” he said.

“We showed that competitive interactions between coexisting trees for water increased drought damage of two important forestry species (Eucalyptus regnans and Eucalyptus delegatensis) and that smaller trees were also more vulnerable.

“It was interesting to see that drought (in particular the effects of future drought) was a very active research area globally and that some of the findings from our study and site are applicable to forest systems more broadly.”

For more information on the conference click here.


Centre-affiliated PhD candidate Henry Nickolas has spent the last four years researching the genetic control of economic traits in Eucalyptus globulus at the Centre for Forest Value.

Culture shock leads to life-changing research journey

TO SAY his PhD journey started off as a culture shock, would be an understatement for Centre-affiliated PhD candidate Henry Nickolas.

Leaving his home of Kerala, India, to arrive in Hobart mid-July to five-degree weather, was the first of many new life experiences for Henry during his four-year tenure – but he wouldn’t change a thing.

“It was totally a new experience – different continent, language, clothing, food, culture, climate. It was a 100% change for me. The initial months were tough, but after that my journey was smooth and I made many friends from the University of Tasmania including great office mates and supervisors,” Henry said.

Henry’s research investigated the genetic control of economic traits in Eucalyptus globulus.

He said E. globulus is widely grown for pulpwood production in temperate regions of the world, however, there is increasing interest in using it for solid-wood products.

“I studied the genetic architecture of key pulpwood and solid-wood selection traits using two E. globulus progeny trials in a high-rainfall area (wet) of Tasmania, and a previously studied trial in a low rainfall area (dry). These trials were established using open-pollinated families from native trees sampled from 13 subraces,” he said.

“In general, correlations between most solid-wood and pulpwood traits were favourable, suggesting that past selection for pulpwood traits had neutral or favourable effects on many key solid-wood traits. We found that breeding for solid-wood and pulpwood are relatively compatible.”

Henry said the mixing and hybridisation of germplasm from different populations of tree species are increasingly promoted in strategies for climate adaptation and breeding, with only a few studies of inter-population hybridisation in E. globulus.

“This was another major area of my study, for which I have used a large population of full-sib families derived from inter and intra-race hybridisation of this species. First generation hybrids of E. globulus showed positive heterosis, suggesting that additional genetic gain in growth can be captured in deploying clones or full-sib families from inter-race crossing,” he said.

“The maternal and non-maternal reciprocal effects for the pulpwood selection traits were almost absent, which means that the directionality of crossing has little effect on the performance of hybrids. This finding makes the deployment of full-sib families of E. globulus using mass supplementary pollination easier, simplifies crossing for breeding purposes, and simplifies genetic evaluation models.”

Henry’s PhD was funded through an ARC linkage grant for which Tree Breeding Australia Ltd was the industrial partner, and as a Centre affiliate he has had the opportunity to engage with a broad forest research and industry community

Looking back on his PhD, industry collaboration with Sustainable Timber Tasmania and Forico provided Henry with stakeholder insight that he is extremely grateful for.

“This part really helped me to understand how to handle the requirements of stakeholders and work in that area. I think that is the most important skill a researcher needs,” he said.

Henry returned home to India after submitting his thesis, but the celebration was put on hold due to COVID-19 restrictions, including home quarantine. Today Henry is an Agricultural Officer with the Kerala Government and hopes one day to return to Tasmania. Henry already has three papers published out of his PhD, which can be viewed here.


Beetle discovery using emerging DNA-based method

Centre-affiliated PhD candidate Mingxin Liu has been comparing beetle composition in Southern Tasmania’s Florentine Valley as part of his recent research publication.

COMPARING beetle composition in Southern Tasmania’s Florentine Valley, has been the focus of a recent research publication by Centre-affiliated PhD candidate Mingxin Liu.

The landscape ecology experiment uses a dataset of beetle samples from 12 old-growth and 12 regrowth sites, to compare beetles in mature forest to areas clear-felled over 50 years ago.

Mingxin said to improve the efficiency of identifying forest beetle species composition, he compared a DNA-based method, DNA metabarcoding, to morphological identification as tools for investigating whether logging history impacted beetle communities in Tasmanian wet eucalypt forests.

He said DNA metabarcoding is an emerging approach for monitoring biodiversity, but uncertainties remain about its capacity to detect subtle differences in invertebrate community composition, comparable to those achievable based on conventional morphological identification.

“Our results showed that DNA metabarcoding can be used to identify beetle specie and to detect even very subtle beetle community differences between old-growth and regrowth forests that were over 50 years old,” he said.

“A slight loss of signal compared to the morphology-based approach may be resolved by developing more comprehensive DNA reference databases.

“While confirming forest recovery of 48-58 years did not fully restore mature forest beetle communities, we suggest that DNA metabarcoding can be used for monitoring biodiversity and probing subtle differences in community composition.”

During his study, Mingxin was supported by industry through Sustainable Timber Tasmania, which provided permits of site entry and logistics, the Forest Practices Authority through a student research grant for laboratory genetics work, and a Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment from the Ecological Society of Australia for field work.

“A highlight for me during my study has been the support from industry and also the discovery we made around DNA metabarcoding,” Mingxin said.

“It (DNA metabarcoding) can capture subtle ecological gradients that are still likely to have significant impacts on invertebrate communities, whereas previous studies only looked strong and more detectable ecological gradients.”

To read more about Mingxin’s research click here.


Online student seminars

OUR PhD candidates have been sharing their research at the University of Tasmania and recordings of their presentations are available on the Centre for Forest Value's YouTube page.

The latest virtual seminar was presented by Centre-affiliated researcher and PhD candidate Mingxin Liu on Using DNA metabarcoding to access beetle biodiversity for ecologically sustainable forest management.

The next seminar will be held on 2 October, keep an eye on our YouTube channel here.


Selected research publications highlight talent

THE Centre's research program is structured into three themes that span the forest products supply chain.

There are currently 16 PhD candidates, three postdocs and numerous industry, academic, and affiliated researchers participating in the projects being undertaken by the ARC Centre for Forest Value. The three themes include:

  • Theme 1: Sustainable forest production and certification.
  • Theme 2: Products and manufacturing.
  • Theme 3: Supply chain integration and information management.

Three highlight publications from these themes include:


Working with TasPorts

Research provides insight into port congestion

FOR the past three years, PhD researcher Mihai Neagoe has been working with the forest industry to help address port congestion.

“Few things are as frustrating as being stuck in traffic congestion. While congestion has not been as great a problem in many Australian cities in the past few months, it’s certainly been an ongoing issue in many Australian ports handling forest products,” the ARC Centre for Forest Value PhD candidate said.

Mihai worked with several forestry ports in Tasmania and on the mainland, and collected data from the supply chain to gain a better understanding of what is causing port congestion and how it can be addressed. In his research, Mihai developed a simulation model to help guide decision-making towards the most effective approaches and limit unnecessary expenses.

“The simulation model showed that improving logistics coordination with a Terminal Appointment System was more effective than investing in additional infrastructure,” Mihai said.

With industry collaboration being a key factor in Mihai’s research success, he credited TasPorts’ Senior Commercial Manager Darrell Clark for supporting his research. Mr Clark said the project provided supporting data that dispelled myths about the causes of congestion.

“This has resulted in customers understanding the potential benefits of a Terminal Appointment System and that a cooperative, solutions-driven approach can achieve a better outcome for all parties. The project has also improved engagement with our key customers at the Burnie Chip Export Terminal," Mr Clark said.

“TasPorts is exploring the opportunities to progress the implementation of a Terminal Appointment System at key ports, to improve the logistics of product movements into and out of the port. Turning a research study into a practical outcome that improves the logistics of our ports, is a great outcome for TasPorts, the University of Tasmania, our customers and wider Tasmanian community.

“TasPorts is keen to collaborate with the University, with opportunities to consider further research flagged in areas such as logistics solutions regarding berth utilisation and shipping capacity."

For more information on Mihai’s PhD which looks at uncertainties in the forest industries: Procurement, supply chains and markets, click here or check out his YouTube video here.

PhD candidate Mihai Neagoe has been working with the forest industry to help address port congestion through his thesis research.


The ARC Training Centre for Forest Value (CFV) produces industry-ready graduates and postdoctoral fellows with broad perspectives of the forest industry.

The CFV is funded by the Australian Research Council and industry partners.



Created By
Tahnia Creedon