Environment Unlocking the secrets of the green-and-gold

Unlocking the secrets of the green-and-gold

New understanding of the wattle family’s ‘plumbing’ could provide clues to how plants will survive climate change, says a University of New England (UNE) researcher.

UNE’s Dr Nigel Warwick has enlisted the help of one of the world’s oldest botanic gardens to unlock some of the secrets of the fascinating genus Acacia. He has just made his third trip to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, London, where he carried out some of the world’s first comprehensive studies of wattle anatomy.

“Acacias are some of the most hardy and resilient plants in the world,” said Dr Warwick.

“They possess a number of adaptations that allow them to transport water and nutrients and to survive tough drought conditions. Learning how they cope with drought and heat stress may provide some clues as to how they and other plants will tolerate the hotter, drier conditions projected under climate change.”

Dr Warwick, a plant physiologist (who studies how plants adapt to different environmental conditions, including drought, salinity and temperature), is comparing more than 50 species of Acacia from a range of climatic zones in northern New South Wales.

“I have found that the Acacias living in drier environments have different plumbing. They have more xylem vessels that conduct water and nutrients through the plant, and these vessels are slightly narrower, and they are fitted with special seals that prevent their plumbing from collapsing during dry periods,” Dr Warwick said.

His findings improve our understanding of entire forest and woodland ecosystems, many of which rely on Acacias.

“Bacteria living in the roots of Acacias fix nitrogen from the atmosphere in the soil, which contributes to soil fertility, making Acacias very important to surrounding plants and the nitrogen cycle within an ecosystem,” he said.

Microscope slides of Acacias that Dr Warwick prepared now form part of the Royal Botanic Gardens’ permanent collection and will soon be available online to scientists globally.

Read more about the secrets of the golden wattle here. Story credit: University of New England newsroom.

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