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Comparative Ecology Group
Our main research aim is to understand and predict from evolutionary principles the physiognomy and traits of vegetation and why they vary round the world. Vegetation provides the physical habitat and the chemical flow of energy and cycling of nutrients within which other terrestrial life-forms operate. It also strongly influences hydrological cycles and exchange of gases with the atmosphere.
One strand of research targets sapwood tissues, collecting field data across a wide range of species with respect to hydraulic function and biomechanical strength. The focus on stem tissues complements previous research on leaf economics and on seed size and life history. Another strand is developing theory. Some models assess costs and benefits of particular traits such as wood density, using the principle that natural selection relentlessly favours ecological strategies with greater fitness. Other models address the coexistence of mixtures of plant ecological strategies, using game theoretical or frequency-dependent treatments. Under a high-CO2 future, models will be needed that operate through fundamental mechanisms of evolution, competition and physiology, rather than through extrapolation from present-day plants.
The research is funded 2010-2015 through award of an Australian Laureate Fellowship from the Australian Research Council.
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