Keeping pace with climate

By Country News

‘‘It’s like putting pasture plants in a time machine and taking them to climate conditions that are predicted for the future.’’

That’s how Professor Sally Power explains the Pastures and Climate Extremes project she leads.

Based at the University of Western Sydney’s Hawkesbury Campus, the PACE project is funded by Meat and Livestock Australia Donor Company and Dairy Australia and aims to test different pasture types to assess and predict how they will perform in hotter and drier conditions.

Infrared heat lamps are used to increase air temperature and rainfall is added in line with current and future rainfall scenarios.

‘‘By measuring a suite of physiological, morphological and biochemical traits, we hope to provide new insight into the mechanisms that determine sensitivity and resilience in climate extremes. This will help us identify traits that enable plants to cope with the more extreme conditions that are predicted to occur, more often and for longer,’’ Prof Power said.

‘‘Those characteristics will in turn help us identify other species and cultivars with those traits, so ultimately producers can choose ones more likely to perform well in future, more extreme climates.

‘‘Our two main climate treatments — warming (+3°C) and (winter/spring) drought — were initiated in 2018 and we’re now seeing some interesting treatment effects.’’

Recovery after drought is an important aspect of a species’ resilience, so will be carefully monitored according to researchers.

‘‘We need to know how our treatments affect pasture persistence, how much of a legacy winter and spring drought has for summer growth, and what plant and microbial traits are associated with faster and/or more complete sward recovery, both in terms of productivity and nutrition,’’ Prof Power said.