A University of Auckland researcher has been granted $345,000 over three years from the Marsden Fund to investigate the potential of climate change to threaten kauri, many of which are already under attack from kauri dieback disease.

Tree ring analysis has shown that native conifers are particularly sensitive to drought, but the possible impact of an expected rise in temperatures and more frequent extreme events has had little research.

Dr Cate MacInnes-Ng, from the University of Auckland, and colleagues from Australia and the United Kingdom, will use the funding to investigate the sensitivity of kauri, tanekaha and totara to water stress, comparing water-use efficiency in those trees across different rainfall areas and looking at how particular trees adapt to a lack of soil moisture.

Several traits are recognised as making kauri vulnerable to drought: they prefer ridge tops that expose them to the driest soils and have predominantly shallow roots. Like kauri, totara demand a lot of light, but grow much faster. Tanekaha grow slowly and little is known about them, possibly because their wood is not valued as highly.


"This exciting project will add to our understanding of these three endemic tree species and is crucial to the long-term survival prospects for our kauri forests and other Southern Hemisphere conifers," Dr MacInnes-Ng said.

The grant was one of 86, all awarded over three years totalling $54.6 million, selected from an original field of 1113 preliminary proposals, 229 of which the Marsden Fund invited to submit full proposals.