25 Mar 2014

Kauri trees adapt to climate change

7:16 pm on 25 March 2014

Kauri trees will survive in the immediate future but could ultimately die out if climate change intensifies, a scientist has found.

Auckland University senior research fellow Cate Macinnis-Ng said kauri were taking evasive action to cope with climate change.

The tree is considered a taonga [treasure] to many Maori and was an important resource for early Maori, who burned kauri gum as an insecticide, used the resin to make ink for moko and felled trees to make giant waka.

Dr Macinnis-Ng, who received a $345,000 Marsden Fund grant to undertake the research, said she had found the kauri had adopted a number of survival strategies to deal with the intensifying climate change.

Kauri trees threw dropped a lot of their leaves, so there was more water to go around those remaining and to conserve water in the plant.

Most grew in Northland - and area which would become much drier and experience more frequent and severe droughts, Dr Macinnis-Ng said.

She warned that while it should survive the change in weather in the immediate future, there could be a point where it could not cope and became extinct.

Also threatening its survival is kauri dieback disease, which kills nearly all infected trees and has been found in Northland, the Waitakere Ranges and on Great Barrier Island.

It is caused by a microscopic, fungus-like organism which infects the roots and damages the tissues which carry water within the tree.

Dr Macinnis-Ng's research will now focus on looking at how kauri recover once they have lost many of their leaves, and how that affects their on-going growth rate.

The study is due to be completed in 2016.