An Assessment of the Vulnerability of Australian Forests to the Impacts of Climate Change

Synthesis and Integrative Research Program


This project is part of the Synthesis and Integrative Research component of NCCARF activities. It addresses the knowledge gap with regard to our understanding of the implications of climate change for Australia’s forest estate including native forests, plantations, farm forestry and environmental plantings. It will provide information to assist governments, Natural Resource Management (NRM) managers and the business sector to adapt to the changing climatic environment in a manner consistent with principles of sustainable forest management.


The aim of the project is to provide governments, NRM managers and the business sector with:

  • an improved understanding of current knowledge of the likely biophysical and socio-economic consequences of climate change for Australia’s native and planted forest regions,
  •  an assessment of the vulnerability of Australian forests from the perspectives of both resource use and ecosystem services - identifying particularly vulnerable forests and communities in major forest areas,  
  • an understanding of what is already being done in Australia in relation to understanding and managing climate related risk in relation to forests, and  
  • guidance on key gaps to assist climate change adaptation.


Using the same definition of forests as used in the 2008 Australia's State of the Forests Report (SOFR) which includes Australia's diverse native forests and plantations (Box 1), this project provides a synthesis of current knowledge and understanding of the implications of climate change for Australia's forests. It also identifies key gaps that need to be addressed to improve the capacity of forest and NRM managers to manage climate risk.

Classification of Forests

Box 1: SOFR 2008 definitions of forest and plantations:

An area, incorporating all living and non-living components, that is dominated by trees having usually a single stem and a mature or potentially mature stand height exceeding two metres and with existing or potential crown cover of overstorey strata about equal to or greater than 20%. This includes Australia's diverse native forests and plantations, regardless of age. It is also sufficiently broad to encompass areas of trees that are sometimes described as woodlands.

Under this definition, a large part of Australia's mallee qualifies as forest, as do very large areas of tropical savanna and woodland, where trees are spread out in the landscape. What many people would traditionally regard as forests - expanses of tall, closely spaced trees - comprise a relatively small part of the country's total forest estate.

The SOFR 2008 report also uses the National Forest Policy Statement definition of plantations:

Intensively managed stands of trees of either native or exotic species created by the regular placement of seedlings or seeds.

Australia's forests may be considered as a continuum with large-scale industrial plantations at one extreme and native forests at the other. The classification to be used in this project is:

  • 1. Plantation/farm forests
  • 2. Productive native forests
  • 3. Conservation native forests
  • 4. Environmental plantings


This presentation by Liz Dovey, Department of Climate Change, from the Forestry Vulnerability Assessment Workshop held in Brisbane on 30 June 2009.