University of Melbourne 



Title: Examination of the consistency of plant traits driving oil yield and quality in short-rotation coppice cultivation of Eucalyptus polybractea

Author(s): Goodger JQD, Connelly CA, Woodrow IE

Source: FOREST ECOLOGY AND MANAGEMENT    Volume: 250    Issue: 3    Pages: 196-205    Published: OCT 20 2007

Abstract: The value of eucalyptus oil for medicinal purposes is based largely on its cineole content. The prime commercial species for cineole production in Australia is Eucalyptus polybractea (blue mallee). Despite the long history of blue mallee harvesting in Australia, there has been little research on the establishment of plantations of the species or on the efficacy of short-rotation coppice cultivation with respect to the consistency of oil yield and quality from rotation to rotation. This study aims to assess if subsequent coppice oil traits reflect sapling traits and if the coppice oil traits under short-rotation cultivation are consistent from one rotation to the next. A trial plantation was established in a key eucalyptus oil harvesting district in Victoria. Firstly, the oil-related traits of 20 saplings harvested 3.5 years after planting were compared with those of their subsequent coppice harvested after 12 months regrowth. Despite the expected differences in total biomass, the oil-related traits of blue mallee saplings were mostly well reflected in their subsequent coppice. Total above ground biomass and foliar oil concentration were significantly related between saplings and coppice, and cineole proportion showed a Pearson's correlation of 0.93 between harvests. Nevertheless, the mean foliar oil concentration in the coppice was 148 mg g(-1) dw compared with 107 in the saplings, and the coppice foliage, on average, showed significantly reduced cineole with a mean of 87% in the saplings (maximum of 95.6%) compared to a mean of only 80% in the coppice (maximum of 87.0%). Secondly, the oil traits of 20 coppice plants from one 12-month harvest rotation to the next were compared. Again, total above ground biomass, foliar oil concentration and cineole proportion were significantly related between the harvests, with cineole proportion having a Pearson's correlation of 0.90 between rotations. The coppice between rotations were remarkably consistent in terms of biomass and oil traits and indeed mean coppice cineole yields were 28.6 and 29.7 g in rotations 1 and 2, respectively. The results support the screening of key oil-related traits in saplings for the selection of elite genotypes for plantations, and the use of short-rotation cultivation of the plantations for continued oil harvesting. Furthermore, no relationship was observed between biomass and oil concentration in the blue mallee saplings or coppice, suggesting selection gains in a given key oil trait will not result in losses in another.