Beyond the wilting point: Californian oak woodland responses to drought
with Robert Skelton
Wednesday October 4, 2017 at 7:00 PM
Restaurant Valparaiso, 1403 Solano Ave. Albany
California is likely to experience increased frequency of drought events as a consequence of global climate change. A tremendous challenge for plant ecologists is to understand how plant communities, such as the ecologically and culturally important Californian oak woodlands, are likely to respond to drought. Part of the solution to this challenge lies with understanding the plumbing system – the hydraulics – of individual species and how vulnerable their xylem network is to water deficit. Using a range of novel optical techniques Dr. Skelton’s research delves into these plumbing networks within leaves and stems and visualises the damaging processes that occur in them in response to desiccation. To scale up to whole oak woodlands they monitored field-based responses during the severe drought that California experienced in 2014/2015. The research shows that oak woodland species vary in their vulnerability to water deficit and that, although oak trees are resilient and can tolerate severe water deficit, they are not impervious to future drought events.
Robert Skelton graduated with a PhD in Botany under the supervision of Adam West at the University of Cape Town toward the end of 2014. My doctoral thesis – “The role of hydraulic strategies in understanding plant response to drought” – was awarded the Best Dissertation Award for that year by the South African Association of Botanists. He recently completed his first post-doc with Tim Brodribb at the University of Tasmania, Australia where he investigated the response and recovery dynamics of a dry sclerophyll woodland community. Research interests Dr. Skelton is primarily a plant ecophysiologist and have spent much of time investigating plant hydraulic strategies and how these influence drought response. He enjoys thinking about community ecology from a bottom-up, mechanistic or physiological approach, and his research includes a combination of field- and laboratory-based physiological approaches, and quantifying plant functional trait variation and developing physiological models to explore questions about contrasting responses to drought.