Associate Professor David Lee - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Associate Professor David Lee

PhD James Cook, BAgricSc(Hons) Melb.

  • Associate Professor, Plant Genetics
+61 7 5456 5759
Office location
Sunshine Coast
Associate Professor David Lee

Associate Professor David Lee leads the Acacia, Backhousia, Corymbia, Eucalyptus, Grevillia, Khaya and Santalum tree improvement programs in northern Australia. His tree improvement and taxa site matching work has resulted in a change in the hardwood tree varieties grown, commercialisation of new species and development of hardwood plantations in new regions in Queensland, South Africa and Brazil. David currently focuses on breeding, disease tolerance and wood property characterisation of Corymbia species and hybrids, Eucalyptus cloeziana, Backhousia citriodora, Khaya senegalensis and Santalum lanceolatum.

David is a member of both the Forest Industries Research Centre and the Tropical Forests and People Research Centre at USC.

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Across the projects David manages, the following has been achieved in the last 10 years.

  1. Over $11 million (AUD) in competitive grants 400K; DAFF Forest Industries Climate Change Adaptation Fund $600K; Queensland Government Smart State Funds $5.5M; Queensland Government Plantation Hardwood Research Fund $1.7M); RIRDC Backhousia $160K; Forest and Wood Products Association: Southern Pine Resource Characterisation [Pinus caribaea and elliottii and their hybrids] $2.6M.
  2. Genetic bases have been established and managed for 8 species with potential in the region as plantation species.
  3. Extensive taxa trials have been established and data collected and report on the optimal matching of species to sites, the climate of tomorrow and build baseline data for development of process based physiological models of tree growth for the tropics and subtropics
  4. Controlled crossing and hybrid testing programs for the production of Eucalyptus and Corymbia hybrids have been successfully developed with over 60 ha trials established and gene flow studies initiated;
  5. Experiments have been initiated to screen Puccinia psidii disease tolerance for key Myrtaceous species;
  6. Innovative technologies have been developed (e.g. molecular, acoustic, ultrasound and infrared spectroscopy) to understand the biology, fast track the genetic improvement and understand the wood properties and value of the Eucalyptus, Corymbia, Santalum and Southern Pine species.

Recent research grants

 Project name Investigators  Funding body  Year  Focus 
Selection and deployment of Low Methyl Eugenol Tea Tree (Melalueca alternifolia)  Mervyn Shepherd – Chief Investigator (SCU)
David Lee
CRC-P, Australian Tea Tree Industry Association, SCU, USC  2017-2020 Selection and clonal deployment of low methyl eugenol varieties of tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) to improve industry competitiveness.
Southern Pine Resource Characterisation [Pinus caribaea and P. elliottii and their hybrids] David Lee - Chief Investigator and researchers from DAF and QUT Forest and Wood Product Association, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (Queensland Government), HQPlantations Hyne and Son, Forest Corporation NSW, & HVPlantations 2015-2018 The project has developed and validate a robust high throughput wood performance screening platform that will enable the cost-effective characterisation of the Southern Pine resource for wood properties and value (e.g. MGP) at both regional (e.g. plantation) and local (e.g. compartment) levels across a range of taxa and ages. This platform will greatly enhance the capacity to investigate how wood properties change following the manipulation of taxa, site or harvest age.
Improvement and management of teak and sandalwood in PNG and Australia Tony Page - Chief Investigator
David Lee 
Tony Burridge (DAF)
John Oostenbrink (DAF)
ACIAR, USC and DAF 2015-2020 To advance the sandalwood genetic improvement program in Cape York Peninsula for use by local landowners, leading to development of an industry for the indigenous people for the Cape York Peninsula.
Development and delivery of germplasm for sandalwood and whitewood in Vanuatu and northern Australia Tony Page - Chief Investigator (JCU)
David Lee
ACIAR 2010-2015 Capture of high oil sandalwood varieties from wild populations of the Cape York Peninsula and build community capacity focused on sandalwood.
Myrtle rust screening in lemon myrtle plantings David Lee- Chief Investigator
John Doran
Geoff Pegg (DAF)
Paul MacDonnell
Fiona Giblin (USC)
RIRDC 2013-2015 Capture of new genetic material of lemon myrtle (Backhousia citriodora) and screen the species for susceptibility to myrtle rust (Austropuccinia psidii, formerly Puccinia psidii)
Forest adaptation and sequestration alliance David Lee – Chief Investigator and researchers from DAF and CSIRO Forest Industries Climate Change Research Fund via the Australian Government, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry  2009-2011 Selection and documenting the carbon sequestration rates of fast growing trees in marginal agricultural lands of north eastern Australia. The project is using growth and survival data from 38 large 10-year-old field trials along with cutting edge technologies to determine adaptability, growth, health status and carbon sequestration capacity of trees in the tropics and subtropics. Industry partners for the project are Elders Forestry Pty Ltd and Forestry Plantations Queensland.
Smart Forests Alliance Queensland Helen Wallace - Chief Investigator, David Lee, Stephen Trueman, Peter Waterman,  Christian Jones and researchers from QLD DAFF, CSIRO and RDPIFA (Northern Territory) Smart State Innovation Fund – National and International Research Alliances Program. 2009–2011 The Smart Forests Alliance is a Queensland Government initiative to speed up production of fast-growing hardwood trees for forest plantations and carbon sequestration. The main focus is development of high-value species of Eucalyptus, Corymbia and Khaya for plantation development. Industry partners for the project are Integrated Tree Cropping Ltd and Forest Enterprises Australia Ltd.
Characterising wood properties for deployment of elite subtropical and tropical hardwoods Stephen Trueman - Chief Investigator,  David Lee, Helen Wallace and researchers from QLD DAFF and CSIRO Plantation Hardwoods Research Fund 2009– 2011

This project is characterising the timber quality of Eucalyptus and Corymbia species in replicated field trials, and developing propagation methods to release the best tree varieties to the hardwood plantation industry. Project partners are USC, CSIRO, QLD DAFF, Integrated Tree Cropping Ltd, Forestry Plantations Queensland and Forest Enterprises Australia Ltd.

Other small project undertaken over the last few years include development of Corymbia species in dryland areas of New Caledonia, Screening of Cloves from Indonesia for susceptibility to myrtle rust, screening of important hardwood plantation trees (Eucalyptus and Corymbia species) for myrtle rust susceptibility and work on the Corymbia genome.

  1. Butler, J. B., R. E. Vaillancourt, B. M. Potts, D. J. Lee, G. J. King, A. Baten, M. Shepherd and J. S. Freeman (2017). "Comparative genomics of Eucalyptus and Corymbia reveals low rates of genome structural rearrangement." BMC Genomics.
  2. Healey, A., J. S. Lupoi, D. J. Lee, S. R.W., J. M. Guenther, K. Tran, S. R. Decker, S. Singh, B. A. Simmons and R. J. Henry (2016). "Effect of aging on lignin content, composition and enzymatic saccharification in Corymbia hybrids and parental taxa between years 9 and 12." Biomass and Bioenergy 93: 50-59.
  3.  Lee, D. J., Brawner, J. T. & Pegg, G. S. (2015). Screening Eucalyptus cloeziana and E. argophloia populations for resistance to Puccinia psidii. Plant Disease 99: 71-79.
  4. Pegg, G. S., Brawner, J. T. & Lee, D. J. (2014). Screening Corymbia populations for resistance to Puccinia psidii Plant Pathology 63: 425-436.
  5. Brawner, J. T., D. J. Lee, A. R. Meder, A. Almeida and M. J. Dieters (2013). "Classifying genotype by environment interactions for targeted germplasm deployment with a focus on Eucalyptus." Euphytica 191: 403-414.

During the last five years I have 30 refereed journal papers and numerous conference papers and project reports. During the last 20 years I have over 120 publications. Full publication list is available on request.

Student supervisors 

During the last five years I have had five successful Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) completions and I am currently supervising three PhD students and one Honours student.

Current students

  • Ms Flavia Bonora PhD Candidate, USC, A/Professor David Lee (USC), Dr Helen Nahrung (USC) & Dr Andrew Hayes (USC), “Plant Defence Mechanisms of Corymbia species and hybrids”.
  • Mr Garry Thomas PhD Candidate, USC, A/Professor David Lee (USC), Dr Steven Ogborne (USC) and Dr Geoff Pegg (DAF), “Impact and disease resistance of the endemic species Lenwebbia sp. (Blackall Range P.R. Sharpe 5387) to Puccinia psidii (myrtle rust) in wild environments”.
  • Ms Emily Lancaster, PhD Candidate, UQ, Professor Andre Drenth (UQ), Dr Geoff Pegg (DAF) and A/Professor David Lee, “Epidemiology, impact and management of myrtle rust (Puccinia psidii) in lemon myrtle plantations”.
  • Mr Aaron Brunton Honours Student, USC, Dr Steven Ogborne (USC) & A/Professor David Lee (USC), “Genetic diversity of Cape York Sandalwood (Santalum lanceolatum)”.

Graduated students

  • Dr Adam Healey, PhD, UQ, 2016, Professor Robert Henri (UQ), A/Professor David Lee (USC) and Dr Jason Lupoi (JBEI), “Genomic and phenotypic characterization of commercial Corymbia hybrids for lignocellulosic biofuel production”.
  • Dr Tran Duy Hung, PhD, UQ, 2014, Dr Mark Dieters (UQ) A/Professor David Lee (USC), Dr Roger Meder (USC) & Dr Jeremy Brawner (USC) “NIR for Combined Selection in Hardwoods for Both Growth and Wood Properties”.
  • Dr Myralyn Abasolo, PhD, SCU, 2013, Dr Mervyn Shepherd (SCU), Dr Carolyn Raymond (SCU) & A/Professor David Lee (USC), “Assessing and managing pollen-mediated gene flow from locally-exotic Corymbia plantations”.
  • Dr Geoffrey Dickinson, PhD, USC, 2012, Professor Helen Wallace & A/Professor David Lee, “Hybridisation of Commercial Corymbia Species”.
  • Dr Jeremy Brawner, PhD, UQ 2012 Dr Mark Dieters (UQ), Dr Craig Hardner (UQ) & A/Professor David Lee,” Genetic improvement of Corymbia citriodora”.
  • Dr Joel Ochieng, PhD, SCU, 2010 Professor Robert Henry (SCU), Dr Mervyn Shepherd (SCU), Professor Peter Baverstock (SCU) & A/Professor David Lee (USC) Phylogenetic relationships among eucalypt genera and genetic structure within a spotted gum species complex.
  • Mr Malcom McVey (Hons), USC 2004, Dr Rhonda Stokoe (USC) Dr Helen Wallace (USC) & Dr David Lee (DPI&F) Population genetics of Corymbia torelliana (cadagi).
  • Dr Rachel King, PhD, Griffith University, 2004, Professor Jane Hughes (GU), Professor Brad Potts (UTAS) & Dr David Lee (DPI&F), Spatial Structure and Population Genetic Variation in a Eucalypt Complex
  • Dr Rhonda Stokoe, PhD, SCU, 2002 Dr Mervyn Shepherd (SCU), Professor Robert Henry (SCU), Dr David Lee (DPI&F) & A/Professor Garth Nikles (DPI&F), Patterns of genetic diversity and hybridisation of Eucalyptus cloeziana F. Muell (Myrtaceae).

Research areas

  • improvement of tropical and subtropical hardwood tree species
  • plant reproductive biology and breeding systems
  • Eucalyptus and Corymbia genetics
  • gene flow from plantations to native forests
  • growing trees for carbon sequestration, timber and poles
  • tree adaptation and optimal matching of tree species to environments
  • selection of myrtle rust (eucalypt rust) resistant trees for plantations and environmental plantings

Teaching areas

  • Plantation Forestry, Tree Genetics, Carbon and Climate

Dr David Lee's specialist areas of knowledge include forests, forestry, plant, genetics, Department of Primary Industries, environment, hardwood tree improvement, native forests.

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