Associate Professor David Lee | UniSC | 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
David Lee


Associate Professor David Lee joined the University in 2009.

He leads the Acacia, Backhousia, Corymbia, Eucalyptus, Grevillia, Khaya, Santalum and Zingiber (ginger) genetic improvement programs in northern Australia.

His 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 plant breeding, disease tolerance, biomass and wood property assessment and characterisation of Corymbia species and hybrids (spotted gums), Eucalyptus cloeziana (Gympie messmate), Backhousia citriodora (Lemon myrtle), Khaya senegalensis (African mahogany), Pinus species, Santalum lanceolatum (Northern Sandalwood) and Zingiber officinale (Edible ginger).

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.

  • Over $10 million (AUD) in competitive grants: Three AgriFutures grants [Ginger and Lemon myrtle] $550K; DAFF Forest Industries Climate Change Adaptation Fund $600K; Queensland Government Smart State Funds $5.5M; Queensland Government Plantation Hardwood Research Fund $1.7M); Forest and Wood Products Association: Southern Pine Resource Characterisation [Pinus caribaea and P. elliottii and their hybrids] $2.6M.
  • Genetic bases have been established and managed for 8 species with potential in the region.
  • Extensive 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
  • Experiments have been initiated to screen Puccinia psidii (Myrtle rust) disease tolerance for important Myrtaceous species in Australia and New Zealand;
  • Innovative technologies have been developed (e.g. molecular, acoustic, ultrasound, Resistograph 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 
Improving ginger, to future proof the industry against major pest and diseases David Lee – Chief Investigator and Sharon Hamill (DAF) AgriFutures 2020-2023 Screening and genetic improvement of edible ginger (Zingiber officinale) for the Australian industry.
Integrated biomass residue management in Sandalwood Plantations David Lee – Chief Investigator, Michael Berry (USC) and Ken Robson (QUINTIS) IEA Bioenergy – Task 43 2020-2021 Evaluate host plant biomass production in sandalwood plantations for potential bio-energy production.
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), HQ Plantations, Hyne and Son, Forest Corporation NSW, & HV Plantations 2015-2018

The project has developed and validate a robust high throughput wood performance screening platform that enabled accurate 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. It also evaluated the potential of the Resistograph and ST300 to do the same resource characterisation.

Improvement and management of teak and sandalwood in PNG and Australia Tony Page - Chief Investigator
David Lee 
Tony Burridge (DAF)
ACIAR, USC and DAF 2015-2020 Advanced the sandalwood genetic improvement program in Cape York Peninsula for use by traditional owners, 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 Captured high oil yield sandalwood varieties from wild populations of the Cape York Peninsula to build indigenous community capacity in 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 Captured new genetic material of lemon myrtle (Backhousia citriodora) and screened 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 NIR to determine adaptability, growth, health status and carbon sequestration capacity of trees in the tropics and subtropics.

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.

Important publications since 2016
  • Bonora, F.S., Hayes, R.A., Nahrung, H.F. and Lee, D.J. 2020 Spotted gums and hybrids: Impact of pests and diseases, ontogeny and climate on tree performance. Forest Ecology and Management.
  • Mostert-O’Neill, M.M., Reynolds, S.M., Acosta, J.J., Lee, D.J., Borevitz, J.O. and Myburg, A.A. 2020 Genomic evidence of introgression and adaptation in a model subtropical tree species, Eucalyptus grandis. Molecular Ecology.
  • Lee, D.J., Burridge, A.J., Page, T., Huth, J.R. and Thompson, N. 2019 Domestication of northern sandalwood (Santalum lanceolatum, Santalaceae) for indigenous forestry on the Cape York Peninsula. Australian Forestry, 82, 14-22.
  • Freeman, J.S., Hamilton, M.G., Lee, D.J., Pegg, G.S., Brawner, J.T., Tilyard, P.A. et al. 2019 Comparison of host susceptibility to native and exotic pathogens provides evidence for pathogen-imposed selection in forest trees. New Phytologist, 221 (4), 2261-2272. 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.
  • Pegg, G.S., Lee, D.J. and Carnegie, A.J. 2018 Predicting impact of Austropuccinia psidii on populations of broad leaved Melaleuca species in Australia. Australasian Plant Pathology, 47, 421-430.
  • Shepherd, M. and Lee, D.J. 2016 Gene flow from Corymbia hybrids in northern New South Wales. Forest Ecology and Management, 362, 205-217.

Since 2016, Dr Lee has author/co-authored 26 refereed journal papers, 2 book chapters and numerous conference papers and project reports.

Student supervisors 

Since 2010, Dr Lee has eight successful Higher Degree Research completions and he currently supervises three PhD students.

Current students

  • Ms Trinh Hyunh PhD Candidate, USC, A/Professor David Lee (USC), A/Professor Grahame Applegate (USC) and Dr Tom Lewis (DAF), “Estimation of carbon storage and accumulation in spotted gum (Corymbia citriodora subspecies variegata) plantation forests in Queensland”.
  • 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”.

Graduated students

  • Ms Flavia Bonora PhD USC, 2020, A/Professor David Lee (USC), Dr Helen Nahrung (USC) & Dr Andrew Hayes (USC), “Plant Defence Mechanisms of Corymbia species and hybrids”.
  • Mr Aaron Brunton Honours Student (2019), USC, Dr Steven Ogborne (USC) & A/Professor David Lee (USC), “Genetic diversity of Cape York Sandalwood (Santalum lanceolatum)”.
  • 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).

Some of the current projects that i am currently working on include:

  • 2020-2023 - Improving ginger, to future proof the industry against major pest and diseases
  • 2020-2021 - Integrated biomass residue management in Sandalwood Plantations
  • 2017-2020 - Selection and deployment of Low Methyl Eugenol Tea Tree (Melalueca alternifolia)

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, ginger, lemon myrtle, sandalwood, plant breeding, genetics, environment, tree improvement, native forests, carbon sequestration, indigenous forestry.

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