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.

  • Plant Genetics, Forest Research Institute
+61 7 5456 5759
Office location
Sunshine Coast
David Lee

Associate Professor David Lee joined the University in 2009.

David 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.


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

  • Over $9 million (AUD) in competitive grants: Three AgriFutures grants [Ginger and Lemon myrtle] $550K; Forest and Wood Products Association (FWPA): $4M, Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) 490K, ACIAR $4.5M.
  • Genetic bases have been established and managed for 2 species with potential in the region.
  • Extensive trials have been established and data collected to match species to sites, the climate of tomorrow and models tree growth and carbon sequestration in Australia’s tropics and subtropics.
  • Experiments have been undertaken to screen Austropuccinia psidii (Myrtle rust) disease tolerance for important Myrtaceous species in Australia and New Zealand.
  • Innovative technologies have been developed (e.g. molecular, acoustic, ultrasound, drilling resistance (Resi) 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 Pine species.

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.



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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.

Assessing and managing mid-rotation wood quality in Australian softwood plantations to produce fit-for-purpose logs

David Lee – Chief Investigator and Geoff Downes (Forest Quality) Chandan Kumar (DAF)

Vilius Gendvilas (UniSC)



Developing tools to link the wood quality in pine plantation to that seen by the processors (this is an Australasian wide project).

Improving ginger, to future proof the industry against major pest and diseases

Nahuel Pachas (DAF) – Chief Investigator and David Lee UniSC, Tyron Venn (UQ)



Quantifying the growth and carbon sequestration benefits from growing trees on farms in Australia’s subtropics.

Promoting smallholder teak and sandalwood plantations in Papua New Guinea and Australia

Tony Page (UniSC)- Chief Investigator and David Lee



Developing sandalwood for indigenous people in PNG and Cape York Peninsula

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.


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)


PhD Supervision

Since 2010, Dr Lee has 10 successful Higher Degree Research completions, and he currently supervises three PhD students.

Current PhD students
  • Mr Duc Bui, PhD Candidate, UniSC, A/Professor David Lee, Dr Tony Page “Investigation of host preference and environments for planting sandalwoods in the tropics”.
  • Mr Tien Nguyen PhD Candidate, UniSC, A/Professor David Lee, Dr Helen Nahrung, Dr Nahuel Pachas (DAF) and Dr Teresa Eyre (DES) “The biodiversity and co-benefits of silvopastoral systems in sub-tropical Australia”.
  • 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 PhD students
  • Dr Leanda Garvie PhD UniSC, 2023 Professor Mark Brown (UniSC), Dr Biljana Kulisic (Energy Institute Hrvoje Pozar), A/Professor David Lee (UniSC), “Forest residues for renewable carbon in the Australian bioeconomy”.
  • Dr Trinh Hyunh PhD UniSC, 2023 A/Professor David Lee (UniSC), 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”.
  • Dr Flavia Bonora PhD UniSC, 2020, A/Professor David Lee (UniSC), Dr Helen Nahrung (UniSC) & Dr Andrew Hayes (UniSC), “Plant Defence Mechanisms of Corymbia species and hybrids”.
  • Dr Aaron Brunton Honours (2019), UniSC, Dr Steven Ogborne (UniSC) & A/Professor David Lee (UniSC), “Genetic diversity of Cape York Sandalwood (Santalum lanceolatum)”.
  • Dr Adam Healey, PhD, UQ, 2016, Professor Robert Henri (UQ), A/Professor David Lee (UniSC) 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 (UniSC), Dr Roger Meder (UniSC) & Dr Jeremy Brawner (UniSC) “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 (UniSC), “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 (UniSC) 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

Research Publications

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Healey, A., M. Shepherd, G.J. King, A. Baten, J. Butler, J.S. Freeman, D.J. Lee, B.M. Potts, J. Jenkins, S. Shu, J.T. Lovell, A. Sreedasyam, B. Silva O, J. Grimwood, A. Furtado, D. Grattapaglia, K.W. Barry, H. Hundley, B.A. Simmons, J. Schmutz, R.E. Vaillancourt, and R.J. Henry. 2021. 'Pests, diseases, and aridity have shaped the genome of Corymbia citriodora', Communications Biology, 4.
  • Mostert-O’Neill, M.M., S. M. Reynolds, J.J. Acosta, D.J. Lee, J.O. Borevitz, and A.A. Myburg. 2021. 'Genomic evidence of introgression and adaptation in a model subtropical tree species, Eucalyptus grandis', Molecular Ecology, 30: 625-38.
  • Downes, Geoffrey M., Jonathan J. Harrington, David M. Drew, Marco Lausberg, Phillip Muyambo, Duncan Watt, and David J. Lee. 2022. 'A Comparison of Radial Wood Property Variation on Pinus radiata between an IML PD-400 ‘Resi’ Instrument and Increment Cores Analysed by SilviScan', Forests, 13.
  • Huynh, Trinh., Tom Lewis, Grahame. Applegate, Anibal. Nahuel. A. Pachas, and David. J. Lee. 2022. 'Allometric Equations to Estimate Aboveground Biomass in Spotted Gum (Corymbia citriodora subspecies variegata) Plantations in Queensland', Forests, 13.
  • Huynh, Trinh, David J. Lee, Tom Lewis, and Grahame Applegate. 2023. 'Effects of site characteristics and stand management on biomass and carbon sequestration in spotted gum (Corymbia citriodora subsp. variegata) plantations', Forest Ecology and Management, 529.


Since 2018, Dr Lee has author/co-authored 33 refereed journal papers, 4 book chapters and numerous conference papers and project reports.

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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