ILWS - Charles Sturt University
ILWS - Charles Sturt University

How do sandalwoods (Santalum spp.) affect desert communities: integrating above-ground patterns with below-ground processes. (2018-2021)


Hermon Slade Foundation, $89,522


Professor David Watson, Dr Jodie Price, Dr Adam Frew (CSU), Richard McLellan, (PhD candidate CSU), Dr Vanessa Westcott (Bush Heritage Australia) and Dr Leonie Valentine (University of Western Australia)

Research Theme

Biodiversity Conservation


Australia’s arid and semi-arid rangelands are undergoing a transformation. After over a century of pastoralism as the predominant land-use, concepts of regenerative agriculture and rewilding are informing a new approach integrating conservation science and holistic management while embracing indigenous knowledge. Central to this is the idea that profitable land-use need not be extractive; that best practice management should increase soil health and maximise value for native wildlife.

One group of plants that hold great promise are a genus of native parasitic trees – sandalwoods – that yield a range of products (fruit and seeds as well as highly prized timber and essential oils) and enhance habitat quality for many native plants and animals. Despite recent innovations in growing various sandalwood (Santalum) species in plantations, the Australian industry remains reliant on harvesting wild plants, potentially diminishing habitat value for native pollinators and the digging marsupials and fruit-eating birds that disperse their seeds.

This pioneering project will combine experiments with cross-site comparisons to identify key interactions with native animals and measure how Santalum affects above and below ground ecological processes. Specifically researchers will integrate comparisons of three Santalum species within and between study sites (on Bush heritage Australia reserves in Western Australia) with replicated small-scale litter-bag experiments to:

  • Describe the suite of ecological processes affected by Santalum spp
  • Measure the influence of Santalum spp. on soil health
  • Determine the impact of Santalum spp. on plant recruitment
  • Estimate the overall effects of Santalum spp. on successional dynamic comparing the effects of species, plant density and ecological interactions with soil type and management history.


This project, by generating significant new knowledge around Australia’s endemic sandalwoods, will inform the development of more sustainable industry practices. In addition to refining on-ground management across Australia’s rangelands, it will promote long-term sustainability of the sandalwood industry.


Professor David Watson

Albury campus

August 2018