Global uses of Australian acacias – recent trends and future prospects

August 8, 2014

A. R. Griffin, S. J. Midgley, D. Bush, P. J. Cunningham and A. T. Rinaudo


Aim This study reports on the contribution of the Australian Tree Seed Centre (ATSC) to the international dissemination of Australian acacias. It also describes the current uses and the scale of economic benefits derived from planting Australian acacias, and speculates about possible future trends in usage. This information is crucial for the evaluation of overall human-mediated transfers of Australian acacias as a global experiment in biogeography.

Location Australia and Global.

Methods ATSC databases were used to determine which taxa were sent to which regions of the world and in what numbers. Location, scale and value of uses of the most important species were described from a review of published and grey literature, and we drew on our collective experience to speculate about future trends.

Results The ATSC despatched samples of 322 taxa (or roughly a third of Acacia species native to Australia) between 1980 and 2010 to 149 countries. Plantations in SE Asia and South Africa supplying the pulp and paper industry cover an area of over 2 M ha and produce pulp worth around $US4.3B p.a. In SE Asia, pulpwood species also provide logs for an expanding industry based on solid wood product. Tannin is produced from Acacia mearnsii in South Africa and Brazil. A suite of multi-purpose species helps meeting the demand for food,
fodder, fuelwood, poles and site amelioration in dry zone regions of Africa and elsewhere and are widely incorporated into agro-forestry systems. Acacia saligna is the most widely planted non-timber species with around 600,000 ha established worldwide. Many acacia species also have horticultural uses particularly in Europe.

Main conclusions The ATSC has been the major agent for systematic exploration and worldwide dissemination of Australian acacias over the past 30 years, but seed from local and regional sources of exploited species will dominate future movements. The scale of production from currently planted species will expand to meet the demands of population growth, using improved varieties. Plantations for energy and carbon sequestration might become increasingly widespread.