Dr Thomas Buckley
GRDC Senior Lecturer
Plant Breeding Institute
E12 - Plant Breeding Institute Narrabri
The University of Sydney
Tom Buckley is a GRDC Senior Lecturer whose research spans both theoretical and experimental plant eco-physiology. He studies the regulation of carbon/water balance in leaves, with special emphasis on developing rigorous models that can direct research and help to predict and understand how plant function adapts to environmental variation and change, including agronomic practice.
Tom's teaching background spans general biology, plant physiology, animal environmental physiology, ecology, calculus, scientific computing and global change biology. He completed a BS degree in Biology, including minors in Mathematics and Chemistry, with highest honors (summa cum laude) from James Madison University in Virginia, USA in 1994, and a PhD in Biology from Utah State University in 1999.
Tom studies how plants, and more particularly leaf stomata, coordinate resource limitations on photosynthesis and growth, and how this coordination gives rise to emergent properties of plant form and function. Tom is especially interested in developing and improving process-based models that can be used to direct basic and applied research, and to predict and understand how plant function adapts to environmental variation and change.
Current topics of particular interest include:
- understanding how variations and dynamics in leaf hydraulic conductance contribute to stomatal function in vivo,
- using optimisation theory to improve null models used to interpret and predict plant behaviour, acclimation and adaptation to environmental change,
- testing and refining a process based model for stomatal conductance and using this model to guide research aimed at improving crop yield and stress tolerance.
Tom's research is strongly interdisciplinary, and is informed by elements of physical chemistry, applied mathematics, ecology and evolutionary theory, in addition to organismal plant biology. His research program includes collaborations with Lawren Sack and Christine Scoffoni (UCLA) and Keith Mott (Utah State) on the links between leaf hydraulic conductance and stomatal regulation, with Antonio Diaz-Espejo (CSIC, Seville) on developing and applying a mechanistic model of stomatal conductance to guide irrigation scheduling in Mediterranean fruit trees, with Graham Farquhar (ANU) and Stan Schymanski (ETH Zurich) on the theory of optimal water, nitrogen and carbon use, with Margaret Barbour (Sydney Uni, FAE) on variation in mesophyll conductance in crops, and with Tarryn Turnbull and Mark Adams (Sydney Uni, FAE) on regulation of water use in high-country forests and whole plant energetics in extremophile Australian plants.
A major goal of Tom's research is to provide plant biologists with a comprehensive and rigorous, yet tractable process-based mathematical description of leaf gas exchange and its relation to whole plant adaptation and function. Biology lags other natural sciences in its adoption of formal theory as a unifying language to guide and synthesise research; in the cases where plant biologists do have consensus theoretical models, knowledge has improved at vastly greater rates. A related goal is to improve training of biology and agriculture students in the area of theory, applied mathematics and computational modeling, to ensure that Australia remains at the forefront of advances in this area.
Teaching and supervision
Tom recently arrived at Sydney Uni and is based at the Plant Breeding Institute's remote Narrabri station, seven hours northwest of Sydney. He is currently helping design curricular changes that will allow students to visit the Narrabri campus, to gain extensive field practical experience on a working research farm and make valuable contacts in the agriculture and agronomy industries.
Prior to taking up this position, Tom was an Assistant and then Associate Professor for five years in the Department of Biology at Sonoma State University in California, in a primarily teaching-focused position. In that role, he taught a wide range of courses including introductory plant biology, introductory ecology, plant physiology, environmental physiology of animals, calculus, and graduate courses in global change biology and biological computing using Excel. While at Sonoma State, he served as primary research supervisor to 19 undegraduate Senior Thesis (Honours) students and three high school research scholars, and participated on the graduate thesis committees of 15 Master's degree students.
For full list of Publications, please refer to attached CV shown at the top of the page.
Plant and crop physiology; Climate Change
- Future of Forest Research and Education Project (All grants are strictly anonymous); Bell T, Adams M, Turnbull T, Buckley T; Philip Bushell Foundation/Research Grant.
- Are plants wasting water in the dark; Barbour M, Buckley T; Australian Research Council (ARC)/Discovery Projects (DP).
- CRC: Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC (BNHCRC) - Project C4C5 - Optimisation of fuel reduction burning regimes for fuel reduction, carbon, water and vegetation outcomes - Tina Bell; Bell T, Adams M, Possell M, Turnbull T, Buckley T; Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC Ltd/CRC.
- Optimization of catchment management: stable isotope studies of water storage and yield.; Adams M, Vervoort R, Buckley T, Simonin K, Keitel C, Hepplewhite C; Australian Research Council (ARC)/Linkage Projects (LP).
- Mechanisms for the decline of leaf hydraulic conductance with dehydration and plant- and environment-level impacts; Buckley T, Sack L, Pataki D; US National Science Foundation/Project Grant.
- Consequences of the stomatal control of transpiration in fruit trees under deficit irrigation due to limitations imposed by hydraulic conductivity of the system soil-plant and the hormonal signals from roots. Development of an integrative and mechanistic m; Diaz-Espejo A, Buckley T, Sperry J; Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation/Project Grant.