Monday, 11 May 2009

Capital research


This is not one of the orchids of interest from Bulahdelah, but Caladenia versicolor is a real pretty one from near the Grampians. I'm hoping to catch up with it again this October.

I'm not sure that I should give more promotion to the fascinating work being done at the Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research in Canberra (see Fast and Furious Taxonomy), but seeing as I have to spend three days in this strange town I should promote something...

I'm here as part of a review team, to assess how well the Centre - a partnership between the Australian National Botanic Gardens (via the Director of the National Parks & Wildlife Service, in typically obscure Commonwealth style) and CSIRO Plant Industry - has been working over the last 17 years. I'll say no more about that (it's only day one and I won't be giving anything away here anyway!).

But I do want to provide a précis of the three research presentations we saw today.

Firstly Chris Howard talked about the Bulahdelah Bypass Orchid Recovery Project. The RTA have funded the Centre to help protect three rare orchids species that grow in the preferred route for the new bypass. The orchids in question are the fascinating underground species, Rhizanthella slateri, the saprophytic Cryptostylis hunteriana and the cute Corybas dowlingii.

We heard about a transplant experiment of the cute Corybas, where at leat 80% of the transplants survived and produced new leaves this April. To determine where to transplant them, a range of environmental factors and 'the vibe' were considered.

Chris Cargill talked about hornworts, that fascinating group of almost-vascular-plants. Interestingly for a phycologist, they contain the blue-green alga/bacteria Nostoc in their tissues. They also have cute spores that well coloured up after electron microscope scanning become 'art'.

The Australian National Herbarium has the largest collection of preserved cryptogams in Australia (312,362), just pipping the National Herbarium of New South Wales (307,410) - I must collect a few thousand algae and fungi on the way back to Sydney...

Finally, Richard Watts gave an other scintillating presentation on the Lantana story, one I'd seen at the TRIN meeting a few months back. The taxonomy of Lantana is a mess (a hybrid swarm), but there are some nice geographic patterns in classification trees produced from molecular data.

This research won't necessarily sort out the taxonomy but it does mean that scientists looking for biological controls should look beyond the most common source country - Mexico - to where the Australian weedy plants are likely to have originated (elsewhere in the middle Americas). So far about 40 different biological controls have been tested, so some help will be welcome.

This is just a sample of the Centre's research, but it gives a fair idea of its breadth.

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