Saturday, 26 September 2009

Fire, Flood, Frost and an Historical Puzzle





I must be in Victoria. The drive from Alexandra through to Narbethong, then along the Acheron Way to Warburton took me through forests regenerating after the fires, flooding rains and then finally snow.

I'm on my way to Geelong for the 2009 conference of the Australian Native Plants Society (Australia), called ASGAP 2009 after their former name, Society of Growing Australian Plants. I'll be attending for the first day to talk about 'Those Changing Names'. The mood in Geelong will depend on what happens at the MCG today...

My plan was to collect some algae from the streams north of Melbourne on my way through. Sadly that has been thwarted by a couple of days of heavy rain - the rivers are too fast and high to see or collect the algae I'm after. I'll try and recollect on Tuesday, on my return to Melbourne to spend a day (looking at, instead of for, algae) in the National Herbarium of Victoria, at the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne.

Then a couple of planning meetings for the 2011 International Botanical Congress, before I head off for a week's holiday in the Grampians. If it stops raining, the Grampians should be fertile ground for some plenty of terrestrial orchids and I'll post a few pictures.

So why am I looking for algae around Melbourne? It's all part of finding out what red algae grows in Australia and where, and then working out they fit into the world evolutionary tree for this group - it turns out most are distinctly Antipodean, with a well supported group having evolved quite separately in Australian and New Zealand.

There are some particularly interesting species in the creeks north of Melbourne which I need to collect for DNA analysis. I also need to confirm that a rare species known only from 'Hermitage' comes from near Narbethong rather than Perth! The story goes a little like this (if you want the full background see the ASBS Newsletter no. 128, September 2006, online):

A few years back I was working with Helen Foard on some old collections of freshwater red algae from overseas herbaria, in this case Uppsala in Sweden, when we discovered a single collection of a new species. In 1997 we named the species 'goebelii' after the collector of the specimen, Professor Karl Immanuel Eberhard von Goebel. The label said simply "West Australien, Hermitage, 1898". At the time of publishing the species we were unable to find find a locality ‘Hermitage’ in Western Australia.

With some assistance from Germany we found that Goebel arrived in Western Australia on 3 October 1898 and travelled around the South-West until 28 October of that year. From there he sailed on to Adelaide, Melbourne and Hobart before crossing to New Zealand. Early in the next year he apparently returned to Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide before heading on to Sri Lanka around March 1899. So it seemed reasonable to assume that the collection labelled ‘Western Australia’ and ‘1898’ was from somewhere in the south-west of Western Australia.

There was a second collection of red algae from the same location and it turned out to be an apparently isolated occurrence of a species otherwise knownly only from central Victoria, southern Tasmania and the south of the South Island of New Zealand .

A little later Roberta Cowan at Murdoch University located in a gazatteer a small settlement called Hermitage on the Moore River, near to New Norcia in Western Australia, but this wasn't on Goebel's itinerary (it was 100 km or so away) and it seemed an unlikely habitat for these particular species.

Then, Aliston Vaughan from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne made this startling discovery: Goebel had stayed at, and collected near, ‘The Hermitage’, near Narbethong. This is within the known range of the second species and likely habitat for the new one.

And so today, I drove, in the rain, to Hermitage. As I said, the streams were just too high to collect from so I'll have to come back another day. I did see some typical red algal habitat very near to the sign below, so I may be getting close to solving my historical puzzle...


6 comments:

Jim said...

Like the snow-fern picture. Dicksonia?

Tim Entwisle said...

Yes I think so. It's either Dicksonia antarctica or Cyathea australis is this area, and at this height probably only Dicksonia. It has the right look but I should have checked scales etc.

Peter said...

Nice work Alison - those database managers are worth their weight in Grange Hermitage!

Tim Entwisle said...

Now if Alison could move all the water in the Yarra River into the reservoirs, overnight, so I can collect some algae, that's worth the Grange!

Anonymous said...

The Hermitage was built in 1894 by J. W. Lindt. The gardens designed by Baron Von Mueller. The story makes sense. Email thehermitage@rabbit.com.au if you need help searching for your algae.

Tim Entwisle said...

Sounds good - will be in contact!