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Theme 1 – Biodiversity, Taxonomy, Evolution

Assessment of tropical plant and fungal biodiversity through systematic and evolutionary studies, including taxonomy, biology, biogeography, ecology, and genetics of tropical plants and fungi.

Re-evaluation of taxonomic concepts in Australian Orchidaceae based on molecular phylogenetic evidence

Team: Katharina Schulte, Claire Micheneau, Agustina Arobaya, Sarah Mannel (CSIRO Summer Student), Darren Crayn, Mark Clements (CANBR), Joe Miller (CANBR), Peter Weston (Botanic Garden Trust, Sydney)

Background: This project aims to rigorously re-evaluate highly controversial taxonomic concepts in Australian Orchidaceae based on multi-locus molecular phylogenetic evidence. DNA barcodes and highly informative nuclear markers are used to reconstruct comprehensive phylogenies, infer character evolution and historical biogeography, and develop molecular identification tools for conservation and legislative enforcement. This research is supported by an Australian Biological Resources Study BushBlitz grant, the Skyrail Rainforest Foundation, the CSIRO student summer student program, a JCU FSE Faculty grant, and the National Environmental Research Program (NERP).

Phylogeography of orchid species complexes of the Australian Wet Tropics

Team: Lalita Simpson, Katharina Schulte, Claire Micheneau, Mark Clements (CANBR), Keith MacDonald (DSITIA), Marcia Goetze (Universidade Federal Rio Grande do Sul), Ashley Field, Darren Crayn

Background: This project aims to provide important insights into phylogenetic relationships of closely related orchid taxa of the Australian Wet Tropics and to unravel their biogeographic history in the context of Cenozoic climate change. The project will increase our understanding of patterns of morphological variation within species complexes and will provide insights into the role of past climate changes for the diversification of these groups. Thus, it will help to improve taxon delimitation and conservation management. This project is externally funded by an Australian Biological Resources Study BushBlitz grant, the Australian Orchid Foundation, the Eichler Research Fund (Australian Systematic Botany Society), Wet Tropics Management Authority student grant, Australian Conservation Taxonomy Grant (The Nature Conservancy and the Thomas Foundation) and the National Environmental Research Program (NERP).

Origins of the Wet Tropics flora – a molecular phylogenetic perspective

Team: Darren Crayn, Craig Costion, Andrew Thornhill, various collaborators on specific clades.

Background: Published molecular phylogenies exist from many lineages with members in the Australian tropical flora. This study aims to gap-fill these phylogenies with missing Australian taxa and use them to generate general explanations about the tempo and direction of evolution of Australia’s tropical rainforest flora: which elements of the extant rainforest flora are derived from Gondwanan stock (relictual taxa) that have differentiated in situ, which are the invasive elements, and where (and when) have they come from?

Phylogenetics and evolutionary dynamics of Elaeocarpaceae

Team: Yumiko Baba, Sook-Ngoh Phoon , Darren Crayn, Katharina Schulte, Maurizio Rossetto (National Herbarium of NSW), Mark Coode (Kew Gardens, UK).

Background: Molecular phylogenetic and biogeographic work is clarifying the origins and patterns of diversification among lineages within the Elaeocarpaceae/Tremandraceae complex. Within the phylogenetic framework, we are analysing population-level genetic and morphological diversity in selected species in order to provide an insight into taxon boundaries, comparative evolutionary responses and speciation mechanisms in dry-adapted shrubs and rainforest tree species. This research is supported by the Australian Biological Resources Study, and the Skyrail Rainforest Foundation.

Macrofungi of northeast Queensland

Team: Sandra Abell, Kaylene Bransgrove, David Largent (Humboldt University, California), Sarah Bergemann, Kerri Kluting, Griffin Cummings (MTSU, Tennessee) and various collaborators.

Background: Fungi are one of the most diverse and species-rich groups of life yet are understudied worldwide, and especially in far north Queensland. This project aims to facilitate and expand mycological research and collections within this region. Organisation of the FNQ MycoBlitz in 2009 by the ATH coordinated by Sandra Abell-Davis has continued to encourage both national and international collaborators to continue their research in the WTWHA. Of particular note are the more than 1000 collections made by Professor Emeritus David Largent during annual field trips from 2009 through 2012.

Host specificity of fungal endophytes of tropical Australian rainforests

Team : Kaylene Bransgrove (PhD student), Sandra Abell-Davis, Brett Summerell (Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney).

Background: This project investigates the diversity and co-evolutionary relationships of fungi that form mutualistic associations with mountain-top restricted plant taxa. The focus of the project is foliar fungal endophytes, the fungi that grow without causing symptoms throughout the plant. Fungal endophytes are known to contribute to plant, and therefore forest health, and are being used elsewhere as a measure of fungal diversity in forests. This study is the first to investigate tropical fungal endophytes in an Australian context and will specifically address elucidating their biodiversity and host specificity in the forests of the Wet Tropics. In addition, host specificity will also be investigated using infra-specific taxonomic units of the host, and across a biogeographic barrier (Black Mountain Corridor), both for the first time internationally. Species of Elaeocarpus will be used as a model host for this investigation. This research is funded by the National Environmental Research Program (NERP) and the Wet Tropics Management Authority (WTMA).

Australian animal/plant co-evolution

Team: Andrew Thornhill, Ashley Field, Sarah Mannel, Darren Crayn, Gerry Cassis (UNSW)

Background: The notion of co-evolutionary ‘arms-races’ between plants (which may evolve defence mechanisms such as toxins) and the animals that consume them (which may evolve means to avoid or evade the defences) has been the subject of much research. This project employs molecular phylogenetic analysis to test hypotheses of co-evolution between insects and their plant hosts at a whole-biota scale across Australia. We will use phylogenies of two major insect groups (the ‘true’ bugs, and Australian butterflies) and their host plants to reconstruct evolutionary pathways and look for evidence of co-evolution between the plants and animals.

DNA Barcoding of ectomycorrhizal hypogeous fungi

Team: Sandra Abell-Davis, Susan Nuske (PhD student), Christine Hof (WWF), Ashley Bunce (Qld EHP), Andy Baker (Qld NPRSR), Leho Tedersoo (University of Tartu, Estonia), Teresa Lebel (Landcare Auckland, Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne), Michael Castellano (Oregon State University), Kentaro Hosaka (National Museum of Nature and Science Japan), David Largent (Humboldt University).

Background: Hypogeous fungi are an incredibly diverse and polyphyletic group, that have co-evolved with animals (that eat and disperse them) and plants (that form ectomycorrhizas). Despite their ecological importance they have been relatively understudied in the Australian tropics. This set of projects aims to generate and use DNA barcodes to identify and classify Hysterangiales species collected from the Australian tropics, and determine how the community of ectomycorrhizal fungi collected as hypogeous sporocarps relates to the functional (root-tips) ectomycorrhizal fungal community within the same habitat. This project will also identify the fungi found in the scats of a specialist mycophagous marsupial (Bettongia tropica) and those in the soil and plant root-tips to determine the importance of the bettong in providing dispersal of fungal spores as an ecosystem service. This project is supported by Caring for our Country in a new collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Environmental Heritage Protection (EHP) and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS).

Evolution and systematics of Bromeliaceae

Team: Georg Zizka (Research Institute Senckenberg and Goethe University Frankfurt), Katharina Schulte, Daniele Silvestro, Daniel Cáceres, Ingo Michalak, Sascha Heller, M. Schmidt, J. Schneider (Research Institute Senckenberg and Goethe University Frankfurt), Rafael Louzada (Universidade de Sao Paulo), Elton Leme (Herbarium Bradeanum, Sao Paulo), Ana Maria Benko-Iseppon (Univerdidade Recife), Kurt Weising (University of Kassel), Pierre Ibisch (University of Applied Sciences Eberswalde), Marcia Goetze (Universidade Federal de Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil).

Background : Bromeliaceae are one of the most important epiphyte families of the Neotropics. Within the family, several lineages underwent rapid radiations in different regions of Central and South America (e.g. Bromelioideae: eastern Brazil, Puyoideae: Andes), whilst others exhibit only a low diversity today (e.g. Fosterella: Andes). To unravel the factors that contributed to the evolutionary success of different bromeliad lineages, molecular phylogenies are used to reconstruct the evolution of key traits (e.g. tank habit, leaf succulence, flower morphology), changes in diversification rates, and the historical biogeography of the groups and to explore correlations among these and with the Cenozoic history of the Neotropics (climate, geology, vegetation). The project consists of several subprojects that are mainly funded by the German Research Foundation, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), and the Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre, Frankfurt.

Total evidence systematic revision of the epiphytic Lycopods of the Palaeotropics

Team: Ashley Field (DERM/ATH), Peter Bostock (DERM), Joe Holtum (JCU) and Michelle Waycott (DENR, South Australia)

Tassel-fern is the name given in Australia to epiphytic lycopods in the genus Huperzia sensu lato or Phlegmariurus sensu stricto. As a group the Australian species are rare and threatened, they are popular horticultural subjects and are the natural source of an anti-Alzheimer’s disease drug. This project aims to increase our understanding of the evolution of Australia’s rare and threatened tassel-ferns and to resolve the systematics of the Palaeotropical species using a total evidence phylogenetic approach analysing a broad spectrum of genetic and phenotypic characters. This study is based on a large living collection of tassel-ferns vouchered from throughout the Palaeotropics.

Systematics of Tecomanthe

Team: Frank Zich (ATH), Andrew Ford (CSIRO), Mark Harrington (ATH).

Background : The systematics of the genus Tecomanthe (Bignoniaceae) will be investigated with a focus on the status and relationships of Tecomanthe sp. Roaring Meg (L.J.Brass 20236).

DNA-Barcoding tropical Australian trees

Team: Darren Crayn (ATH), Andy Lowe (U. Adelaide, State Herbarium of South Australia), Hugh Cross (U. Adelaide), Craig Costion (ATH), Melissa Harrison (ATH), Maria Kuzmina (Canadian Centre for DNA Barcoding).

Prof. Crayn is an Australasian coordinator for ‘treeBOL’, an ambitious long term global project to DNA-barcode the trees of the world. ATH’s role is to barcode Australian tropical rainforest trees.

Resolving species concepts in problematic Australian ferns

Team: Ashley Field (DERM/ATH), Cassandra Denne (ATH /JCU), Joseph Holtum (JCU) and Peter Bostock (DERM)

This project aims to resolve species concepts in closely related fern species, especially problematic concepts where the species differ in their niche specialisation or ranges or where one of the species may be considered common and the other rare. Subprojects being investigated include 1) the taxonomic importance of Cape York and Wet Tropics forms of Adiantum atroviride and Adiantum hispidulum, 2) species boundaries among the wet forest canopy epiphyte Microsorum australiense and the closely related widespread epilith M. punctatum 3) species boundaries among the subtropical and montane tropical rainforest epiphyte Platycerium bifurcatum, the lowland tropical rainforest epiphyte P. hillii and the inland dry vine forest lithophyte P. veitchii and 4) species limits in the Australian genus Pellaea.