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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.

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 and U. Adelaide), 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.

Endophytic fungi

Team: Sandra Abell-Davis (JCU, ATH), Melinda Greenfield (JCU Honours Student), Natalie Dillon (DPI&F), David Astridge (DPI&F), Ian Newton (DPI&F).

Endophytes are fungi that live within leaf and stem tissue without causing disease to their plant hosts and that produce toxic compounds to deter herbivory. Their application as biocontrol agents to reduce the reliance of the agricultural industry on chemicals is yet to be realised.

Entomopathic fungi

Team: Sandra Abell-Davis (JCU, ATH), Marcin Skladaniec (JCU Honours student), Will Edwards (JCU), Roger Shivas (BRIP Herbarium), Anthony Young (BRIP Herbarium), Nigel Hywel-Jones (BIOTEC Thailand).

This project aims to update the knowledge of representatives of Ophiocordyceps (Family Clavicipitaceae), focusing on taxonomy, ecological constraints and distribution across the North Queensland Wet Tropics. Cordyceps spp are common pathogens of insects and other arthropods all around the world, yet the information on the Australian representatives, especially for the Wet Tropics, is very poor. Worldwide, representative species have been proven to be a source of unique chemical compounds with medicinal applications (e.g. cyclosporin), as well as possible biocontrol agents (e.g. Metarhizium anisopliae).

Evolution of photosynthetic pathway in plants especially Bromeliaceae

Team: Darren Crayn (ATH), Katharina Schulte (ATH), Andrew Smith (U. Oxford, UK), Klaus Winter (Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama), Walter Till (Botanical Institute, Vienna, Austria), Thomas Givnish (U. Wisc., USA), Georg Zizka (Senckenberg Institute, Germany)

This multidisciplinary project aims to clarify the evolution of key ecophysiological traits, such as Crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) in the bromeliads and other lineages. This is being achieved by: (1) using molecular data to build improved phylogenetic trees for the group, and (2) determining the occurrence of CAM in bromeliad species by carbon isotope analysis of plant tissue.

Fire and fungi

Team: Sandra Abell-Davis (JCU, ATH), Andy Baker (DERM), Mark Parsons (DERM), Jonathan Roth (DERM), Andrew Hedges (DERM), Mark Harrington (ATH).

This project will involve habitat attribute analysis of essential food resources (primarily truffle fungi and cockatoo grass) for the endangered northern bettong (Bettongia tropica) supporting recovery knowledge. Plots shall harvest material (cockatoo grass, truffles and truffle mycelium) to ascertain seasonal and/or fire interval parameters that are considered suited towards maintaining northern bettong habitat. A DNA library for the truffle species that have been collected (60 species to date) is being developed which will allow molecular identification of the mycelium samples and characterisation of the taxonomic diversity.

Origins, evolution and molecular identification of Lauraceae

Team: Marlien van der Merwe (National Herbarium of NSW), Maurizio Rossetto (National Herbarium of NSW), Henk van der Werff (Missouri Botanical Garden), Peter Weston (National Herbarium of NSW), Darren Crayn (ATH), Mark Harrington (ATH).

Lauraceae is a large, globally distributed plant family of about 3000 species, mostly rainforest trees. This project aims to improve our understanding of the origins and evolution, and revise the taxonomy if necessary, of this family (focusing on the subfamily Cryptocaryeae) by conducting: (1) phylogenetic, divergence-time and historical biogeographical analyses; (2) phylogeographic studies on selected taxa to determine species limits and the relative importance of vicariance vs. dispersal in species radiation in Lauraceae. Furthermore, a DNA-barcode database for Cryptocaryeae will be developed.

Origins of the Wet Tropics flora – a molecular perspective

Team: Mark Harrington (ATH), Craig Costion (ATH, U. Adelaide), Darren Crayn (ATH).

We are gap-filling published molecular phylogenies with missing Australian taxa, dating these phylogenies, and using them to generate general explanations about tempo and direction of evolution of the tropical rainforest flora: what elements of the extant rainforest flora are derived from Gondwanan stock (relictual taxa) that have differentiated in situ, what are the invasive elements, and where have they come from?

Phylogenetic diversity analysis in the Wet Tropics flora

Team: Craig Costion (U. Adelaide, ATH), Darren Crayn (ATH), Andy Lowe (U. Adelaide, State Herbarium of South Australia), Mark Harrington (ATH), Dan Metcalfe (CSIRO), Andrew Ford (CSIRO).

This study is investigating, using a plot based approach, the relative performance of taxonomic diversity (species counts) and phylogenetic diversity (branch lengths on molecular phylogenies) measures for conservation priority setting. This project is aligned with the tropical tree DNA-barcoding project and data will contribute to both projects.

Phylogenetics and evolutionary dynamics of Elaeocarpaceae

Team: Yumiko Baba (ATH, PhD student), Darren Crayn (ATH), Maurizio Rossetto (National Herbarium of NSW), Hannah McPherson (National Herbarium of NSW), Mark Coode (Kew Gardens, UK).

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 diversity in selected species in order to provide an insight into comparative evolutionary responses and speciation mechanisms in dry-adapted shrubs and rainforest tree species.

Phylogeny and population dynamics of Cunoniaceae

Team: Margaret Heslewood (PhD student, National Herbarium of NSW and U. Adelaide), Maurizio Rossetto (National Herbarium of NSW), Darren Crayn (ATH), Andy Lowe (U. Adelaide, State Herbarium of South Australia), Johan Pillon (IRD, New Caledonia).

Cunoniaceae is a family of mostly rainforest trees thought to be of Gondwanan origin. This project investigates the origins and evolution of the family and in particular the genus Ceratopetalum using dated molecular phylogenies for Ceratopetalum species to evaluate the role of long distance dispersal and vicariance in explaining present distributions. Furthermore, present day genetic structure and geographic distribution of Ceratopetalum species will be determined to infer the strength and directions of gene flow within and between populations for each taxon.

Re-evaluation of current taxonomic concepts in Australian Dendrobieae based on molecular evidence

Team: Katharina Schulte (ATH), Mark Clements (Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research, Canberra), Keith R. McDonald (DERM), Darren Crayn (ATH), Peter Weston (Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney)

This project aims to rigorously re-evaluate highly controversial taxonomic concepts in Australian Dendrobieae based on multi-locus molecular phylogenetic evidence. The project has two main components: the first will resolve broader phylogenetic relationships among Dendrobieae using DNA sequences from plastid and nuclear markers, and the second focuses on the finer scaled phylogenetic relationships within notorious species complexes in Dendrobieae such as the Cooktown orchid (Vappodes bigibba group) using molecular fingerprint techniques (AFLPs). The resulting phylogenetic trees will be used to infer evolution of key morphological characters to evaluate their taxonomic utility, and to thoroughly re-evaluate current taxonomic concepts. Further, the historical biogeography of Australian Dendrobieae will be reconstructed using a dated phylogeny and discussed in the context of relevant events in earth history, especially concerning past geography and climate. The outcomes of this project will be highly relevant for conservation and legislative enforcement of Australian Dendrobieae.

Resolving species concepts in problematic Australian ferns

Team: Ashley Field (DERM/ATH) 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.

Systematics and evolution of Styphelioideae Ericaceae

Team: Caroline Puente-Lelievre (ATH, PhD student), Darren Crayn (ATH), Elizabeth Brown (National Herbarium of NSW), Mike Hislop (Western Australian Herbarium), Chris Quinn (National Herbarium of NSW).

This project aims to resolve the generic limits within the Astroloma-Styphelia group, a problem clade of Ericaceae subfamily Styphelioideae, using nuclear and plastid nucleotide sequences. Patterns of relationship will be studied at genus and species level using established molecular techniques. The taxonomic assessment and publication of poorly known and/or undescribed species of high conservation value will be a priority.

Systematics of Tecomanthe

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

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).

Systematics of Wilkiea

Team: Frank Zich (ATH), Andrew Ford (CSIRO), Darren Crayn (ATH).

The systematics of the genus Wilkiea (Monimiaceae) will be investigated with a focus on the status and relationships of Wilkiea sp. Palmerston (B.Hyland 80RFK).

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.