Research Scientist (Conservation Genetics)
Kings Park and Botanic Garden
Fraser Avenue
Kings Park Western Australia 6005
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(+61 8) 9480 3682
(+61 8) 9480 3641

Research themes

  • Pollination biology (in ecological, evolutionary and restoration contexts)
  • Mycorrhizal ecology
  • Orchid evolutionary biology
  • Orchid conservation biology
  • Pollinator ecophysiology
  • Biogeography
  • Landscape ecology
  • Avian ecology.

Academic background

I attended the University of Western Australia completing a Bachelor of Science with a double major in Zoology and Botany. My honours was in Zoology with the group project on ‘Summer ecophysiology of the Honey Possum’, while the individual project was entitled ‘Population structure of the Western Rainbowfish in the east Kimberley’. After honours I was involved in several zoological projects including the behavioural ecology of Red-capped Plovers and Sand-bubbler crabs at Cable Beach, the decline of finches in the Kununurra irrigation area and the monitoring of invertebrate communities in the habitat of the Western Swamp Tortoise.

I undertook my PhD at Kings Park and Botanic Gardens and the University of Western Australia (2006-2010, supervised by Stephen Hopper and Kingsley Dixon). My thesis focused on the role of specialized pollinator and mycorrhizal symbioses in creating the high level of intrinsic rarity in Drakaea (Hammer orchids). This remarkable genus is famous in the botanical world for its highly specialized, hinged flowers that achieve pollination by attracting male thynnine wasps through chemically and visually mimicking calling females (they even made a cameo on Attenborough’s Private Life of Plants). During my PhD I collaborated on projects investigating the ecophysiology of thynnine and ichnuemonid wasps, pollination and mycorrhizal biology of Caladenia (Spider and Dragon Orchids) and the role of pollination strategy in the decline of orchid species in urban remnants.

In mid 2010 I began a post-doctoral research fellowship based between The Australian National University and Kings Park and Botanic Gardens on an ARC funded project headed by Rod Peakall and Kingsley Dixon. The project is entitled ‘A multidisciplinary research program to assess limiting factors and predict impacts of climate change for endangered Australian orchids’ and will see a continuation of the ecological studies of Drakaea undertaken by staff and students at Kings Park. In addition, we will pursue evolutionary topics such as the process of speciation in sexually-deceptive orchids. Running in parallel to the Drakaea grant is another ARC funded project headed by Rod Peakall and Kingsley Dixon entitled ‘Above and below-ground specialisation in Australian orchids and its implications for diversification and vulnerability’. This project will focus on the role of mycorrhizal and pollinator specificity in speciation and rarity of sexually deceptive Caladenia.

In addition to the orchid program, Kings Park and Botanic Gardens is also developing a broader program of pollination studies. Despite a very diverse flora, little is known about pollination in most plant families in Western Australia, creating the opportunity for exciting and practical research. Accordingly, we are currently establishing pollination projects in ecological, evolutionary and restoration contexts.


Refereed Publications

16. Bohman B, Jeffares L, Flematti G, Phillips RD, Dixon KW, Peakall R, Barrow RA (2012) The discovery of 2-Hydroxymethyl-3-(3methylbutyl)-5-methylpyrazine: a semiochemical in orchid pollination. Organic Letters 14:2576-2578.

15. Tomlinson S, Phillips RD (2012) Metabolic rate, evaporative water loss and field activity in response to temperature in an Ichneumonid wasp. Journal of Zoology 287:81-90.

14. Phillips RD, Barrett MD, Dixon KW, Hopper SD (2011) Do mycorrhizal symbioses cause rarity in orchids? Journal of Ecology 99, 858-869.

13. Phillips RD, Brown AP, Dixon KW, Hopper SD (2011) Orchid biogeography and the factors associated with rarity in a biodiversity hotspot: the Southwest Australian Floristic Region. Journal of Biogeography 38, 487-501.

12. Menz MHM, Phillips RD, Winfree R, Kremen C, Aizen MA, Johnson SD, Dixon KW (2011) Reconnecting plants and pollinators: challenges in restoration of pollinator services. Trends in Plant Science, 16, 4-12.

11. Anthony JM, Phillips RD, Sinclair EA, Dixon KW (2010) Characterisation of polymorphic microsatellite markers isolated from Drakaea glyptodon Fitz. (Orchidaceae). Conservation Genetic Resources, 2, 291-294.

10. Evans SM, Prince J, Foster-Smith J, Drew E, Phillips RD (2010) Optimal and anti-predator foraging in the sand bubbler crab Scopimera inflata (Ocypodidae). Journal of Crustacean Biology, 30, 194-199.

9. Phillips RD, Hopper SD, Dixon KW (2010) Pollination ecology and the potential impacts of the environmental change in the Southwest Australian Biodiversity Hotspot. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 365, 517-528.

8. Phillips RD, Faast R, Bower CC, Brown GR, Peakall R (2009) Implications of pollination by food and sexual deception on pollinator specificity, fruit set, population genetics and conservation of Caladenia. Australian Journal of Botany, 57, 287-306.

7. Phillips RD, Backhouse G, Brown AP, Hopper SD (2009) Biogeography of Caladenia, with special reference to the Southwest Australian Floristic Region. Australian Journal of Botany, 57, 259-275.

6. Phillips RD, Storey AW, Johnson MS (2009) Genetic structure of Melanotaenia australis at local and regional scales in the east Kimberley, Western Australia. Journal of Fish Biology, 74, 437-451.

5. Phillips RD (2009) Observations of habitat use and abundance of fish species over a 15 year period at Mettam’s Pool. Western Australian Naturalist, 26, 175-182.

4. Phillips RD, Chapman GC, O’Hanlon NJ, Morris LC (2008) A short-term avifauna survey of Faraway Bay in the north Kimberley, Western Australia. Amytornis, 1, 15-19.

3. Hengeller B, Phillips RD (2008) An annotated list of the birds of Kachana Station in the east Kimberley, Western Australia. Amytornis, 1, 7-14.

2. Cousin JA, Phillips RD (2008) Habitat complexity explains species-specific occupancy but not species richness in a Western Australian woodland. Australian Journal of Zoology, 56, 95 – 102.

1. Brasdshaw SD, Phillips RD, Tomlinson S, Holley RJ, Jennings S, Bradshaw FJ (2007) Ecology of the Honey Possum, Tarsipes rostratus, in Scott National Park, Western Australia. Australian Mammalogy, 29, 25-38.