The key outcomes are:
A five-year Australian Research Council Discovery grant has extended research on the population dynamics and genetic variation of plants varying in fire response and dispersal capability. The project has shed new light on the role of disturbance and the increased occurrence of hybrids between Hooker’s banksia (Banksia hookeriana) and B. prionotes; on the phylogeographic history of B. hookeriana, including range expansion and refugia associated with the last glacial maximum; on patterns of realised mating and levels of genetic variation in aerial seed banks over multiple years of mating; on pollen dispersal within populations that shows a striking departure from typically leptokurtic pollen dispersal curves, highlighting the importance of birds as pollinators for the unique SW WA flora; and has identified a surprisingly high frequency of long distance seed dispersal in B. hookeriana, B. attenuata, B. candolleana and Daviesia triflora, which plays an important role in the metapopulation dynamics of these species. The importance of secondary dispersal vectors (willy willys, cockatoos, emus) has been identified.
With supporting funds from the Australian Research Council, significant progress has been made towards a genetic provenance atlas for native plant community restoration in urban bushland remnants in south Western Australia, with genetic provenance information for more than 50 local species now achieved. Species most recently assessed genetically include Banksia menziesii, B. attenuata, Alexgeorgea nitens, Eucalyptus gomphocephala, Persoonia longifolia, Stylidium hispidum, and Daviesia divaricata. This information helps identify local provenance seed collection zones, makes restoration activities more efficient and conserves biodiversity within species.
A five-year Australian Research Council linkage grant, with funds from industry partners Alcoa World Alumina Australia, Worsley Alumina and Greening Australia, saw research continue on a molecular ecophysiological assessment of the importance of using local provenance seed in native plant community restoration. Specific projects include the assessment of population genomic and phylogeographic variation in Gompholobium spp. and Eucalyptus gomphocephala (tuart), developing and utilizing non-neutral genetic marker techniques such as expressed sequence tags (ESTs) and microarrays, assessing genetic provenance variation in Jarrah forest populations of the snottygobble Persoonia longifolia, establishing a major field-based experiment to assess the potential for outbreeding depression following mixing of genetic provenances of triggerplants (Stylidium spp), and establishing large-scale reciprocal transplant experiments in E. gomphocephala (tuart) and Gompholobium marginatum and G. polymorphum to assess home-site advantage.
With funds from a four-year Australian Research Council linkage grant and industry partner Rocla, work has commenced on a new project to address the management of evolutionary-ecological processes in the restoration of Banksia woodlands that will be resilient to global environmental changes. By manipulating genetic diversity, provenance and gene flow, this project will establish suitable seed sourcing regimes to manage evolutionary processes in large-scale restorations. Population genetic assessment and field trials have commenced on keystone Banksia species of restoration at the Rocla Gnangara site. A genetic assessment of variation and mating of restored and natural populations of B. attenuata has already highlighted the successful genetic management of restoration with this species at this site, and the successful application of genetic guidelines for restoration.
With funds from a four-year Australian Research Council linkage grant, molecular markers have been applied to identify genetically unique conservation units and key population genetic processes in the orchid genera Caladenia and Drakaea. This genetics research constitutes a major part of a multidisciplinary research program to assess limiting factors and predict impacts of climate change for endangered Australian orchids. DNA sequence data have been generated to assess the phylogenetic relationships between species within these genera, their pollinators, and their symbiotic fungi.
A three-year research program on the conservation genetics of the priority listed narrowly endemic Acacia karina continued, with funding from Karara Mining Ltd. Key outcomes include the quantification and characterisation of spatial genetic structure and variation, the assessment of key population genetic processes such as mating and dispersal, molecular resolution of the phylogeny of A. karina and related species, as well as the application of DNA barcoding for the rapid identification of Acacia species in the region. This research underpins the conservation and management of this threatened species that is to be impacted by mining.
A major research program on the conservation genetics and phylogenetic relationships of the declared rare flora Darwinia masonii and Lepidosperma gibsonii for on- and off-site conservation continued, with funding from Mt Gibson Mining. Research highlights to date include: comprehensive molecular phylogenies of the Darwinia, Chamelaucium, Verticordia group as well as Lepidosperma, with significant taxonomic implications; genetic confirmation that the number of species currently recognised in Lepidosperma is a gross underestimate; an understanding of patterns of spatial genetic variation and clonality within these species; and the identification of complex patterns of polyploidy within species groups.
Genetic barcoding of elite breeding accessions of Grevillea continues in collaboration with the plant breeding program in the Horticulture and Conservation directorate. These results underpin a more efficient native plant breeding program, through the rapid and accurate assessment of the success of artificial hybridisation.
With funding support from Cockburn Cement, genetic variation and spatial genetic structure has been assessed with microsatellites in the sea-grass Posidonia australis nationally, with a focus on Cockburn Sound. Genetic results have been interpreted to generate genetic guidelines for seed and propagule sourcing, underpinning improved seagrass restoration efforts. With new research funding awarded in June 2010 from the Australian Research Council, this project has now expanded and will continue for a further 3 years.
A four-year research program commenced with funding from Rio-Tinto, to characterise genetic variation within and among populations of the Pilbara species Eucalyptus camaldulensis, E. victrix and Melaleuca argentea, associated with impacts from mining on Weeli Wolli springs.
With funding from AngloGold Ashanti, DNA sequencing and DNA fingerprinting tools were applied for a rapid molecular forensic assessment of the identity of morphologically cryptic regenerating eucalypts in relation to the DRF Eucalyptus articulata on a mining lease east of Kalgoorlie. This project demonstrated the utility of a rapid DNA barcoding type approach for a conservation outcome.
Associated student projects include a molecular systematic study of the Grevillea thelemaniana complex, a population genetic assessment of Drakea elastica, a characterisation of the mating system of Darwinia masonii, an assessment of world-wide genetic variation in the aquatic carnivorous Aldrovandra vesiculosa, effects of fragmentation on genetic variation and mating in Banksia ilicifolia, an assessment of home-site advantage and outbreeding depression in Stylidium hispidum, a phylogeographic analysis of genetic variation in Eucalyptus gomphocephala, the genetic identification of hybrids between the seagrasses Posidonia australis and P. sinuosa, and the characterisation of the mating patterns in Acacia karina.