Students are contributing to the real-world conservation of some of WA’s most iconic and threatened plants through Kings Park Science’s 2019-20 Summer Scholarship Program which commenced this month.
This year the program, proudly supported by the Friends of Kings Park, welcomes students from every Western Australian university and covers diverse research projects including seed enhancement, banksia genetics and conservation biology.
Six local students have the opportunity to work alongside Kings Park’s expert science staff over the summer break. Three of our summer scholars share what they are hoping to achieve over the next twelve weeks.
'I’m just crazy about plants' was how Eloise described herself. Transitioning to honours having completed a Bachelor of Science majoring in Biology at the University of Notre Dame, Eloise will be working in the conservation genetics area to better understand the proportions of different pollinators of the Banksia menziesii (Firewood or Menzies' Banksia).
'We already know that this species does not self-pollinate, which makes the pollinators it does have very important. I’ll be exploring several selective exclusion techniques to compare differences between pollinators at a research area in the Ioppolo Nature Reserve, about an hour north east of Perth', Eloise explained.
It is hoped the research will assist in determining how pollination allows this Banksia to be genetically diverse so that its communities are viable long-term. This has implications in helping to restore banksia woodland on the Swan Coastal Plain (SCP).
'We’ve lost 76% of the banksia woodland on the Swan Coastal Plain in a few hundred years. Clearing still happens today and is sometimes unavoidable, but we hope we can better understand how to conserve it long-term.'
Murdoch University student Olaf Hein’s project will see him zipping up and down WA over the next three months, researching mating systems to better understand the growth patterns of certain plant species.
Having majored in conservation biology and biological sciences with a minor in plant biology, the species Olaf is focusing on is the Eucalyptus todtiana. Although the species is located across Perth’s Swan Coastal Plain it is relatively unknown, but popular in northern WA for horticulture.
Olaf’s been a Kings Park Science volunteer since April 2019 and hopes his project will assist with seed sourcing for other restoration projects and helping to increase the success rate of these projects and improve their longevity. This particular project will help repair native bushland.
'I enjoy travelling up to the north of Perth for my project but it’s the laboratory work behind it all that I’ve found most interesting. It’s been inspiring to identify the genomes or species and determine their lineages – tying my project into practical conservation efforts has been really exciting.'
Chane Van Der Merwe
Currently preparing for her Honours, Chane will be testing seed enablement technologies to improve germination speed and seedling establishment of Acacia acuminata. Working in Kings Park’s greenhouses, Chane’s research involves priming the seeds and exposing them to different water potentials and temperature levels, thus determining the minimum requirements for seed germination and ultimately, survival.
It is hoped the stock that does germinate and survive, will be stronger and more resilient to environmental changes in the future including temperature extremes and a lack of water. If work is successful on the acacia species, research will move onto the seeds of the Tetratheca erubescens, a declared rare species under threat in the western region of the Goldfields.
'I really hope my research works out. Seed conservation is a career change for me. I studied psychology, but I wasn’t enjoying it', Chane explains.
'Someone asked me if there was anything in the world I could do, what would it be? I immediately said conservation. One thing led to another, I found Murdoch University’s course, I began working with Kings Park’s scientists as a volunteer and now I’m in the scholarship program. I’m living what I set out to do', Chane says.
If you’re a university student studying a native plant biology discipline and are interested in applying for the Kings Park Science Summer Scholarship Program in 2020-21, submissions open in September 2020. Check back on the Kings Park website for details and further information on how to apply.