David Yeates

I am an insect systematist and Director of the Australian National Insect Collection.  I hold an adjunct Professorship at the Australian National University and am also the Schlinger Curator of Diptera at ANIC.  After a stint as Roosevelt Postdoctoral Fellow at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, I returned to Australia teaching systematic entomology at the University of Queensland.  Not long after the Department of Entomology was amalgamated into a larger department at UQ I moved to Canberra to begin work as a research scientist at the Australian National Insect Collection.  I became the Director of ANIC in 2012.

My main interests are in the systematics and taxonomy of insects in general, and flies (Diptera) in particular, with special interest in Australian flies.  I have always had a strong interest in teaching and outreach, and promoting the importance of the work that taxonomists do.  Way back in my career I worked with Kevin Thiele to develop the Lucid system of interactive keys.  My current work includes molecular phylogenetics of insects, flies and various families of flies including the Bombyliidae (bee flies), Therevidae (stiletto flies), Stratiomyidae (soldier flies), Fergusoninidae, Tachinidae (bristle flies) and Tabanidae (horse flies), all done in collaboration with PhD students and postdocs.  I also teach undergraduate entomology at the Australian National University. 

Australia is an amazing place to be an invertebrate systematist.  With most of the fauna undocumented there are major discoveries to be made just outside every laboratory.  Because of the deep time history of Australia, and its preservation of habitats that have disappeared elsewhere on earth, very old lineages still find a home here.  In addition, due to the dramatic climatic changes in Australia through the last 60 million years, many groups have responded by radiating rapidly into new habitats. This combination of arks and cradles of diversification create compelling foci for taxonomic, systematic and evolutionary studies.

My research career has seen the advent of single gene molecular systematics, then through the dark days of multilocus molecular systematics using Sanger sequencing, and am now very pleased to have emerged into the light of high throughput sequencing (HTS).  Now various approaches can be used to assemble datasets that contain a very large portion of the genome through transcriptome sequencing and genome reduction techniques such as hybrid enrichment.  I am very excited about the promise of HTS for extracting large chunks of the genome from museum specimens, adding another important dimension to the value of biological collections.

Systematic entomology has an important role to platy in biosecurity within the broad scope of food security.  Because of its isolation, and strong biosecurity processes, Australia is free of many of the world's most devastating pests and diseases.  This has multiple benefits for our industries in terms of lower production costs, and access to premium markets overseas. In order for these benefits to continue, Australia needs to build and maintain capability in diagnosing the groups that pose a biosecurity threat.  We also need to be able to quickly distinguish the threats from the native fauna.  In many cases this is not trivial - Australia is home to large numbers of species that are very often challenging to distinguish from invasives.  This brings an important economic dimension to entomological systematics.

I have written a couple of pieces for the Conversation relevant to this blog site:

Why so many Australian species are yet to be named?

Australia: riding on the insects back

Hidden housemates: we live with a zoo of harmless mini-beasts

Insects are the great survivors in evolution

The Decadal Plan is mission go

An email on Monday from Prof. Andrew Holmes, President of the Australian Academy of Science, and an Academy news release, formally announced the commencement of an intensive project to develop a Decadal Plan for Biosystematics and Taxonomy in Australasia. The support provided for this initiative from the Academy of Science, the Ian Potter Foundation, and the project’s partners, is very welcome, and we’re very excited that work is commencing in earnest..

The plan is to release an Exposure Draft of the Decadal Plan in late November, at the joint meeting of the Australasian Systematic Botany Society and the Society of Australian Systematic Biologists in Adelaide, with the final Plan to be released in early 2018. In the lead-up to release of the exposure draft, there will be much work for the project’s Working Group and Steering Committee. We hope that many practicing biosystematists and taxonomists, and stakeholders, will be able to contribute and to engage in development of the Plan. It’s success is obviously contingent on meaningful engagement with as wide a range of contributors as possible. This project gives us all the opportunity to contribute to strategic development of the twin disciplines of biosystematics and taxonomy in our region, and to shape their future, impacts and achievements.

During development of the Plan, discussion papers and pre-release drafts of sections for comment and discussion will be released in noto|biotica, and through our sector’s social media. We welcome any comments, views, feedback and contributions, either directly through this site or by email to me or to other members of the Working Group (I’ll shortly update a contact list for Working Group members here). We plan also to arrange a series of sector and stakeholder meetings in capital cities throughout Australia and in New Zealand. Please also share news of our plans with your colleagues and through your own social media channels, and encourage others to get involved.

The overall goal of the Plan is to map out where we want biosystematics and taxonomy in Australasia to be in 2028, what achievements we would like to see realised, and what’s needed to get there. We encourage you all, whether practicing biosystematists or taxonomists, or stakeholders, to put your thinking caps on, decide what you think the priorities should be, discuss with colleagues, and share your thoughts with us.

 We look forward to working with you all.

Francis Nge

I'm a PhD candidate currently based at the University of Adelaide & State herbarium of South Australia.

I've just completed my Honours at the University of Western Australia (UWA), under the supervision of Kevin Thiele & Michelle Waycott, where we discovered four new species of Banksia (and two potentially new species pending further investigation)! 

I'm still at the planning stages of my PhD, however, I'm certain that taxonomy and systematics will be a core component of my project. My project will focus on the biogeographic and phylogeographic relationships of the South Australian temperate flora, in relation to the wider temperate Australian region as a whole. Many studies have focused on either the southwest or southeastern regions of Australia, with the Adelaide-Kangaroo Island region in South Australia being overlooked even though it is identified as an endemism center – one that contains many species and genera with disjunct distributions across the Nullarbor and Murray-Darling basin. Understanding the historical processes that have resulted in these distributions will require the integration of multiple fields, with practical implications for taxonomy, systematics, conservation biology, and in advancing our understanding of evolutionary processes that have occurred across the region as a whole.

I'm also currently involved in a number of other projects, including one with Hans Lambers where we looked at the host preferences of quandong (Santalum acuminatum) in both an ecological and physiological context. I'm also involved with the Kwongan Foundation (http://www.facebook.com/kwonganfoundation/) where we aim to achieve UNESCO World Heritage listing for the biodiverse region of southwest Western Australia. I also try and engage with the wider community in promoting taxonomic knowledge and its importance by showcasing the diversity of life through social media channels (e.g. http://www.instagram.com/francisnge/).  

I've always been fascinated about the natural world, but it wasn't until a couple of years ago while completing my undergraduate degree in botany at UWA that I'd realised taxonomy underpins all other fields of biology, and is crucial in advancing our understanding of the immense diversity on earth. Despite the crucial role that we play, our work are often under appreciated (from both the scientific community and the general public), hence I fully support the Decadal Plan. 

I am keen to learn from all the great minds and experienced researchers/ botanists here, and hope to meet you in the near future. :)

Sue Fyfe

I’m the Director of the Biodiversity Science Section at Parks Australia, Commonwealth Department of the Environment and Energy (DoEE). This section incorporates the Australian Biological Resources Study and associated Bush Blitz species discovery program, the National Seed Bank, Parks Science and Knowledge Management team, Biodiversity Informatics team, and Parks Australia’s long term partnership with CSIRO in the Centre for Australian National Biodiversity Research including the Australian National Herbarium. 

I’m not a taxonomist but I have had a long and varied career in plants and marine and terrestrial ecology, which led me into the public service some 12 years ago. I began my working life as a horticulturist, and after further landscape qualifications and 2 years as the Landscape Architect’s assistant at Kiama council, I established and ran a landscape architecture partnership specializing in the restoration of native vegetation in industrial and suburban developments for about 10 years in the Illawarra region. A desire to know more about the science behind environmental rehabilitation led me (part time) into a BSc (Honours) focused on vegetation biogeography, ecology and spatial science at the University of Wollongong, and environmental consultancy work. I completed a PhD on seagrasses at UoW in 2004 combining plant physiology and ecology with hyperspectral remote sensing while continuing with consulting work, lecturing and research contracts to pay the bills.

I joined the Australian Government (then) Department of the Environment and Heritage in December 2004 and have been in Canberra ever since. I have broad experience in executive level government roles, including applying scientific and spatial data to environmental management, policy and program development, marine bioregional planning, and strategic information, including 6 years leading Geoscience Australia’s science data stewardship, information management and eResearch initiatives. I have a passion for both terrestrial and marine biodiversity and ecology, and for online, open access to science data and information.

Matt Barrett

I’m a Research Scientist with Kings Park and Botanic Garden in Western Australia, also an Adjunct at the University of Western Australia and Research Associate at the Western Australian Herbarium.

I started out with a passion for reptiles, lacewings, fungi and plants of the Kimberley region where I grew up, and eventually meandered (via chemistry and engineering degrees) into a PhD on population genetics of wax flowers (Chamelaucium) in south-west WA. Since then I have worked on population genetics and reproductive ecology of rare plants (Lepidosperma and Darwinia), and phylogenetic systematics of major Australian plant lineages - Chamelaucium-Darwinia-Verticordia group (Myrtaceae), Lepidosperma (Cyperaceae), Aphelia, Centrolepis and Gaimardia (Centrolepidaceae/Restionaceae), Lazarum and Typhonium (Araceae), Eriachne and Micraira (Poaceae subfamily Micrairoideae), tropical Boronia (Rutaceae), Solanum (Solanaceae), and many genera of tropical fungi. In my 'spare time’ I do the most important job of all, describing new species of plants and fungi (> 60 spp. so far with many more to come). Many of these new species have come from extensive surveys of sandstone pavements in the Kimberley, an overlooked complex of communities containing numerous short-range endemic taxa.

Most recently I have run an extensive ARC-funded project on Triodia hummock grasses (‘spinifex'), one of the dominant arid and semi-arid plant groups of the Australian outback. The Triodia project has investigated the phylogenomic relationships and biogeography of both the genus and several species complexes, and resulted in the discovery of numerous new species - papers in progress will almost double the number of species in the genus (to at least 120 species), making Triodia the largest grass genus in Australia. I have also intensively surveyed polyploidy in Triodia, uncovering the existence of many geographically-separated polyploid ‘races’ in the Pilbara, with substantial implications for the seed collection industry. Benjamin Anderson, a recently-completed PhD student associated with this project, has produced an excellent series of papers on the Triodia basedowii complex, ultimately recognising 8 new species and providing significant insights into diversification in this characteristic arid-zone species-complex (taxonomic paper just accepted in Aust. Syst. Bot.). A Lucid key for identification of Pilbara Triodia is in development, and will hopefully eventually be expanded to cover the whole genus.

Flowers in uv and false bee vision.

Wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) flower in natural colour (left), uv only (centre) and false bee colours (right).

We’re attracted to flowers because of their form, scent, and colour, the very things that attract their pollinators. It’s clear that some colours are associated with particular pollinator groups, like red for birds and blue for bees. However, most pollinating animals perceive a different colour spectrum from us. Humans are unusual—but not unique—among mammals in having three colour receptor genes, which code for opsin proteins whose light reception peaks in the blue, green, and red wavelengths. Some people—more often males than females because of sex-linkage—can perceive only two, usually blue and green. For them red and green may be indistinguishable, or red appears as black, and hues like purple that mix red with another colour will not look the same as they do to people with three-colour vision. There are websites that show what the world looks like to people with fewer than three opsins. This is important, because none of us can see one of the colours that birds and bees can see, ultraviolet; so we’re a bit like colour-blind bees, if such things exist (I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find they do).

It seems that early mammals were nocturnal and sacrificed full colour vision for eyes that had many more rods, enabling better, but monochromatic, night vision. Through opsin gene duplications and divergence of the colour sensitivity of the duplicated genes, many mammals have regained second opsins and a few, like humans, even regained a third. This is engagingly described by Richard Dawkins in “The Ancestor’s Tale”. But non-mammal vertebrates like birds, lizards, and fish can have more opsins, often three similar to the three human ones plus one that perceives a portion of the ultraviolet part of the spectrum. Many insects on the other hand, have three opsins that perceive uv, blue, and red.

All this indicates that if we’re to understand colour as an attractant for pollinators, we need some way to study the ranges of flower colours that the pollinators can perceive. Often this means using a spectrometer to measure the reflected wavelengths as by Bischoff et al. (2013). But an important aspect of flower colour is the arrangement of contrasting patterns in flowers, like stripes and spots that function as nectar guides and ensure insects are both attracted and aligned correctly in the flower to find the rewards and accomplish pollen transfer. One way to study these patterns is through photography.

Viola banksii flower in natural colour (left), uv only (centre) and false bee colours (right).

First, I’ll describe how to photograph just the uv portion of the reflected light from a flower. Then I’ll describe how to simulate the flower’s reflectance across the whole spectrum perceived by an insect.

Photography in uv light.

Digital photography has made uv photography easy in some ways and hard in others. It’s hard, or at least expensive, because most modern digital cameras have very effective filters that prevent the sensor from recording any uv or infra-red light. There are some very expensive uv-sensitive cameras that are used in forensic work (bruises can be detected in uv light long after they’ve faded from normal vision). But we’re in luck because a few older DSLR cameras are weakly sensitive to uv light, and these are still available second hand. One of the reliable ones that many people use is the Nikon D70. I bought a couple of good ones on line for about $200 each, although one has an occasionally sticky shutter.

Secondly, many lenses have numerous glass elements and glass absorbs uv light. There’s another problem too: most lenses focus uv light slightly differently to the optical wavelengths, and because we can’t see the uv we have no way of focusing the image before we take the picture. You could pay $10,000 for a quartz lens to eliminate these problems, but there are adequate cheaper solutions. The EL-Nikkor enlarger lenses often transmit enough uv light because as fixed-focus lenses they need fewer glass elements. The different models vary in their uv transmission and their ability to focus close to the visible range. Overall the EL-Nikkor 80mm f5.6 seems to be the best bet. As a bonus, it’s a pretty good close-up lens with a couple of sets of rings or a bellows. I got a couple of used ones on line for about £40 each, and I see them popping up for sale every few weeks. Note there are two versions of this lens and the one that’s recommended is the older type that has some chrome (not all black) on its outer parts. I found this blog post, which compares some of these Nikkor enlarger lenses and the site has many other very useful posts and great images. 

Various sites recommend a focussing helicoid to make up for the EL-Nikkor being a fixed focus lens. I bought one, but I don’t need it for close-up shots, because I’m using close-up rings and so I can simply focus by moving the camera with the tripod. But if you want to photograph landscapes in uv or infra-red (IR) with this lens, you’ll need a helicoid. Either way, you will need a connecting ring to join the lens’s screw mount to the helicoids’s or close-up ring’s bayonet mount (eBay).

Next, you need to block all visible light, because the sensor is orders of magnitude more sensitive to it than to uv light. There are several uv pass filters available that block all visible light while allowing uv through. But most of them, and unfortunately those that are reasonably priced, also let IR through, and the camera sensor is also much more sensitive to IR than to uv. So if you use those, your photo will be an IR, rather than uv, image. What you need is a so-called Venus filter, made by Baader, and designed for astronomers to photograph uv reflectance from Venus. I got mine new from Baader’s Australian agent. It’s probably the most expensive item in the kit.

Important safety warning: never use this filter to look at the sun or to photograph the sun. Although it blocks all visible light, remember that invisible, but very dangerous, uv light is pouring through it.

There’s an additional problem: attaching the filter to the front of the lens. The filter holder on the EL-Nikkor lens has an unusual diameter (34.5 mm, while the filter is 52 mm), but there’s an engineer in Belarus who makes 34.5–52 mm connecting rings, available through eBay. Or you could get a 34–52 mm connection and glue it onto the lens.

Finally you need a light source that produces uv, and again this is a problem because standard flashes are filtered to protect our eyes from damaging uv wavelengths. Following recommendations, I bought a Vivitar 285HV flash, and asked a technician to remove the filter (there’s a YouTube instructable for how to do it, but I didn’t want to do it myself for fear of electric shock from the capacitor). Alternatively, you can use sunlight, but that’s better done outside (because window glass filters out some uv) so you run into trouble with wind movement in long exposures. It doesn’t matter that the flash also produces a lot of visible light, because the Venus filter blocks it all. I’m not sure, but I hope using the uv-enabled flash is not too damaging to the eyes, so long as you don’t ever fire it towards a face.

Nikon D70 camera, two sets of close-up rings, EL-Nikkor 80 mm f 5.6 lens, and Baader Venus filter (left) and modified Vivitar flash (right).

So that’s the kit. It took me a couple of months to pull it all together and it probably cost close to $1000. There are other options, but this was based on what seemed like the most knowledgeable advice I could find on line.

How do I use it? First, I use visible light to arrange my subject and focus the camera, set to manual. Then I screw on the filter, set the camera to take a 10 second exposure and while the shutter is open I fire the flash a couple of times at very close range, from the left and right sides of the flower. You can use a cheap infra-red remote to avoid camera shake, but if you give it a second to settle before firing the flash that won’t be a problem. I hold the flash in my hand and fire it manually while the shutter is open. It’s important to try to avoid shadows, because these can look falsely like uv absorbing regions, especially when you come to assemble false colour images. A uv-enabled ring flash would be ideal I think.

You can ramp up the ISO setting, and I tend to use an f11 aperture although f8 would help brighten the image. Even with the flash so close, the image is often pretty pale, so sometimes f8 is necessary.

Sometimes there are uv-absorbing regions in flowers that you wouldn’t expect from the visible range, and that’s what is fascinating about this. In musk, for example, the lower corolla lobe is uv dark, while the others reflect. In Genista stenopetala, the keel and wings absorb uv while the standard reflects it, although its corolla is uniformly yellow to our eyes.

Simulating insect vision.

Unfortunately, people sometimes jump from “insects can see uv” to thinking uv photos show what insects see. They don’t. Bees and many other insects see complex colours made up of uv, blue and green, in the same way we see colours made up of blue, green, and red. 

Each pixel on a TV or monitor is a colour based on the contribution of blue, green, and red to that point. If insects had TVs, they’d display colours based on contributions of uv, blue, and green to each dot, but we’d only be able to see the blue and green components. We have no idea what uv looks like or how it mixes with blue and green. All we can hope to do is to replace our blue, green, and red channels with uv, blue, and green channels. Now the uv signal looks blue to us, the blue green, and the green red. This process shifts the bee-visible spectrum into the range of wavelengths that are human visible, in much the same way as a musician might transpose a song from a low into a high key: the relationship between the notes and the chords is the same, but it sounds different in a higher key (we can do this with low frequency whale calls by transposing them into a higher frequency that we can hear).

How do we do this in practice? You need two identical exposures, so it needs a firm tripod. First photograph the flower in visible light, and then repeat the exposure in uv only, by using the filter and uv flash. It takes a bit of trial and error to make sure the two photos are similarly exposed, but you can adjust a lot with Photoshop or GIMP. I tend to open the aperture a stop between taking the colour image and the uv image and of course the uv photo is taken with the much brighter light of the flash at close range.

I’ll now describe what I do in GIMP to bring these two images together as a false colour representation of what a bee might see (false colour because it’s in the human colour palette, even though it shows the colour contrasts that a bee would see).

I start with the uv photo. As it comes off the camera it’s usually in pink or purple hues (the red and blue sensors respond best to the uv light. Here are the raw colour (left) and uv-only pictures of a musk flower (Erythranthe moschata) combined side by side in one picture but not otherwise modified.

Open the uv image first. I usually convert the uv picture to monochrome by dragging the saturation slider all the way to the left. 

Then usually I need to adjust the brightness. Most times the automatic setting does this pretty well.

That’s your basic uv picture, but it’ll need to be aligned exactly to the colour one, so I crop it to a convenient size and shape (usually square) and centre it on a distinctive pixel somewhere. There are a couple of ways I’ve figured out to do this, but it doesn’t matter how you do it so long as the uv and visible colour pictures are cropped to exactly the same dimensions and the crops are centred on the same pixel (in practice it can be a tiny bit out without too much damage). Once you’ve cropped it, save it, in tiff if you’re fussy, or jpg is probably fine.

Next open the colour photo. Set the brightness either manually or auto, and then crop it exactly the same as the uv one. 

Then in the colour menu decompose it into its three colour channels: red, green, and blue. 

On screen you’ll see a new image in monochrome, which will actually be made up of three layers, one for each colour channel. Now add the uv photo as a new layer, to give you four layers: uv, blue, green, and red.

Go back to the colour menu and compose the picture again, setting the blue channel to use the uv layer, the green channel to use the blue layer, and the red channel to use the green layer. The red layer is not used. Watch your new false colour image appear on screen!

These false colour pictures still need a little care in their interpretation. The pink and orange musk flower is unlikely to be what a bee sees, but any contrasting colour patterns we can see (not always seen in the human-colour palette) will be visible to a bee. We have no idea what a bee experiences when it sees a flower in its uv-blue-green colour palette, any more than we know what infra-red or radio waves might look like.

And of course the choice of which channels to fill with which colours is entirely arbitrary. Here's the musk flower again, this time with blue in the blue channel, green in the green channel, and uv in the red channel.

Birds can see uv as well as blue, green, and red. Not only do we not know what uv looks like, but we can’t begin to guess what its colour combinations look like, such as uv+blue+red. It’s like visualising four dimensions in only three, with the added problem that we can’t conceive what one of the dimensions looks like at all. Most New Zealand flowers visited by birds tend to reflect strongly in uv and red and absorb blue and green wavelengths, appearing just red to us but some unknowable blended colour to their pollinators.

Phil Garnock-Jones

I’m a retired plant taxonomist in Wellington New Zealand. Before I retired, I entertained the idea of giving up botany and taking on something new, but it hasn’t happened. So much taxonomic research these days requires a lab and students, to say nothing of keeping up with a ballooning literature. But there’s still a lot that can be done from home: Flora contributions, field guides, illustration, photography, and simple garden experiments. I have two major projects on the go right now. 

First, I’m tying up the last loose ends of a draft Flora of New Zealand treatment of Veronica (141 NZ species). Veronica is our largest genus—although Carex is racing towards taking over that distinction—and we have 122 native and 19 naturalised species. The new Flora treatment draws on previous monographic work on the native species (Bayly & Kellow 2006, Meudt 2008, Garnock-Jones & Lloyd 2004, Garnock-Jones 1993). The task was to compile new comparable descriptions for these and the naturalised species. I have been able to use Bill Malcolm’s photos from Bayly & Kellow (2006), which cover 90 species, and I’ve been able to take new photos, covering the same character set, for the additional 50 (like Veronica spectabilis, below). The Flora treatment will appear in the on-line Flora of New Zealand and as a PDF download.

This photography led me into my second major project, which is more open-ended: flower and fruit photography. It started with fulfilment of a long-standing dream, to take photos of New Zealand flowers’ ultraviolet reflectance, hard to do with the old film cameras. I needed a digital SLR camera, lens, uv pass filter, and uv light source. The DSLR was such a step above the excellent point-and-shoot I had been using and it’s led me into a whole new world. As a result, I have a growing collection (maybe 500 species) of flower close-ups, mostly of New Zealand native and naturalised plants. I’m happy to make these available (free to colleagues for research publications and most conservation projects); just ask.

Nothing comes from nothing, and so I’ll finish with an outline of where I’ve come from. My PhD was on taxonomy of Parahebe (now part of Veronica). My first job (1975–1994) was in Christchurch at Botany Division of the Department of Scientific & Industrial Research (CHR), where I spent 1975–88 working on Brassicaceae, Caryophyllaceae, Asteraceae and others for our naturalised dicot Flora (Webb, Sykes, & Garnock-Jones 1988) and developing an interest in explicitly evidence-based systematics (hence cladistics and molecular phylogenetics). In 1994 I moved to Victoria University of Wellington, where I taught botany, evolution, and systematics until 2012. Through collaborations with Te Papa botanists and a sequence of excellent students I was involved in a range of projects on Veronica, Scleranthus, Plantago, Gesneriaceae, and Wahlenbergia. Along the way, I’ve also been involved with molecular identification of components of herbal remedies and the evolution of sexuality in land plants. I still have a desk at VUW, where I’m an Emeritus Professor and even do the odd spot of teaching.

I’ve been blogging elsewhere, but haven’t added anything there in quite a while. 

Bayly M.J.; Kellow A.V.  2006. An illustrated guide to New Zealand hebes. Wellington: Te Papa Press.

Garnock‑Jones, P.J.  1993. Heliohebe (Scrophulariaceae ‑ Veroniceae), a new genus segregated from Hebe. New Zealand Journal of Botany 31: 323–339.

Garnock-Jones, P. J.;  Lloyd, D. G. 2004.  A taxonomic revision of Parahebe (Plantaginaceae) in New Zealand.  New Zealand Journal of Botany 42:  181 – 232.

Meudt, H.M. 2008. Taxonomic revision of Australasian snow hebes (Veronica, Plantaginaceae). Australian Systematic Botany 21: 387–421. 

Webb, C.J.;. Sykes, W.R; Garnock‑Jones, P.J.  1988. Flora of New Zealand Vol. 4 Pteridophytes, Gymnosperms, Dicotyledons. Christchurch: Botany Division, DSIR.

Alexander N. Schmidt-Lebuhn

After completing a PhD in Göttingen, Germany, and postdocs in Germany and Switzerland I started as a CSIRO research scientist at the Australian National Herbarium in Canberra in 2010. My primary study group are the Asteraceae, and from a systematics perspective in particular the native Gnaphalieae (everlasting paper daisy tribe). My research interests, however, are broad and have always been, including molecular phylogenetics, species delimitation, user-friendly identification keys, pollination, polyploidy, spatial patterns of biodiversity, and, increasingly, conservation genetics.

Currently I am building a Lucid key to the Cassinia group, am involved in a project on estimation of viable plant population sizes, and continue working towards a well-resolved phylogeny of Australian Gnaphalieae using high-throughput sequencing. I am also an ANU Academic Visitor and have contributed to undergraduate teaching. I enjoy reading, playing board games and photographing plants.

Lizzy Joyce

I’m a PhD candidate at James Cook University in Cairns with the Australian Tropical Herbarium. While completing my honours project working on the taxonomic resolution of the Tetratheca hirsuta complex at the Western Australian Herbarium I was hooked by the juicy questions that systematics can answer, the fundamental importance of taxonomy and how much there still is to be understood about the Australian flora.

I am currently in the early stages of my project which focusses on the origins of the northern Australian flora and specifically the role of exchange between Sunda and Sahul. By comparing published and unpublished dated molecular phylogenies for the region and generating new phylogenies I’m trying to get a picture of the temporal patterns in divergence events that contributed to making the northern Australian flora the way it is now. I’m also interested in trying to identify some of the main factors driving divergence in this region on a broad scale.

Aside from trying to get to the bottom of these questions, the opportunity that this project gives me to work with researchers from a number of disciplines and work with multiple groups of plants is really exciting for a plant nerd like me. What better way to spend the next few years! (OK, I might be in the honeymoon period of my project but just let me have it…)

I’m passionate about the importance of systematics and taxonomy and, as a new kid on the block, view the Decadal Plan as a necessary and encouraging step towards promoting this field and securing its future.

Katharina Schulte


I am a molecular systematist and evolutionary biologist with a research focus on tropical plant biodiversity. My research interests lie in understanding the diversification of species-rich tropical plant groups in time and space, and the underlying factors that shaped today’s diversity. I am using molecular tools such as high throughput DNA sequencing to reconstruct evolutionary relationships and historical biogeography, investigate differences in speciation and extinction rates between lineages and examine correlations with other factors, such as past climatic change, the development of putative key innovations or other significant morphological/physiological traits.

Since 2010 I am working at the Australian Tropical Herbarium where I have the pleasure of leading the orchid research program. My current research projects employ genomic approaches to reconstruct phylogenetic relationships and the spatio-temporal evolution of Australia’s major orchid lineages, in particular the highly diverse orchid tribe Diurideae (the Donkey, Spider, Leek orchids and Co.), the subtribe Pterostylidinae (the Greenhood orchid alliance), and the two epiphytic plant mega genera Dendrobium and Bulbophyllum. A greater understanding of these orchid groups is key for the establishment of a more stable and widely accepted taxonomic classification for Australasian orchids.