School of plant biology research Project ideas for Prospective 4th



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Mating systems in Pilbara spinifexes

Desert spinifexes (Triodia spp.) are the dominant species in arid hummock grasslands across almost a quarter of Australia, and are therefore key species for restoration. Mating systems (eg. inbreeding or outcrossing strategies) are a primary driver of genetic variation within and between populations, and a critical factor in planning and monitoring restoration success in mining rehabilitation. Mating systems are especially important to consider in seed farming, now being investigated as a potentially reliable seed source for spinifex to mitigate extreme seasonal fluctuations which limit seed availability for industry. For example, if plants are strictly outcrossing, small scale seed farm or rehab plots may not produce enough outcross pollen to permit viable seed production, or produce highly inbred seed which reduces survival rates. This project will investigate mating systems in Pilbara spinifex using newly developed molecular markers, to answer some fundamental questions about arid Australia’s most important plant.

Supervisors: Dr Matt Barrett (Matt.Barrett@bgpa.wa.gov.au); Dr Siegy Krauss (Siegy. Krauss@bgpa.wa.gov.au).


  1. Genetics of Seagrass

Seagrasses belong to a large group of marine flowering plants, adapted for an entirely submerged life. They produce flowers and seeds, with pollen and seed dispersal occurring within the water column. Seagrass meadows also exhibit extensive vegetative (or clonal) reproduction. The meadows are extremely productive ecosystems and play a vital role in providing fish nurseries and stabilising seabeds and coastal shorelines.

Extensive decline in seagrass meadows has been documented around Australia, and globally, with experimental restoration efforts requiring donor plant material. Ecological, morphological, and molecular tools are being used to addresses a range of issues relating to population structure, mating systems, seed dispersal, and recruitment to contribute to the long-term success of restoration efforts. Microsatellite DNA markers are specifically being used to answer questions relating to clonal diversity, gene flow among meadows and the role ocean currents play in pollen and seed dispersal. Several options for projects are available, and can be developed around student skills and interests.

Supervisors: Dr Elizabeth Sinclair (elizabeth.sinclair@uwa.edu.au), Dr Siegy Krauss, Dr Gary Kendrick


  1. Genetic patterns in Pilbara riparian species using next-generation sequencing (NGS) approaches The Pilbara in northwestern Australia is an ancient biophysical region and an important zone of biodiversity and endemism. Our understanding of patterns of biotic diversity in the region is limited and in this project you will use next-generation sequencing (NGS) approaches to study genetic patterns in widespread Pilbara riparian tree species.

Supervisors: Dr Paul Nevill (paul.nevill@bgpa.wa.gov.au); Dr Siegy Krauss (siegy.krauss@bgpa.wa.gov.au)
All of these projects are supported by external funds.
For information on other Conservation Genetics projects please contact:

Dr. Siegy Krauss (phone: 9480 3673, email: siegy.krauss@bgpa.wa.gov.au)

RESEARCH AREA: “Seed Banking and Seed Science”


  1. Use of seed enabling technology to improve the establishment of agricultural and NRM important perennials

Australian native plants have been identified as having a large potential for pasture/cropping systems, agro- forestry and land remediation. However, the need to lower the cost of production or land rehabilitation by improving plant establishment success. Kings Park has strategically developed many germination enhancement treatments that aim to reduce the amount of seed usage and produce more vigorous plants thus assisting these industries in becoming more economically viable. A range of projects are being offered working on a wide variety of herbaceous and woody native perennial species as well as native grasses for direct seeding. Topics include general seed biology, refining seed enabling technology and use of seed coating to improve delivery and establishment success.

Supervisor: Dr. Jason Stevens, (phone 9480 3639, email: Jason.stevens@bgpa.wa.gov.au


  1. Hydrochory, strandlines and genetic structure in riparian trees

The importance of water in seed dispersal (hydrochory) and emergence timing are poorly understood in riparian species. In this study combining seed ecology and molecular approaches you will examine key questions in the dispersal ecology of co-occurring Pilbara riparian species.

Supervisors: Dr Lucy Commander (phone: 9480 3622, lucy.commander@bgpa.wa.gov.au); Dr Paul Nevill (paul.nevill@bgpa.wa.gov.au)


  1. Seedling emergence – does speed really matter?

Seed germination is the most risky event in a plant’s life as seeds need to germinate at a suitable place and time for seedling survival. Germination can be particularly risky in arid areas, as low and variable rainfall could result in insufficient moisture for seedling survival and establishment. Predictive germination is a concept which describes the cuing of seed germination using environmental factors favourable to seedling survival. Germination speed and germination with the required amount of soil moisture are two mechanisms used for predictive germination. Fast germination allows a competitive advantage, however it is associated with higher risk, as moisture may not be available for long enough to allow for seedling establishment. This study will use perennial and annual species of arid Australia to assess the use of predictive germination models for determining risk-taking and risk-averse species to provide insights into species co-existence in variable environments and community composition in restoration.

Supervisors: Dr Lucy Commander (phone: 9480 3622, lucy.commander@bgpa.wa.gov.au); Dr David Merritt david.merritt@bgpa.wa.gov.au
For information on other Seed Banking and Seed Science projects please contact:

Dr David Merritt (phone: 9480 3639; email: david.merritt @bgpa.wa.gov.au)

RESEARCH AREA: “Pollination Biology”


  1. The effects of habitat fragmentation on pollination systems on the Swan Coastal Plain

Western Australia is recognised as a biodiversity hotspot through the combination of high floristic diversity and pervasive anthropogenic threats. Critical to conservation of this flora is an understanding of reproductive strategies, particularly pollination. Yet remarkably pollination systems have been studied in very few insect pollinated plants including many of our most well known wildflowers. This project aims to resolve pollination systems in a range of species naturally occurring in floristically diverse urban remnants and the effects of habitat fragmentation and habitat modification on pollinator communities.

Supervisors: Dr Ryan Phillips (phone: 9480 3682, email ryan.phillips@bgpa.wa.gov.au Mr Myles Menz (email myles.menz@bgpa.wa.gov.au)

Prof. Kingsley Dixon (email kingsley.dixon@bgpa.wa.gov.au)


  1. Bee pollination of pea plants and the potential for competition with feral honey bees

Western Australian pea plants (Fabaceae) are characterized by high species diversity and a range of striking floral colour patterns. The majority of species are believed to be pollinated by native bees and, more recently, the feral honey bee (Apis mellifera). However, most aspects of this interaction remain largely

unstudied including the foraging specificity of native bees, the relative importance of Apis mellifera for pollination, differences in foraging behaviour between bee species and the consequences for pollen movement. This project will investigate these issues by focusing on winter flowering pea plants in the Darling Range (Hovea and Davesia).

Supervisors: Dr Ryan Phillips (phone: 9480 3682, email ryan.phillips@bgpa.wa.gov.au); Mr Myles Menz (email myles.menz@bgpa.wa.gov.au);

Prof. Kingsley Dixon (email kingsley.dixon@bgpa.wa.gov.au)

RESEARCH AREA: “Orchid Biology”



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