School of plant biology research Project ideas for Prospective 4th

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Microhabitat requirements for the germination and survival of the endangered spider orchid

Caladenia huegelii

Caladenia huegelii, the Grand Spider Orchid, is a rare and endangered species restricted to the Swan Coastal Plain. While C. huegelii was probably once common in its restricted range, it is now highly threatened by clearing for agriculture and ongoing urbanization. A multidisciplinary research program has shown that C. huegelii not only has very low reproductive success but relies on a single species of mycorrhizal fungus for germination and annual growth. Fortunately, propagation techniques are well developed, creating the opportunity for reintroductions into the wild. This project will primarily involve a microhabitat study of both the location of adult plants and sites where germination occurs with the aim of better managing the species and optimizing the reintroduction process. Further, we will aim to establish if orchids have more specific habitat requirements during germination than as adult plants. The project will also involve comparison with common co-occuring Caladenia which utilize different species of mycorrhizal fungi. This will enable investigation of the interaction of fungal species and microhabitat in the formation of symbiosis.

Supervisors: Dr Belinda Newman, (phone: 9480 3682, email Dr Ryan Phillips (email;

Mr Myles Menz (email;

Prof. Kingsley Dixon (email

  1. Impacts of population size and co-flowering species on reproductive success in the pea plant mimic

Diuris brumalis

The Orchidaceae is remarkable for having a high diversity of deceptive pollination strategies. In many cases the orchid produces a showy display indicative of a nectar producing plant yet no such reward is provided to the pollinator. Donkey orchids (Diuris) have long been thought to mimic pea plants (Fabaceae), thereby luring pollinators to their nectarless flowers. However, this theory has recently been questioned on the basis that Diuris do not necessarily co-occur with the pea plants they are believed to mimic. This study aims to confirm the sharing of pollinators between Diuris and pea plants and then test if the presence of pea plants has a positive benefit on reproductive success of Diuris. The relationship of reproductive success and population size will also be investigated to test if deceptive pollination strategies are more successful for small populations.

Supervisors: Dr Ryan Phillips (phone: 9480 3682, email Mr Myles Menz (email

Dr Belinda Newman, (email Prof. Kingsley Dixon (email

  1. Ecological drivers of niche occupancy and symbiosis formation in the rare and threatened orchid,

Caladenia lodgeana

Caladenia lodgeana is a rare spider orchid restricted to the Collie Basin in the south-west of Western Australia. A large-scale, regional mycorrhizal baiting study revealed that formation of a symbiosis between the orchid and fungi was occurring primarily within established orchid populations and rarely outside of them. This raises the question as to why sites outside of the orchids current range don’t appear to support formation of a mycorrhizal symbiosis? Are the fungi of co-occurring spider orchids able to outcompete the

C. lodgeana compatible fungi? This study would focus on baiting for the mycorrhizal fungi of C. lodgeana and other co-occurring spider orchids within and outside the range of C. lodgeana populations. Comparative studies of germination and habitat variables will help determine the ecological drivers of niche occupancy and symbiosis formation. The results of this study will aid in future reintroduction efforts and will also form

part of an integrated research program focused on the conservation of the rare and threatened spider orchid,

C. lodgeana.

Supervisors: Dr Belinda Newman, (phone: 9480 3682, email Dr Ryan Phillips (email

Mr Myles Menz (email

Prof. Kingsley Dixon (email

PGB is a Research Centre at in the School of Plant Biology and has collaborative links with the Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia, CSIRO, Murdoch University and also international organizations. We aim to link the theory and practice of genetic improvement of a range of crop and model plant species with research and education in plant breeding, thereby providing an opportunity for translational research from model plants to crops. We contribute to national and international efforts to enhance world food and feed security by addressing problems and priorities through strategic scientific research and development, linked to an applied base. PGB’s research focus includes cereals, legumes (grain and pasture) and oilseeds in the following areas:

  • Germplasm development (wide-crosses to introgress desirable traits, pre-emptive breeding and screening for physiological traits, exotic pests and diseases, germplasm collection and characterisation using agronomic, morphological and molecular data, development of core collections and agro-ecological evaluation of crop germplasm).

  • Breeding technologies such as development of double haploids and rapid generation protocols New crop development.

  • Improved adaptation to abiotic (climatic and edaphic) stress.

  • Developing new pasture species for a wide range of soil types and environments.

  • Nitrogen fixation, global warming potential and sustainability of production systems with legumes.

International Linkages

The Centre has built a network of international linkages with standing agreements for research cooperation and exchange of germplasm with several countries and specific project-based linkages with many others (including international agricultural research centres).

What can PGB offer to Undergraduate and Post-graduate training in legume science?

  • Collaborative partners and associates with diverse skills in basic and applied aspects of crop research and development.

  • Crop related projects in partnership with the industry.

  • Scientists with wide experience and strong linkages with international agricultural centres and national agricultural system (Indian sub-continent, West Asia and North Africa, Central Asian Republic, South America and China).

A selection of the many project ideas developed by PGB scientists and associates and available for students to consider as honours or fourth-year projects is presented on the following pages.

For further information contact individual researchers directly or: Centre for Plant Genetics and Breeding (PGB),

Faculty of Natural & Agricultural Sciences, The University of Western Australia (M080), 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley WA 6009

Phone: 61 8 6488 2505 Fax: 61 8 6488 1140




Room 1.149 CRC Wing; Ph 6488 1903; Email:

My interests are in the variation, genetics and breeding of food, forage and pasture legumes. In a changing climate and with fertilizer costs spiralling, legumes will increasingly return into grain production systems to underpin long-term sustainability through nitrogen fixation in association with rhizobium reducing the need for synthetic fertilizer produced from fossil fuel, and through their action as a disease and weed break for cereals. I am happy to supervise students in aspects of legume improvement, often co-supervised with others, in aspects of the reliability of production. These include, for example, legume variability in response to major biotic and abiotic stresses, seed quality and nitrogen fixation efficiency and all aspects of broadening the genetic base of legume improvement.
Characterise large and small seeded legumes for breeding for water logging tolerance.

(with Dr Imran Malik)


Waterlogging is wide spread problem in the world. Waterlogging of soil results from combination of factors such as excess rainfall, poor soil drainage and water storage capacity of the soil. Irrigation may also cause waterlogging depending on the soil type. Duration and intensity of waterlogging is creasing with the effect of climate change. The average area adversely affected by waterlogging per year is 1.8 million ha in Western Australia.

A series of physical, chemical and biological changes take place soon after the onset of waterlogging event. All these changes take place due to the disappearance of molecular O2 from the soil.

Grain legume species differed in their response to waterlogging. Field experiments demonstrated variation among the large and small seeded Field pea (Pisum sativum) in their waterlogging tolerance at germination. Grass pea (Lathyrus sativus) is reputed for waterlogging tolerance among the legumes; by contrast, Lentil (Lens culinaris) is susceptible to waterlogging. Considering all these evidences it is important for breeding purpose to evaluate responses of large and small seeded legumes to waterlogging and subsequent recovery.

Project aim:

Evaluate tolerance of large and small seeded legumes to waterlogging at germination and response at recovery.

Materials and Methods:

The experiment will be carried out at UWA in Glass house and/or in phytotron. Ten grain legumes of different seed size will be grown in waterlogged (reduced) soil for 10 d and then pots will be drained to allow recovery for 10 d. At the same time 10 legumes will be grown in drained soil to compare responses. Two harvests will be made as follows: i start of the recovery (10 d after sowing) and ii. end of the experiment (20 d after sowing).

The project will focus on measuring impacts of soil waterlogging on roots and shoots of the legume seedlings. Measuring O2 movement from shoot to root can also be possible within the project.

The project will give opportunity the student to learn new techniques and to understand the importance of physiological traits relevant to overcome abiotic stress for breeding purpose.

Association mapping of key phenotypic traits (to be discussed ... could be resistance to clover scorch disease or Red-legged Earth Mite, Hard-seededness, or other morphological traits etc) to molecular markers using the HAPMAP developed for the subterranean clover CORE collection.

(With Dr Parwinder Kaur)

Association genetics is a powerful tool for genetic analysis relating SNP markers to phenotypic data and also data on climate of collection locations.

MSc/PhD Project to possibly include:

    • Phenotyping the CORE collection of 97 lines

    • Correlation analyses among phenotypic traits and with climatic data of collection location

    • Association mapping: Correlation between traits and markers

    • Development of PCR markers for phenotypic traits for industry use and Marker Assisted Breeding programs

Contacts: Professor William Erskine ( and Dr Parwinder Kaur (


Room 1.141 PBG; Ph: 6488 7951/ 0422702382 Email:
Biotech & BioFuels
Research topics currently available for Honours/4th year projects in 2015:
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