School of plant biology research Project ideas for Prospective 4th

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Genetic and ecological consequences of rarity in the critically endangered ghost wattle Acacia sciophanes

Acacia sciophanes is an extremely rare species covering a geographic range of less than 7 km. It is currently listed as threatened and ranked as Critically Endangered occurring in a heavily fragmented landscape where much of the native vegetation has been cleared for agricultural production. It develops into a diffuse, openly branched, wispy shrub up to 2.3 m tall and is closely related to a more common species Acacia anfractuosa that occurs over a range of some 200km. Previous studies indicate that it is characterised by reduced genetic diversity and increased inbreeding in its two populations but there is no clear evidence for inbreeding depression and reduced reproductive output influencing the viability of these populations. The aim of this project will be to expand previous mating system, genetic diversity and ecological studies to determine which key factors if any will limit the viability and long term survival of this species. This project will involve the use of molecular genetic and field base ecological and demographic techniques

Further Information: Dr David Coates, Ph 9219 9048 Dr Colin Yates, Ph 9219 9079
Pollen dispersal and gene flow among fragmented populations of Eremaea pauciflora in the wheatbelt

Gene flow is a fundamental element of evolutionary processes maintaining cohesion of species. Pollen dispersal is a major component of gene flow in shrubs in south-west WA and recent studies have shown that pollen dispersal can be very extensive even in fragmented landscapes. This project will investigate the patterns of pollen dispersal in the Myrtaceous shrub Eremaea pauciflora in the Dongolocking region and complements previous ecological work on reproductive biology on the species in this area. Highly polymorphic microsatellite markers have been developed for the species to facilitate paternity assignment of seed crops. Knowledge of pollen dispersal is important for management of remnant populations and rehabilitation programs.

Further Information: Dr Margaret Byrne, Ph 9219 9078 Dr David Coates, Ph 9219 9048

Dr Colin Yates, Ph 9219 9079

Species patterns in orchids in a fragmented landscape

Orchids are very species-rich in Western Australia, and many are restricted and threatened. Orchid taxonomy in fragmented landscapes is made more difficult by the fragmentation many pieces of the puzzle are lacking. In particular, some populations that appear to constitute distinct species may not have appeared distinct before clearing, when the full range of variation would have been evident. Anecdotal evidence suggests that changes in the ecology of remnants (e.g. through changed fire regimes and local extinction of fossorial mammals) may be promoting clonality in orchid populations, further adding to the apparent distinctness of some taxa. This project will assess detailed population-level patterns in a number of orchid taxa in the fragmented wheatbelt, to assess species boundaries and taxonomic distinctiveness.

Further Information: Dr Kevin Thiele,
RESEARCH THEME: Molecular taxonomy and phylogeny
Phylogenetic and phylogeographic studies on highly endemic plants on the Banded Ironstone Formation ranges

The Banded Ironstone Formation (BIF) ranges of Western Australia have a unique flora and fauna, with high species endemism on many ranges, particularly those on the boundary of the transitional rainfall zone. An understanding of the evolutionary history of species on these ranges will provide important information for assessing conservation value and making informed decisions on sustainable development. This project will build on current studies suggesting plants on BIF ranges have high genetic diversity but significant differentiation between ranges due to historical isolation. This project will address these issues with two approaches: (i) assess phylogeographic structure and population genetic diversity to identify historical and contemporary processes driving persistence within plant species; (ii) develop molecular phylogenies for targeted genera that have endemic species on the BIF ranges and search for congruent patterns of radiations or independent origin to elucidate any common history for the ranges.

Further Information Dr Margaret Byrne, Ph 9219 9078 Dr David Coates, Ph 9219 9048

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