School of plant biology research Project ideas for Prospective 4th

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Assessing historical and contemporary evolutionary processes in foundation species for landscape restoration in the midwest of Western Australia

Expansion of mining operations across the midwest region of Western Australia will see significant investment in landscape restoration over future decades. To be successful, restoration must consider the role genetic diversity plays in providing resilience and future adaptive potential to species in altered landscapes. This project will assess historically divergent lineages and contemporary processes of gene flow that shape genetic structure in a number of foundation species for which future restoration will be required. This information will be used to design appropriate seed sourcing regimes that optimise levels of genetic diversity and genetic connectivity across the restoration landscape.

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

Dr Melissa Millar, Ph 9219 9083

Phylogeny of the small-flowered Myrtaceae

The small-flowered Myrtaceae (tribe Chamelaucieae) are an extremely species-rich group in Western Australia, including many important and spectacular genera such as Chamelaucium, Darwinia, Thryptomene and Baeckea. Many new species and some new genera are currently being described through revisionary work in progress by Barbara Rye and Malcolm Trudgen at the Western Australian Herbarium. This project will develop a phylogeny for the group using both molecular and morphological data, for the purpose of testing generic, infrageneric and subtribal classifications in the Chamelaucieae.

Further Information: Dr Kevin Thiele,
Visualising, exploring and traversing the Tree of Life

The Tree of Life is a branching tree-structure used to represent phylogenetic relationships among all the world’s organisms. The Tree is both an integrative and explanatory structure all known information about organisms can be placed at some level on the Tree of Life. New programs and initiatives in biodiversity informatics (such as the Atlas of Living Australia and the Encyclopedia of Life) seek to develop sophisticated, web-based tools for deploying information about organisms.

The Tree of Life is increasingly seen as an ideal structure for exploring, visualizing and traversing the information webs envisaged by these projects. But our current methods for representing it are primitive and underwhelming. This project seeks a unique person someone with an interest in evolutionary biology but who also is skilled in computer programming and gaming technologies to explore new ways of representing the Tree of Life and develop and test prototype streaming Tree of Life Navigators.

Further Information: Dr Kevin Thiele,
Taxonomic revision of the Philotheca spicata (Rutaceae) complex

Philotheca spicata (Pepper and Salt) is an attractive, pale pink-flowered, sub-shrub endemic to south-west Western Australia. Preliminary molecular analysis of Philotheca spicata shows that this species is genetically distant from other members of the genus and that it represents an ancient evolutionary lineage. Philotheca spicata has a widespread distribution between Eneabba and Walpole and is morphologically variable across its range, with some variation correlated to geographic location and/or habitat. A geographically restricted informal subspecies, P. spicata subsp. Moore River National Park (G. & D. Woodman Op 47), is currently recognised. A revision of the species complex using a combined morphological and molecular approach is required, to determine the taxonomic and conservation status of the phrase-named subspecies and the distinctness of the various morphotypes.

Further Information: Dr Ryonen Butcher,
RESEARCH THEME: Climate change adaptation
Adaptive variation across climate gradients

Projected climate change for south-western Australia is for hotter and drier conditions and climate adaptation strategies are suggesting gene migration ahead of changing climate as a means of ‘priming’ populations for future climates. However, we have little understanding of whether widespread species are adapted to conditions across the climatic gradient they occupy or whether they have high plasticity in being able to respond to different climates. Recent development of powerful nest generation genomic tools enables assessment of adaptive versus plastic responses in a way that has not been possible previously. This project will use new genomic methods to determine the adaptive and plastic responses of key plants, such as eucalypts and acacias, across the south-west climate gradient to provide information to guide assisted migration and restoration programs.

Further Information: Dr Margaret Byrne, Ph 9219 9078

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