A new approach to measuring biodiversity has uncovered some biologically important but currently unprotected areas in Western Australia, while confirming the significance of the world heritage listed Wet Tropics rainforests in the country's north-east.
In a paper published yesterday (Friday 18 July) in Nature Communications, scientists from CSIRO, University of California, University of Canberra, the Australian Tropical Herbarium at James Cook University and University of New South Wales applied the new method to Australia's iconic Acacia.
The genus Acacia includes Australia's floral emblem the golden wattle, Acacia pycnantha.
"In this study we've taken our newfound knowledge of the genetics of Acacia and its extended family tree and combined it with Australia's comprehensive botanical and environmental databases," explained co-author Dr Andrew Thornhill.
"It's 21st Century botany, using genetics to tell us about Acacia's evolutionary history its family pedigree."
Lead author Professor Brent Mishler from the University of California, Berkeley, said the approach taken phylogenetic analysis gave a much more complex and complete picture of diversity.
"It takes into account not just the number of plant species in an area, but also their rarity in the landscape and the rarity of their close relatives. We're looking at whole branches of the tree of life, rather than just a species out at the end of a branch," he said.
Professor Darren Crayn, Director of the Australian Tropical Herbarium at James Cook University in Cairns, said the research would not have been possible without the decades of groundwork involved in digitising the specimen information held by Australia's herbaria.
"The results of that world-leading collaboration are now shared through public resources like the Atlas of Living Australia and the Australia's Virtual Herbari
|Contact: Linden Woodward|
James Cook University