"It puts us at the forefront, globally, in identifying important areas of biodiversity by combining cutting-edge genetic analysis with the information contained in scientific collections compiled over centuries."
The study involved complex analysis of mountains of data.
"We introduced randomisation to test the accuracy of our calculations, and that made this a massive statistical exercise," Dr Thornhill said. "We used CSIRO's supercomputer to do calculations on the genetics and distribution of around 120,000 recorded plants."
The researchers created a new model to pinpoint areas that are the cradles of new species (neo-endemics) and those where the remaining members of ancient lineages (paleo-endemics) have taken refuge.
The model is called CANAPE, or Categorical Analysis of Neo- and Paleo-Endemism.
"With CANAPE we're looking beyond whether or not a species is rare," Dr Thornhill said.
"We're using the plant's DNA to investigate its evolutionary tree and establish whether it's restricted to a particular area because it's a relatively new species that developed there, or whether this is a previously wide-spread plant that has retreated to the area as its suitable habitat has shrunk.
"That's valuable information for conservation, particularly in light of the pressures of climate change and development."
The study confirms Queensland's Wet Tropics in north-eastern Australia as having high values for paleo-endemism, providing refuge for plants that were probably once more widely distributed across the continent.
"Using CANAPE we've also identified places of Acacia 'super-endemism', where the old and new co-exist places that are both cradles for new species and refuges for older plants," Dr Thornhill said.
"Some of these extremely significant sites in the north-west of Western Australia are currently unprotected.
"We hope thi
|Contact: Linden Woodward|
James Cook University