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Program SC - Conservation Biology and Utilisation of the Australian Flora

Program Leader: Pete Thrall

Research activities within this program are centred around several broadly overlapping areas of investigation concerned with the evolution and conservation of native plant communities, as well as the development of improved methods of identifying, conserving and utilising the genetic resources of wild crop relatives.

Within the conservation biology group, we are investigating the demographic and genetic processes associated with habitat fragmentation. We are integrating empirical and computer simulation studies to explore how the viability of plant species with different breeding systems depends on population size and isolation. The invasion of environmental weeds into fragmented ecosystems further stresses native plant communities. Before we can develop strategies for controlling invasive weeds, we must first understand what aspects of their biology makes them so aggressive in novel habitats.

Interactions between plants and microbes are a too often ignored component of natural ecosystems. We are investigating the ecology and evolution of parasitic and symbiotic relationships, and their role in generating and maintaining diversity within the Australian flora. Work on interactions occurring between native legumes and their rhizobial symbionts will enhance the effectiveness of revegetation programs, and also lead to greater understanding of how plant and soil communities interact to determine diversity and community dynamics.

The use of wild plants as genetic resources for improving their related crops and breeding resistant cultivars is limited by methods to exploit these resources. We are developing molecular genetic methods to improve Australian crop species, either directly (barley) or as genetic models for agronomically useful traits (cotton and soybean). We are also characterising geographical patterns of diversity within native Australian crop relatives. Ultimately, this work will lead to improved techniques for tapping the genetic resources of the wild species, and better assessment of the risk of transgene escape into native populations.


Profiles of all the scientifc staff involved within Program B.