1. Herbarium and Services
1.1 The Flower-free Zone
The volunteer mounties have been making sterling inroads into the absolute mountain of unmounted fern accessions, many of which have been untouched for over a quarter of a century. Apart from some serious incursions from grotty root hemiparasites and some foreign lilli-pillis, they have been working tirelessly at mounting ferns for months, barely fending off the insanity that this sort of endless repetition is known to cause. In scenes reminiscent of a children’s fairy tale, the evil botanist brought in boxes of unmounted specimens in the dead of night, and the more boxes of specimens the good mounties mounted during the day, the more boxes of unmounted specimens appeared the next morning – and the mounted specimens simply disappeared. But as is the case in fairly tales, good triumphed over evil, and the mean old botanist eventually ran out of unmounted ferns with which to torment the poor mounties. There are now only four boxes of New Guinea Cyathea tree ferns left and these will be finished in a couple of weeks or so.
To celebrate this major milestone, and the general great work going on in specimen preparation, a party of some description is being organised for all the herbarium volunteers. Faye Davies is canvassing options for what, where and when from among the volunteers
Helen Hadobas and Ros Grace continue the curatorial efforts in the ferns. Having finished identifying the predominantly arid (well, about as arid as you can get in the ferns) genus Cheilanthes, they embarked on curating the wet-footed Nardoos, Marsilea. The species of Marsilea are not particularly easy to identify as there are not very many clear diagnostic characters and those that are recognised as being useful are not easy to define and distinguish. Nevertheless, they have almost finished the genus and are mentally preparing for the next one. The plan is to do Lastreopsis. This apparently random selection of genera is because in each genus there is a reasonable amount of unidentified material that needs attention, and the taxa are mostly Australian (or at least our holdings of them are mostly Australian). If we let Helen and Ros expand into places like the Asplenium or the Thelypteridaceae of New Guinea, we would never see them again; maybe you would find their wasted bodies in the compactus years later, maybe not.
Anthony Whalen has been documenting what actually is and what species actually should be in the Public Reference Herbarium in the ANBG Visitor Information Centre, based on species known to occur in the region. A quick census of the pteridopytes from the database (all specimens in the PRH are on the ANHSIR database), followed up by a stocktake of the collection, revealed a horrifying number of species that were not represented. There are about 40 species of ferns that we still need to get, some of which are quite, or relatively common. A project is being prepared to fill in these gaps in the ferns this spring/summer season, with the assistance of local fern enthusiasts, brothers Christopher and David Nicholls. Chris and David maintain an excellent web site on the ferns of the ACT which can be found at http://www.home.aone.net.au/byzantium/ferns/ In addition to the collection of herbarium specimens for the ANH and the PRH, David and Chris will be gathering living material to augment the in-ground plantings of the Australian National Botanic Gardens. The area of interest for the PRH covers the ACT down to the south coast of NSW.
1.2 Project What’itsname
Following a proposal by Murray Fagg and Jim Croft to ABRS to develop a means to provide users of plant names and the general public with succinct summaries of recent name changes relevant to the Australian Flora, Murray and Jim have begun meeting with Tony Orchard and Annette Wilson of ABRS to develop the proposal further. The intention is to employ a botanically and nomenclaturally literate person to assess contemporary botanical papers, monographs, revisions and floras and extract lists of name changes relevant in the Australian context. These will be compiled, summarised, and explained in a regular newsletter and an on-line database. There are obvious links between this activity and the on-going maintenance of the Australian Plant Name Index (APNI).
There are a lot of options as to how this may be done, both in concept and in the detail, as there is not such a thing as a typical user of plant name information. To clarify and document user requirements, a focus group or workshop of representatives of key user classes is planned for early October. In the workshop we are seeking to involve non-taxonomists who have a regular need to use reliable and up to date plant names, to get an idea of the types of information and the formats they would find most useful.
The project itself is expected to start in January 2000.
Allied to this externally supported project, discussions are taking place in the Centre on a preferred or endorsed taxonomy, hopefully a consensus, for use in the Centre and in the ANBG. Rather than being innovative and cutting edge, this working taxonomy for use in labelling plants in the gardens and generating lists of plants for various purposes will be tinged with pragmatic conservatism. It may well be that the physical arrangement of the herbarium lags behind the taxonomy of the lists and databases, because of the lack of resources required to totally rearrange the collection; the databases will be modified to accommodate this. It is envisaged that the APNI team will act as a conduit for possibly contentious taxonomic issues, feeding cases for and against (including advice from taxonomic experts) to a wider group in the Centre for consideration, and to the Herbarium and Services Committee for a final, perhaps arbitrary, decision. There should be some interesting discussions as lines of personal preference are drawn in the taxonomic sand and defended to the death.
Contrary to popular opinion, there has been a significant amount of curatorial activity in the vascular collections over the past few weeks. Such key families as Crypteroniaceae and Lythraceae have been fully curated, along with portions of other families including Dampiera (Goodeniaceae), the Australian Vitaceae, much of the Santalaceae, and selected genera within Amaranthaceae, Caesalpiniaceae, Cyperaceae, Juncaceae, Mimosaceae, Polygonaceae, Proteaceae and Rutaceae. A major advance has also been made in the Myoporaceae, courtesy of recent visitor Bob Chinnock (AD), who determined innumerable boxes of material of this family (mainly Eremophila), including a number of Living Collections vouchers.
2. Research Groups
International Botanical Congress (IBC) – Judy West
The Centre supported seven staff members to attend the IBC in St Louis Missouri, USA in August. Judy West, Tony Brown and Randy Bayer were co-organisers of symposia, Judy, Randy, Pete Thrall and Joe Miller presented papers and Rogier de Kok and Curt Brubaker presented posters. The work of Andrew Young and collaborators was also represented via posters.
Some of the details of the IBC are given in Andrew Lyne’s report that follows, and won’t be repeated here. The program and abstracts from the IBC are available on CD-ROM - a copy is in the Centre library; some of us also lugged back our hardcopy volume.
Scientifically the Congress provided a very stimulating venue with many high quality presentations and ideas, and masses of colleagues and friends to catch up with. At any one time there were 20 concurrent sessions to attend and if your interests are at all diverse the choices were difficult. From the brief verbal reports presented on Friday August 20 by those who attended the IBC, it was clear that between us all we managed to hear a wide variety of the symposia.
One of the overall impressions that I got from a range of the systematics symposia was that there has been much more coordinated and collaborative research taking place world-wide in the past few years. This is particularly obvious in the higher angiosperm groups and the legumes, the myrtales and the "green plants". Perhaps the magnitude of the datasets now emerging is encouraging labs to collaborate more in the drive to elucidate those informative phylogenies?
Of relevance to the Centre is that the theme of conservation of plant biodiversity was also very prominent, as appropriate for the venue, and especially since Peter Raven, Director of the Missouri Botanical Garden, was Chairman of the Congress.
There is no doubt that the work undertaken here at the Centre is indeed world class and it is clear when you see it stacked up against the larger labs around the world, that we are holding our own very well. It was pleasing to see the Centre have a very positive presence at the IBC.
IBC Nomenclature Section – Judy West
The Nomenclature Section of the IBC was held the week before the Congress proper at the Missouri Botanical Gardens. It was very well attended (the highest number ever – about 300 participants) probably as a result of all the preceding debate relating to the organisation of the International Association of Plant Taxonomists (IAPT).
There were also a number of relatively controversial issues to be voted upon at this Section, including registration. If you want to discuss any of the resolutions taken at the Nomenclature Section feel free to talk to Judy West or Tony Orchard , who also attended on behalf of ABRS.
Report on the XVIth International Botanical Congress – Andrew Lyne
In late 1998 I applied for a Friends of the Australian National Botanic Gardens Staff Bursary so that I might attend the XVIth International Botanical Congress (IBC) in the USA. I was very pleased to have been awarded a Bursary and to receive some financial assistance for my trip.
The XVIth IBC was held in St Louis, Missouri, USA, from Sunday the 1st to Saturday the 7th of August, 1999. IBCs are held only once every six years and as such are usually big affairs. This one was no exception with nearly5000 people attending from 85 different countries.
The scientific program was large and varied. It was divided into the following six areas -
The opening session was held on Sunday afternoon. Peter Raven, the President of the XVIth IBC, began proceedings by welcoming the assembly. There then followed a variety of special guests and other speakers as well as the presentation of Millennium Botany Awards to eight botanists for their lifetime achievements and contribution to botany. There was also a performance by the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra but, as this wasn't really my cup of tea, I left early.
Monday was the beginning of the IBC proper. Although there was an abundance of symposia to chose from, it was not as difficult as I had imagined it might be to sit in on a session without feeling that I was missing something by not being somewhere else. The choice of what to go to was usually quite straight forward.
All the symposia I attended during the week provided interesting topics and interesting speakers. Of particular interest to my work were the Myrtales and Myrtaceae symposia late in the week. However, the talk that stands out more than any other in my mind was by Paul Cox on Linnaeus entitled "Unfinished Journey: Carl Linnaeus' Travels in Lappland and the Creation of Ethnobotany". It was a wonderful presentation and showed another side to Linnaeus that I was unaware of.
A Visit to the Missouri Botanical Gardens
I also made the time to visit the Missouri Botanical Gardens. The Gardens are located on a fairly flat site and comprise a number of theme areas including a large Japanese garden, an English woodland, a Victorian garden, rose and Camellia displays and a tropical glasshouse display. There was also a prairie section, a bird garden (completely devoid of any when I visited, although Kevin Thiele did see hummingbirds there later in the week) and a display area of various fruits and vegetables and showy plants for the home garden. Unfortunately there was no real attempt to display north American plants.
The Two Field Trips
I was keen to see some of the local flora and decided that the best way to do that was to go on some of the field trips organised in association with the IBC. With that in mind I went on two such one day trips.
The first field trip, "Sandstone Ravines and Pine/Oak Forests of Ste.Genevieve County, Missouri, USA" was held on Saturday, 31 July. This trip went to the Missouri Department of Conservation's 256 acre Pickle Springs Natural Area where a variety of different plant communities ranging from dry glades, cliffs, and woodlands to densely shaded overhangs and mesic forests was seen. The forest was dominated by Pinus echinata and various Quercus species. Other species seen included Cornus florida, Hydrangea arborescens and Goodyera pubescens. Not too many plants were flowering at the time of the trip although it was particularly green. It was unusual to see pine trees that did not grow in rows and oak trees that were not lining streets!
The second field trip, "Prairies and Glades of Missouri, USA" was held on Sunday, 8 August. This trip took me firstly to Graham Cave State Park. The Park contains a variety of plant communities that have been subject to some intensive habitat restoration activities - primarily the use of fire to thin out the woody plants. The glades were treeless openings in the forest and were particularly interesting - especially to see plants like Rudbeckia missouriensis and Echinacea purpurea.
The second part of the trip was a visit to the University of Missouri's Tucker Prairie, one of the easternmost examples of an intact prairie in Missouri. This was the highlight of the day. This prairie was quite different to what I had imagined a prairie would be like. I had imagined a primarily grass dominated ecosystem so was pleasantly surprised to see a wide range of herbs present as well. Many of these herbs were flowering and included taxa such as Helianthus mollis, Eringyium yuccifolium, and Chamaecrista fasciculata. There was more in the prairie to see than time allowed unfortunately.
All in my trip to the XVI IBC was a rewarding one. It was a chance to hear many interesting speakers, catch up with a few people and experience a little of a different flora. I think I did "Have a nice day".
3. Information Technology and Data Management
3.1 WWW Site
The URL for the Centre can be found at: http://www.anbg.gov.au/cpbr
Please check regularly for new items of interest re Centre staff and activities.
3.2 HISCOM - 99
HISCOM is the Herbarium Information Subcommittee of the Council of Heads of Australian Herbaria (CHAH) which meets annually to consider information technology issues besetting Australian herbaria. HISCOM 99 was hosted by Brisbane Herbarium in August. The Australian National Herbarium was represented by Jim Croft and Greg Whitbread who were glad to spend a few days in the warm sunshine away from the Canberra winter. ABRS was represented at the meeting by Annette Wilson. There were representatives from each state herbarium except Northern Territory and Tasmania, and observers from New Zealand and the University Herbaria.
Much of the meeting was consumed with matters arising from past meetings and the further development of the HISCOM strategic plan and major projects associated with the plan. A lot of technical issues were covered, many connected with the standards involved with the need of herbaria to exchange specimen label data with specimens sent on loan and exchange, as well as for research and collections management.
The Australian Plant Name Index was once again a major item on the agenda with much discussion on mechanisms to allow remote updates and shared maintenance of the data. Each State with a plant census will be providing electronic copies of these to ensure that APNI has accounted for all the names and so a combined census can be prepared for HISCOM.
The flagship project of HISCOM is the Virtual Australian Herbarium, a project to provide access to the combined data from Australian herbaria, seamlessly with a single query. There were demonstrations of a number of products that contribute to the VAH as examples of the ways things might be done including: an Electronic Flora of South Australia prototype; Plantnet from the National Herbarium of New South Wales; a prototype of a Virtual Australian Herbarium map reporting tool; the type photograph database; Florabase from the Western Australian Herbarium; laptop-based field note book databases. These demonstrations showed that the technology worked and was within the grasp of Australian herbaria.
In order to make the Virtual Australian Herbarium work, the Australian Herbaria have to agree to share and exchange data, at least among themselves. A discussion paper is being prepared for CHAH, outlining the types of data botanists and curators would want to exchange, manipulate and display, the levels of detail, data that could or should be excluded at various levels, custodianship and intellectual property, and of course, the ugly issue of charging for data between herbaria.
A highly productive and successful meeting. For more details and information about the sites and demonstrations mentioned above, contact Greg Whitbread or Jim Croft.
3.3 Herbarium Database News
Due to a tremendous effort and lots of hard work and cursing, Greg Whitbread has finally provided us with the final label print facility!! Thanks for that.
Due to popular demand Julie Paul and Pennie Hohnen ran some training sessions for those who need to use the database, as there as some "concepts" about how the data screens are structured which need to be understood to effectively use the system. A few of the "what ifs" and "what do we do when" kind of questions were resolved, and this information was useful for all concerned. Any requests for further sessions or repeats of sessions can be made to either Pennie or Julie.
Currently only Julie’s and Pennie’s computers will print drafts and final labels. Final labels will all be printed on the QMS printer in "the dungeon" (or the computer room!) as consistency of font size and spacing may be a problem with other printers. So if you need final labels, leave a note, some draft labels or a mail message with either Julie or Pennie (Pennie is away on leave all of September, but her computer can be used if you would like to print labels yourself).
4. Education and Communication
4.1 Biodiversity Big Picture Seminar Series
The first of the Biodiversity Big Picture discussion series of seminars was held last Wednesday September 1. These seminars are hosted by the Centre as part of celebrations for National Biodiversity Month drawing attention to the major issues facing Australia in relation to conservation and management of our biodiversity.
The First seminar, by Denis Saunders from CSIRO Wildlife & Ecology on "Biodiversity: state of the Australian Environment", was very well attended with the Discovery theatre filled to capacity. The main presentation was followed by comments from four panel members with diverse expertise in the field, and discussion and participation from the audience.
The topic and the discussion stimulated various conversations and debates which continued over drinks after the more formal seminar session.
There are three more seminars in the series over the next month (all at 4pm) in Discovery Theatre:
Sept. 8: Valuing Biodiversity
Steve Cork (CSIRO Wildlife & Ecology)
Sept. 15: Biodiversity and the agricultural landscape
John Williams (CSIRO Land & Water)
Robert Lambeck (CSIRO Wildlife & Ecology)
Sept. 22: Biodiversity: Journey into the unknown
Judy West (CPBR, CSIRO Plant Industry)
Chris Margules (CSIRO Wildlife & Ecology)
Everyone is welcome – please come along.
5. General Centre Matters
5.1 Centre Board meeting
The Board met in the Centre Thursday August 26th. This was the first meeting since the appointment of our two new EA members. We had full attendance for the whole meeting with Derek Anderson in the Chair, and Stephen Hunter and John Hicks from EA and Jim Peacock and John Donnelly from CSIRO PI.
The agenda included several fairly meaty items which stimulated constructive discussion and in every case members were searching for positive directions forward for the Centre. I gave a verbal report of the main outcomes from the Board meeting at last week’s Wednesday staff meeting, and we are finalising now an email message to be distributed to all staff outlining the main points from the meeting.
The major outcome for all of us is the positive attitude for the development of the new Centre Agreement over the next few months. The Board indicated its long-term commitment to the Centre through the decision to develop a 10-year Agreement, the members acknowledged the need for building extensions to accommodate collections, staff and labs and they showed concern for continued resourcing of Centre activities.
The overall feeling from the meeting was very supportive for our activities and directions. I felt that the Board members showed deep commitment and belief in the Centre, and at the same time a willingness to address some of our difficult issues.
5.2 2000 Student Botanical Internship Program
Preparations for the 8th SBIP in 2000 have begun, with a new version of the recruitment brochure currently in the hands of PI's illustrations team. The coming months will see the SBIP co-ordinator becoming more erratic and hassled as preparations for the 2000 Program progress. Watch this space and the general email for further developments.
6. Other News
6.1 Photo CDs for
The Photograph Collection is again cooperating in the production of Photo CDs to be used by the Centre in the production of interactive keys. Slides and negatives are being sent from Atherton to the ANBG. Here they are sorted and organised into a suitable order to be sent to Bica Prolab where they are scanned and the images transferred to photo CD. These images will be used for the next edition of the Rain Forest key.
If this cooperative arrangement proves suitable it will be continued with images for the next version of EUCLID.
6.2 Free posters on Grasses
ABRS has just published 4 attractive posters illustrating some of the diversity of grasses in Australia.
The themes of the posters are: Grasses...take a closer look; grasses of coasts and wetlands; grasses of southern Australia; and grasses of northern Australia
The posters were produced by the Australian Biological Resources Study with the assistance of Bushcare - a program of the Federal Government's Natural Heritage Trust, as a supplement to the grass volumes of the Flora of Australia series and as a showcase of the art which will be the frontispieces of the books.
ABRS is currently editing the Flora of Australia grass volumes, some of which will be published in 2000. Bushcare has also funded the ABRS to produce an interactive key to Australian grasses, which is expected to be available in 2000.
If you would like copies of the posters, they are available free from Environment Australia. Please contact:
Community Information Unit
GPO Box 787
Canberra ACT 2601
|Date||Event/Activity||Who||Details (relate to projects)|
|Mar - Aug||Visiting Scientist||Ross Bradstock||Working with Malcolm Gill|
|10 Aug – 10 Oct||Visiting Scientist||Dr Tamas Pocs||Bryological visitor from Hungary to work with Heinar Streimann on liverworts.|
|29 Aug - 13 Sep||Overseas visit to Sweden||Jeremy Burdon||Jeremy will visit Sweden to continue collaboration with Prof Lars Ericson on host-pathogen coevolution.|
|Aug 1999 –
|Visiting Scientist||Dr Anita Davelos||Dr Davelos will work in our labs for two years with Jeremy Burdon on the interaction of host and pathogen mating systems in Melampsora-Linum. Dr Davlos has been awarded an NSF Post-doctoral Scholarship.|
c. 2 weeks
|Visiting Scientist||Dr John Morgan||Dr Morgan, La Trobe University, will visit the ANH to collaborate with Andrew Young on a population genetics pilot study of the endangered daisy Leucochrysum albicans.|
|1, 8, 15, 22 Sep||Biodiversity Seminars
|Various CSIRO and Centre people.||A series of four seminars re Conservation of Biodiversity in Australia|
|7-8 Sept||BDAC, Sydney||Judy West||Biological Diversity Advisory Committee to Minister Hill|
|17 Sept||CSIRO Biodiversity Sector Advisory Committee, Canberra||Judy West, Jeremy Burdon||Meeting to consider Sector plan for next triennium.|
|29 Sep – 4 Oct||Visiting Scientist||Dr Ilse Breitwieser||Dr Breitwieser, Landcare, New Zealand, will visit the ANH to discuss management issues with Judy West and seek advice re herbarium curatorial matters as well as to further Asteraceae collaborative projects with Randy Bayer and discussions with Andrew Young.|
|31 Sep – 1 Oct||Legume Workshop - CPBR||Judy West, Rogier de Kok, Joe Miller, Randy Bayer||Legume Workshop to coordinate research and develop character list for interactive key project.|
|5-6 Oct||CHAH meeting, Melbourne||Judy West||Annual meeting.|
|Sep 1999 –
|Visiting Scientist||Professor Don Les||Professor Don Les, University of Connecticut, will spend approx. 5 months sabbatical leave working with Randy Bayer on Gnaphalieae (Asteraceae) and seagrasses. Professor Les has recently won a Fullbright Senior Fellowship.|
|11 Oct – 7 Nov||Visiting Scientist||Dr Peter Heenan||Dr Heenan, Landcare, New Zealand, will visit the Centre for training in the various aspects of Herbarium curation and management.|
|Nov 1999 -
end of Feb 2000
|Visiting Scientist||Brian Murray||Brian will work with Andrew Young on analysis of genetic structure in Metrosideros excelsa (a New Zealand tree species subject to habitat fragmentation) and the cytological analysis of Rutidosis populations.|