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4. Studying Australian Plants

4.1 Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research

Aim: In partnership with CSIRO, contribute to the successful management of the Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research to enable it to conduct botanical and related research as a basis for the understanding, conservation, use and sustainable management of Australian plants.


The CPBR was formed in November 1993 as a joint venture between the Director of National Parks and CSIRO. The initial agreement to operate the Centre was reviewed in 1999 and extended until April 2010. The purpose of the CPBR is to provide a single institution and national focus for Commonwealth study of botanical diversity. Major aspects of the agreement between the Gardens and the CPBR are at Appendix 7.

The CPBR is composed of the Botany Section of the Gardens, the Australian Flora Resources and Management Program of CSIRO Plant Industry, and a portion of staff time from the Australian Biological Resources Study (Environment Australia). Importantly for the Gardens, the CPBR manages the Australian National Herbarium (ANH), the combined herbaria of the Gardens and the CSIRO.

Close links are maintained between the ANH and the Gardens so that the scientific value of the living and photograph collections and information about them continues to be enhanced and identification of the living specimens provided. Reciprocally, the Gardens living and photograph collections are used to enhance CPBR studies and the dissemination of scientific information.

The Gardens and CPBR work closely on all aspects of data management and in determining priorities for collections development activities and fieldwork. The CPBR manages a regional Public Reference Herbarium (covering the area south of Wollongong to the Victorian border and west to around Wagga - including naturalised exotic species and environmental weeds) and the Plant Enquiry Service for the general public and acts as an adviser on scientific matters.

The CPBR is governed by a Board comprising representatives from Environment Australia and CSIRO Plant Industry, with an independent external chair. Day-to-day management and running of the CPBR is through an Executive Committee of both Gardens and CSIRO staff, including the CPBR Director, the leaders of CPBR programs, a representative from the Australian Biological Resources Study and the ANBG Living Collections.

CPBR activities are financed by annual recurrent contributions from the parent organisations and the CPBR actively seeks external funding for research and other projects. Staff from the Gardens’ Botany Section are seconded to the CPBR and remain subject to the terms and conditions of employment of Environment Australia.

In this Plan, emphasis has been placed on those research activities within CPBR which have the greatest input from staff of the Gardens.


Management Actions

4.2 Development, Management and Curation of the Herbarium Collection

Aim: Within the CPBR, to maintain a herbarium to the highest curatorial standards and to further develop a taxonomically and geographically representative scientific collection of preserved samples of Australian and related floras.


The Australian National Herbarium is a national sample of Australia’s plant biodiversity, housing around 1.3 million specimens.

It provides an extensive source of scientific data for plant systematics research and documentation, analyses of changes in distribution patterns due to climate and land use practices, and also functions as a reference base for the Flora of Australia project.

The herbarium houses vouchers for the Gardens, holds historical collections of heritage value and provides information and identification services. Specialist collections of international importance include:

The collections of the herbarium combine those of the CSIRO and ANBG. Physical amalgamation of these commenced in 1995 and is substantially complete, although full curation of the collections may take another eight to ten years to finalise. Material is incorporated with high levels of accuracy in identification, nomenclature and data validation. Plant groups under active research and groups of strategic importance to herbarium clients are given the highest priority in herbarium curation.

The combined collection (see Table 1) is housed at three geographically separate sites. The cryptogams (mosses, lichens, liverworts, hornworts, fungi, algae and ferns) and gymnosperms are located on the Gardens site and the angiosperms (flowering plants) are located on the Canberra (Black Mountain) CSIRO site. The Atherton site in north Queensland houses mainly rainforest species, with few specimens originating from the Gardens.


Australian National Herbarium Collection (Canberra) October 1999


Total no.

Total no.


Total no of Type Specimens.


880 733

316 265


4 952


106 546

71 424


1 070


6 444

1 766




21 194

6 069




85 467

48 816




26 250

12 558




124 293

34 464




7 411

3 372




6 914





1 265 252

495 018


6 969

Note: A type specimen is the original specimen to which a scientific name is applied at the time of publication. It is the permanent archival standard for a scientific name.

The materials used in the preparation of specimens at the CPBR are of archival quality: they are designed to last for many centuries without physical or chemical breakdown. The buildings are secure, protected against fire, and have controlled environments. Specimens brought into the buildings are subject to quarantine and decontamination procedures. Pest management procedures such as fumigation and insect and fungal attack monitoring are conducted as required.

The Integrated Botanical Information System database links all the accession components and makes this information available for research and management purposes (refer also to Section 4.6). This data contributes to the national knowledge base through the Australian Virtual Herbarium, a collaborative on-line data resource for research and environmental decision making.


Management Actions

4.3 Biogeographic and Evolutionary Research

Aim: To contribute, through the CPBR, to a greater understanding of Australian plants and their biogeographic and evolutionary origins.


One of the major objectives of the CPBR is to contribute to understanding of the relationships and origins of continental and offshore Australian plants. This is reflected in the composition of the collections and in the research priorities. In addition to a focus on Australian taxa, the Australian National Herbarium aims to achieve a good representation of plants from surrounding countries and from continents that were previously part of the larger Gondwana land mass. Specimens from more distant countries are also included in the collections if they are closely related to the Australian taxa. The Herbarium also includes specimens from a wide range of exotic species growing in Australia.

The needs of botanical research programs and the regional themes of the Gardens’ living collections have directed priorities for field collecting of vascular plants to a large extent. Additional collecting trips for vascular plants have been undertaken specifically to complete gaps in the Herbarium collection. Collection of non-vascular plants has been more wide ranging because these plants do not feature prominently in the living collections.


Management Actions

4.4 Plant Systematics Research

Aim: To contribute, through the CPBR, to a greater understanding and knowledge about the systematics, evolution, taxonomy, distribution and conservation biology of major groups of Australian native plants and their relatives.


The main input by the Gardens to research at the CPBR is through the expansion of knowledge on plant systematics. Advances in technology have made new areas, such as molecular biology, increasingly important in plant systematics. To take advantage of these tools, staff undertake collaborative projects with other institutions.

Major systematic projects carried out by staff in the CPBR involve systematic and phylogenetic studies in Orchidaceae, Myrtaceae, (particularly Eucalyptus, Melaleuca, Syzygium and Leptospermum), Caryophyllales (Amaranthaceae, Caryophyllaceae, Portulacaceae), Asteraceae, Fabaceae, Malvaceae, Lauraceae, Araliaceae, Proteaceae (especially Grevillea), Zamiaceae, Pteridophytes, Bryophytes, and lichens.

Wherever possible, the taxonomic research effort of the CPBR is compatible with the long-term requirements of the Australian Biological Resources Study’s Flora of Australia project, a multi-volume series documenting all Australian plants.

The CPBR is also involved in the development of interactive computer-based identification tools such as EUCLID and Australian Tropical Rain Forest Plants.


Management Actions

4.5 Visiting Scientists, Volunteers and Intern Programs

Aim: To contribute to a greater understanding of Australian plants by encouraging the study of, and contribution to, the botanical collections by bona fide individuals.


Visiting Scientists and Scientific Associates

The Gardens and the CPBR encourage use of the collections and facilities by staff from other organisations and by bona fide individuals who are studying Australia’s plants. The quality of the collections is enhanced through study and annotation by active and qualified researchers.

Researchers who are staff from other organisations, and who are formally acknowledged by the Gardens and CPBR as Visiting Scientists, are accorded specific access privileges.

The Gardens and CPBR also maintain a Scientific Associate program. These people may be either enthusiastic amateurs or professional botanists who spend much of their time in the field searching for particular taxa of interest. They also include retired staff or other professionals who spend time at the Gardens or CPBR working on various projects.

Herbarium Volunteer Program

Herbarium Volunteers play an important part in the working life of the Australian National Herbarium, allowing trained staff more time for curatorial activities. Volunteers are selected from members of the public eager to assist with the preparation of the collections and they are provided with training in specimen mounting techniques. Herbarium staff provide supervision, guidance and training. Volunteers work at both the Gardens and CSIRO sites. Volunteers mount about 10 000 specimens each year.

Student Botanical Intern program

The collections of the Australian National Herbarium and the large body of professional and technical expertise held by the staff of the Gardens and CPBR provide a useful training environment for tertiary students of botany. With this in mind, the CPBR offers a Student Botanical Internship Program with its major focus on the Australian National Herbarium. The Program provides some formal instruction and an intensive period of work experience in a herbarium and research environment. The Program operates during January and February of each year and has the support of the universities, many of which recognise the program for credit points for their students.

Canberra Institute of Technology students and work-experience students are offered field placements in the Gardens’ living collection and the nursery. The Gardens also offers horticulture apprentices work experience.

Research Permits

Research in Commonwealth Reserves (including the ANBG) that involves actions affecting native species and or is carried on for commercial purposes is prohibited by EPBC Act unless carried on in accordance with a management plan (s.354(1)(a) and (f)). Scientific research generally in Commonwealth Reserves is prohibited by the EPBC Regulations (r.12.10) unless carried on in accordance with a management plan or a permit issued by the Director of National Parks, or if certain other exceptions apply (regulation 12.06). Access to biological resources for research purposes may also be subject to regulations made under s.301 of the Act.


Management Actions

4.6 Database Management


a) To manage and enhance an accurate and responsive integrated database of botanical information and to provide information to the community, researchers and government.

b) To facilitate and contribute to the establishment of Australia’s Virtual Herbarium (AVH) as a community resource for research and environmental decision-making.


The computer-based Integrated Botanical Information System (IBIS) is a relational database that forms the link between the Herbarium collections, the living collections, the photographic collection, and the bibliographic material held in the library

Significant databases for which the Gardens and the CPBR have responsibility, brought together or integrated within IBIS, include the:

The CPBR takes an active role in developing national and international standards for botanical data exchange through its involvement in national projects such as the Herbarium Information Systems Committee, Herbarium Information Standards and Protocols for the Interchange of Data. The CPBR also participates in international projects such as the Taxonomic Databases Working Group of the International Union of Biological Sciences, the International Organisation for Plant Information World Vascular Plant Checklist project, and the International Plant Names Project.

The CPBR is a prime contributor to the establishment of Australia’s Virtual Herbarium, a project which will link the botanical databases of Australia’s herbaria and facilitate access to, and use of, the data in them. A major component of the establishment of the virtual herbarium is the input of data not held in electronic form and the implementation of data exchange protocols currently in development. The AVH will serve as a community resource of reliable botanical information for botanists, land managers and the general public.


Management Actions

4.7 Networking and the World Wide Web

Aim: To maintain an efficient network of computing facilities for the Gardens and CPBR and to provide general access to relevant botanical data, information and appropriate information-processing tools.


The Gardens and CPBR employ state-of-the-art computing hardware to provide an efficient internal CPBR network to take advantage of World Wide Web (Web) facilities and to connect to other organisations as needed. Specialised hardware, such as scanners and high quality printers for herbarium labels, is shared through the network. The CPBR network also handles backup and archiving of file systems.

The Gardens and CPBR Web servers provide access to textual and graphic information about the Gardens and the CPBR and information from CPBR databases. The Web also provides connection to information produced by other botanical and environmental institutions and links have been made to these resources as they have been published on the Web. The Web is the primary vehicle for access to projects such as Australia’s Virtual Herbarium.


Management Actions


Updated 15 December, 2004 , webmaster, ANBG (anbg-info@anbg.gov.au)