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Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research


During the 1990s the necessity of biological diversity for continued human existence emerged as a critical global issue. As part of this increasing concern, CSIRO Plant Industry and the Director of National Plarks (Environment Australia), through the Australian National Botanic Gardens, launched a new joint venture, the Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research.

This unique collaboration between Australia's top research institute conservation managers embraces:

  • the bringing together of the wide-ranging skills, expertise and resources of both organisations, to allow new scope for scientific research on biodiversity that provides a basis for conservation, management and sustainable use of the Australian flora.

  • the amalgamation of the plant specimen collections of the CSIRO and the Australian National Botanic Gardens into a consolidated Australian National Herbarium, constructing a permanent record of Australian plant biodiversity.

  • the increased accessibility to information on Australian vegetation and plant resources for research, environmental management and public use.

The Research Projects of the Centre

A major function of the Centre is to document the biological diversity of the Australian environment through establishing the taxonomic identity and relationships of native plants, their geographical distribution, and their ecological relationships. These studies primarily concentrate on significant national plant groups such as eucalypts, orchids, grasses, grevilleas, mosses, rainforest laurels and the citrus family. The Centre has developed computer-based interactive systems for identifying rainforest trees and eucalypts.

Australia's Genetic Resources

Because of their adaptation to local conditions and their integration into our natural ecosystems, Australian native plants form a valuable source of genes that could be utilised to improve agricultural and industrial productivity. The Australian native species of Glycine contain leaf rust resistance genes that may be used to protect soybean crops, while the native Gossypium species are being tested to improve pest resistance in commercial cotton varieties.

The Centre maintains a close relationship with the Australian National Botanic Gardens whose living collections comprise almost one-third of the Australian flora. This wealth of genetic material is available for research as well as for display.

Conservation Biology

The maintenance and recovery of rare and threatened species is a significant element of the Centre's work, as its facilities provide a national focus for documenting, growing and protecting endangered native plants. The Centre has drawn on its extensive resources, and those of Environment Australia, in producing a new edition of Rare or Threatened Australian Plants.

Conservation biology relates not only to rare species, but to an understanding of the ecology and the dynamics of larger ecosystems. Research on the effects of fire, disease and fragmentation on the Australian environment is vital in the development of strategies for integrated land use and revegetation projects.

The Australian National Herbarium

The cornerstone of botanical research for the Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research is the Australian National Herbarium which houses a collection of 1.3 million plant specimens, documenting the diversity of the Australian flora. With specimens dating back to Captain Cook's 1770 expedition, the Herbarium's comprehensive collections allow for the reliable identification of plants originating from field studies and the extraction of ecological data. The Herbarium houses specialist collections of world importance, including:

  • the world's most comprehensive eucalypts collection;

  • an extensive collection of the flora of northern Australia and New Guinea;

  • Australia's largest collection of mosses, lichens and liverworts;

  • a specialist tropical rain forest collection housed in north Queensland.

The Australian National Herbarium is a valuable source of data for mapping past and present vegetation distribution, revealing variations due to changes in climate and landuse patterns. Its collections also function as a reference basis for the Flora of Australia project documenting native plants.

The Herbarium provides a range of services, including plant identification, for professional clients and the general public. Public enquiries can be submitted at the Visitor Information Centre on the Botanic Gardens site (Tel: (02) 6250-9450) where there is also a Public Reference Herbarium and small public library.

The Herbarium conducts volunteer programs for members of the public wishing to support the work of the Centre, and a specialised Student Botanical Internship Program for selected tertiary students to provide advanced training.

The Herbarium is located at three sites. The flowering plants collection is held at the herbarium in the grounds of CSIRO adjacent to the Botanic Gardens on Black Mountain. The cryptogam (including ferns) and gymnosperm collections are held in the herbarium adjacent to the Visitor Information Centre within the Australian National Botanic Gardens. A third collection concentrating on rainforest species is held at the Atherton Herbarium Annexe in north Queensland.

Botanical Information Management

Based on its research programs and collections the Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research provides a national focus for botanical data. Through the Internet, text and image data based on the collections have been made available throughout the world. The Centre is also responsible for the coordination and maintenance of important national botanical databases developed by ANCA and CSIRO, including the Australian Plant Name Index, Rare or Threatened Australian Plants (ROTAP), and the Economic Plants of Australia. To make complex biological information more accessible the Centre is taking a leading role in establishing common standards and conventions for botanical databases, such as through a national collaborative project on all Australian Eucalyptus specimens and survey records.

Memorandum of Understanding Formal Agreement
between Director of National Parks and CSIRO
Opening Speech
by Professor Derek Anderson

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Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research

Updated October 18, 2000 by Murray Fagg (anbg-info@anbg.gov.au)
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