Conservation genetics of temperate highland peat swamps

Start date:
01 Jan 2013
End date:
31 Dec 2016
Staff: Doug Benson; Joel Cohen; Hannah McPherson; Maurizio Rossetto Students: Anthea Brescianini
Project sponsors:
Temperate Highland Peat Swamps on Sandstone Research Program (THPSSRP), Fenner School of Environment & Society ANU
Project partners:
David Keith (UNSW), Glenda Wardle (University of Sydney)
Maurizio Rossetto

Project aims

  • Apply novel molecular approaches to characterise genetic variation and connectivity across plant functional groups from temperate highland peat swamps in the Sydney Basin.
  • Combine genetic and ecological evidence at a range of geographic scales, to understand peat swamp dynamics and support their conservation


Project Summary

Peat swamps are island-like habitats found in restricted areas of south-eastern Australia. Understanding the distribution of diversity and genetic connectivity is crucial to the maintenance and conservation of these unique communities.

Our study of highland and lowland peat swamps on sandstone includes swamps that vary in size, geographic isolation, and environmental conditions. Within this system, we focus on key rare and widespread species representing contrasting life histories. 

A comparison of near complete chloroplast genomes sampled from multiple locations for each of 13 species, revealed that landscape-level variation differs greatly among different taxonomic and functional groups. Population studies using innovative marker-based approaches detected greater variation within lowland swamps, and identified important refugial areas. 

Research Update

We are currently generating whole chloroplast data for an additional 15 species occurring across the study system to incorporate a wider range of taxonomic and functional groups. Using an innovative NGS amplicon approach we are also expanding population-level studies to investigate associations between genetic variation and functional traits. The data will be combined with physical parameters such as geographic isolation and environmental gradients. With these data we are exploring population-level viability, presence and boundaries of differentiated genetic provenances, and genetic connectivity. This information will provide a novel understanding of swamp resilience to threatening disturbances such as adverse fire regimes, changes in hydrology from mining, and climate change.