Rainforest diversity, dynamics and conservation

Staff: Maurizio Rossetto; Robert Kooyman; Hannah McPherson; Marlien van der Merwe; Peter D Wilson; Students: Frances Elliot; Monica Fahey; Sam Yap; Juelian Siow Volunteers: Emma Oldman; Lawrence Mou
Project sponsors:
Foundation & Friends of the Botanic Gardens Biodiversity Node (OEH) Australian Research Council (DP120100501) Bioplatforms Australia Ltd
Project partners:
Linda Beaumont (MQU), Darren Crayn (JCU), Andrew Ford (CSIRO), Robert Henry (UQ), Greg Jordan (UTas), Shawn Laffan (UNSW)
Maurizio Rossetto

Project aims

  • What is the evolutionary history of Australian rainforests?
  • How and why do continent-wide dynamics change through time?
  • How do dispersal and other functional traits impact on species distribution and assembly?
  • How do Gondwanan and Indomalesian lineages interact along latitudinal and altitudinal gradients?
  • How do our findings relate to biodiversity conservation?


Project Summary

We use large and innovative molecular, functional and environmental datasets to explore the evolutionary history of Australian rainforest. One of our most significant findings is that Australian rainforests are part of an actively evolving flora responding to both long- and short-term selective pressures. This is contrary to the traditional narrative that rainforest remnants are organised as isolated vegetation islands with static or declining diversity. Our findings suggest that the distribution and assembly of our rainforest flora are impacted by current selective pressures, as well as historical legacies. This research provides critical information for rainforest biodiversity conservation and management. 

Research Update

Our research on the impact of dispersal on the distribution and assembly of rainforest species across the Australian continent suggests that size matters.  Trees that produce small fleshy fruits (< 3cm) have significantly wider distributions and greater genetic connectivity than species with larger fruits. This new study highlights how much can be learned about rainforest history through the integration of landscape-wide genetic and functional datasets obtained from multiple species.  

We are investigating the colonisation of Australia by rainforest species with Indomalesian heritage. Our findings suggest that arrivals from our northern neighbours are more recent than expected, and colonization was followed by rapid expansions