Archive for the ‘Session Spotlight’ Category

Session Spotlight: TREE-BOL

May 27, 2011
Kris Jett

Kris Jett

There’s just 20 days left to submit your abstracts for consideration! To help encourage potential presenters through this ‘last push’, we’ll be featuring “Session Spotlight” interviews with organisers of proposed sessions. What better way to kick off the series than with a few words from Andy Lowe, the conference co-chair, on the session he’s organising?

Andrew Lowe, TREE-BOL

Session Spotlight


Session Chair:Andy Lowe

• What does your proposed session cover? Why is it important to barcoding?

My session covers using DNA barcoding to help identify illegally logged tree species in the timber supply chain. Currently anatomical characteristics are used to identify trees, but species resolution is not often possible, particularly for some closely related high value timber species, e.g. mahoganies. Developing DNA barcoding methods to distinguish between species can help limit the trade in illegally logged species and redirect the market pressures that drive deforestation into sustainable timber sources.

• What is your vision for the 4th Conference?

We are excited about his conference. It is a great opportunity to showcase Australia and Australian research in the area of DNA barcoding. As the field of DNA barcoding matures we are seeing many more technological advancements, e.g. use of next generation sequencing and ever more interesting applications of this technology to identify species from more complex and non-intuitive sources. We need to start promoting the applications of barcoding much more broadly and into more policy and commercial avenues, I hope that we will be able to do this at the Australian barcode meeting

• What research do you do?

My main research interests are in examining gene flow at different spatial, temporal and biological organisational scales, and the response of organisms to the ‘evil trio’ of major environmental impactors; habitat fragmentation, invasive species and historical and ongoing climate change. My main research interests are in:

Adaptation, hybridisation and speciation in weeds 

I studied the evolution of Britain’s newest plant species, discovered only 30 years ago, and described it as a new species, Senecio eboracensis Abbott & Lowe, based on ecological and molecular evidence (Lowe and Abbott, 2003). The origin of a new species within our time and its adaptation to man-made habitats (car parks; Lowe & Abbott 2004, Abbott & Lowe 2004) captured the public imagination. In addition to scientific articles, press releases resulted in international media coverage (e.g. front page of The Times). The story also caused raging debate in creationist vs. evolution web chat rooms, and a young British artist, Nich Relph, was inspired to produce an installation at the Finnish National Gallery (Helsinki) after hearing the story.

Recent and continuing work is examining the genomic composition and gene expression changes in the invasive range of important Australian weeds (e.g. bellyache bush, cats claw creeper and fireweed). Proof of genetic admixture, hybridisation (Prentis et al 2007; 2009) and the role of rapid genomic changes in invasive compared to native ranges (Prentis et al 2010), has lead to a reappraisal of the role of genomic and evolutionary mechanisms in the field of invasive biology (Prentis et al 2008), an area previously dominated by ecological paradigms (Wilson et al 2008, 2009). Ongoing work is assessing the importance of gene expression changes in the invasive ranges of weeds and linking these to evolutionary and ecological processes.

Biogeography and macroevolution in plants

A continuing debate in the Australasian region and globally has been the role of long distance dispersal in speciation and adaptive radiations on new and ancient (Gondwanan) land masses. A review of published literature found that New Caledonia has acted as a previously unrecognized source of origin for many South Pacific island taxa (Keppel et al 2009). Work on the Araucariaceae southern conifer group identified that the species radiation in the genera Agathis and Araucaria has been much more recent than previously identified, and that these genera have experienced a long and sustained period of extinction and re-evolution of morphotypes similar to contemporary taxa. Proof of this recent radiation means that the New Zealand kauri is a relatively recent floral element (30MY) that dispersed to this Gondawanan fragment after the Oligocene marine inundation (Biffin et al 2009). Also the basal radiation of Araucariaceae places the split with Wollemia, a recently discovered basal lineage and previously labeled ‘dinosaur plant’, well after the KT boundary and means it evolved contemporaneously with mammals (Biffin et al 2010).

Ongoing work is examining the timing and adaptive evolution of the Podocarpaceae southern conifer group. The Podocarpaceae are one of the few conifer lineages that radiated at the same time as the massive Angiosperm radiation (post KT boundary), and is the only conifer group to be competitive within lowland rainforest habitats. The timing of this radiation and expression of ecophysiological characters that increase light harvesting and water transfer in highly competitive rainforest ecosystems has huge consequences for the macroevolution of these basal lineages.

Historical range shifts and phenological change due to historical climate change

I have applied molecular and statistical procedures to examine species colonization dynamics since the last ice age for a range of temperate and tropical  systems (Cavers et al 2003; Lowe et al 2010). I have participated in the largest ever continental-scale investigation of plant phylogeography (the screening of over 2500 populations; Petit et al 2002a,b; Cottrell et al 2003) to piece together the location of glacial refugia and post glacial colonization routes and dynamics for European oaks. I have also used simulation modelling procedures to examine the influence of long distance dispersal/migration on a species’ ability to respond to both past and future climate change scenarios (Davies et al 2004; Lowe et al 2006).

Within Australia the signature of glacial expansion and contraction in phylogeographic structuring is much weaker due to underlying climatic variability. Current work is trying to locate important historical refugia for a range of taxa and to determine the relative role of glacial oscillations and shorter term (e.g. el niño) climatic variability on underlying genetic structure within populations. Ongoing work is also documenting recent phenological shifts in plants due to anthropogenically-forced climate change over the last 50 years. Using novel multivariate statistics, I have published the first paper identifying a phenological shift in orchids from Australian herbarium records (MacGillivary et al 2009) and continuing work is analyzing other historical and contemporary monitoring data for evidence of major phenological desynchronisation in natural systems.

Landscape, conservation and restoration genetics

I have developed laboratory and analytical techniques to describe gene flow between individuals and populations for a range of organisms and landscapes (Ward et al 2004; Lowe et al 2004). My group developed a new landscape genetic methodology to disassociate contemporary and historical gene flow dynamics at a landscape scale, thereby allowing an assessment of the impact of recent fragmentation on biological communities (Pavlacky et al 2009). Such studies are fundamental to understanding the gene flow dynamics associated with land-use change (e.g. habitat fragmentation) and exploitation, and have lead to new extraction rate threshold setting, adopted by government agencies (e.g. Costa Rican and UK governments). I have used data describing the distribution and dynamics of genetic variation to develop management plans and best practice policies for a range of genetic resource issues (in the neotropics and Africa). Recommended habitat management and collection strategies have been implemented by end users internationally, driving a reassessment of the CITES conservation status of mahogany in Central and South America; nationally, Forestry Commission and English Nature have reassessed their oak seed sourcing strategy; and locally, by conservation groups seeking to replant native forest.

Ongoing work is focusing on integrating landscape genetic and adaptation measures into conservation and restoration management and policy frameworks. By locating genetic refugia, quantifying landscape level gene flow and assessing the strength of local adaptation, new principles for corridor and restoration planning have been promoted (Broadhurst et al 2008; Sgro et al 2010).

Biodiversity discovery and ecosystem monitoring

I coordinate 2 new large-scale ecosystem monitoring and associated data access programmes for Australia (within the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network, $7.5M) and South Australia (a continent transect along a climatic gradient, TREND, $1.5M). I have integrated these programmes with other major Australian investments in biodiversity science (Bioblitz >$3M and the atlas of Living Australia $45M) to establish a multi-partner, multi-agency program in biodiversity and ecosystem science for Australia. The use of novel monitoring, data capture and genetic analysis (DNA barcoding) of field collected samples is also in development. For DNA barcoding I am one of the leaders in Australia. I have coordinated the establishment of GrassBoL (with Dr Hugh Cross, Adelaide, and Ass. Prof Sean Graham, Canada) an international consortium to DNA barcode the globes grasses. I am an Australian representative on TreeBoL, an initiative to DNA barcode all of Australasia’s trees (with Prof Darren Crayn, Cairns and Dr Brett Summerill, Sydney), and have helped coordinate Federal government lobbying to support DNA barcode activities for Australia.

Using knowledge of genetic structure within species, particularly for valuable timber species (Cavers et al 2003; Lemes et al 2009), I have been developing specific markers to aid the tracking and identification of material from unknown or dubious sources, and work with forest certification companies to identify the species and source of origin of timber products.

• If people are interested in this topic, what can they do to get involved?

They should sign up for the session and can email me on .