Plants and Pollinators
We have a broad interest in the ecological and evolutionary consequences of the interactions between plants and pollinators. This topic is critical for understanding the incredible morphological and taxonomic diversity of both flowering plants and nectar feeding animals. Further, in Australia there are many cases of relatively specialised pollination systems, meaning that numerous plants are vulnerable to the loss of pollinators following the extensive modification that the Australian landscape has experienced. Some of the key questions in pollination biology include:
- Which floral traits represent adaptations to pollinators?
- How does pollinator behaviour shape the colour, scent, morphology and rewards offered by flowers?
- How do the ecological and genetic consequences of pollination differ between animal species?
- What is the role of pollinators in the origin and co-existence of diverse plant communities?
- What are the pollination strategies used by rare plants, and is this contributing to their rarity?
- How resilient or vulnerable are pollination systems to anthropogenic modification of landscapes?
- How do we incorporate pollinators into biodiverse ecological restoration?
In addition, we engage in projects on all areas of orchid biology, including pollination, mycorrhizal ecology, biogeography, phylogenetics and taxonomy.
Studies of plant-pollinator interactions encompass a range of approaches including field experiments, analysis of plant and pollinator communities, studies of animal behaviour, and molecular approaches. At present, we undertake field research in both south-eastern Australia, and the south-west Australian biodiversity hotspot. Current projects in our group include:
- The ecological and genetic mechanisms underpinning pollination transitions in sexually deceptive orchids (ARC Discovery grant with Rod Peakall, Gavin Flematti and Eran Pichersky).
- Using pollination biology to optimise the success of plant conservation translocations (ARC Linkage grant with Rod Peakall and Noushka Reiter, focusing on endangered Victorian spider orchids).
- Understanding the ecological and genetic consequences of the evolution of bird pollination.
- Revealing the diversity of deceptive pollination strategies in the Australian orchid flora.
- Understanding the evolution of mammal pollination in the south-western Australian biodiversity hotspot and its vulnerability to landscape modification.
- Preventing extinction in bushfire affected orchids.
Ideas for future projects include:
- Using plant-pollinator networks to identify the ecological interactions needed to support rare plant species.
- Understanding the factors affecting resilience of pollinator populations in post-fire landscapes.
- Improving the success of ecological restoration through knowledge on pollination biology.
- Resolving floral adaptations to pollination niches in Victorian grassy woodlands.
- Ecological and genetic consequences of pollination by the European honey bee compared with native pollinators.
I welcome enquiries about potential Honours, PhD or postdoctoral projects in plant-pollinator interactions, and the ecology of pollinating animals. Honours projects can be February or July start, though study systems will vary depending on the flowering times of particular plant species. The projects listed above are indicative of areas that we are working in, but I am happy to consider other topics.
Current PhD students
- Tobias Hayashi (through ANU) – Evolution of pollination by sexual deception of male fungus gnats in Pterostylis (Orchidaceae)
- Stan Wawrzyczek (through La Trobe University) – The ecology and evolution of mammal pollination in prostrate Banksia.
Current Honours students
- Bec Grinter (through La Trobe University) – Factors limiting reproductive success in Golden Moth Diuris (Orchidaceae)
Past PhD students
- Arild Arifin (through ANU) – Diversity of Tulasnellaceae mycorrhizal associations of Australian terrestrial orchids
- Bronwyn Ayre (through UWA) - Multiple paternity, pollen dispersal and fitness consequences of bird-pollination in Red and Green Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos manglesii)
- Nicole Bezemer (through UWA) – Sex on the rocks: genetic structure, pollen dispersal and mating patterns in Eucalyptus caesia
- Daniela Scaccabarozzi (through Curtin University) – Pollination biology of Diuirs (Orchidaceae) – testing for floral mimicry of pea plants in south-western Australia
- Alyssa Weinstein (through ANU) – Pollination ecology of Australian sexually deceptive orchids with contrasting patterns of pollinator exploitation