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Old Climatically-Buffered Infertile Landscapes (OCBILs): Evolution, ecology, conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity - COMPLETED

This project aims to contribute towards an integrated understanding of the special biogeographic, evolutionary and conservation aspects of OCBILs (old, climatically buffered, infertile landscapes).

 Hakea victoria (Proteaceae), Fitzgerald River National Park in the Southwest Australian Floristic Region. Photo: © S.D. Hopper

By accident of remoteness, difficulty of access or history, some of the least understood biotas on earth occupy old, climatically-buffered, infertile passive continental margins and their hinterlands – here termed OCBILs. Attempts to interpret these biotas have come from theory developed for better-studied organisms of young post-glacial, climatically dynamic and often mountainous, fertile landscapes. Such attempts to transfer theory have not been altogether satisfactory and have rarely been critically scrutinized from an OCBIL perspective. This situation has significant consequences for understanding both evolution and conservation of OCBIL organisms. A few authors have recognised the need for new theory for the biotas of OCBILs, but their work has been selective and piecemeal. There has yet to be a synthesis in the manner attempted in this project, which aims to contribute towards an integrated understanding of the special biogeographic, evolutionary and conservation aspects of OCBILs.

Aridification has been a major feature shaping plant distributions, adaptation and speciation in some of these landscapes and this project is aiding our understanding of ecological responses to drying climates. The study of patterns in plant diversity and evolution is helping to reveal localities that have acted as refugia in the past and that may therefore be potential refugia in current and future shifts in climate. Important habitats, species and localities under threat are also identified. Special focus is on the Southwest Australian Floristic Region, the Greater Cape Floristic Region and the Pantepui upland region of Venezuela, Guyana and Brazil. Work is in progress on revising the phytogeography and strategic conservation assessment of the Southwest Australian Floristic Region. A popular book is also in the early stages of planning.


Key publications 2006-2011 

  • Bradshaw, S.D., Dixon, K.W., Hopper, S.D., Lambers, H. &Turner, S.R. (2011). Response to Keeley et al.: Fire as an evolutionary pressure shaping plant traits. Trends in Plant Science 16: 405.
  • Bradshaw, S.D., Dixon, K.W., Hopper, S.D., Lambers, H. &Turner, S.R. (2011). Little evidence for fire-adapted traits in Mediterranean climate regions. Trends in Plant Science 16: 69-76.
  • Hopper, S.D. (2009). OCBIL theory: towards an integrated understanding of the evolution, ecology and conservation of biodiversity on old, climatically-buffered, infertile landscapes. Plant and Soil 322: 49-86.
  • Hopper, S.D., Smith, R.J, Fay, M.F., Manning, J.C. &Chase, M.W. (2009). Molecular phylogenetics of Haemodoraceae in the Greater Cape and Southwest Australian Floristic Regions. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 51: 19-30.
  • Horwitz, P., Bradshaw, D., Hopper, S.D., Davies, P., Froend, R. & Bradshaw, F. (2008). Hydrological change escalates risk of ecosystem stress in Australia's threatened biodiversity hotspot. Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia 91: 1-11. 

Project partners and collaborators


Department of Environment and Conservation, Western Australia

The University of Western Australia

Kings Park and Botanic Garden

South AfricaSouth African National Botanical Institute