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Systematics, evolution and conservation of Australian orchids - COMPLETED

This project focuses on Australian orchids, which form a diverse, taxonomically complex, threatened group, exhibiting a wide range of specialisations in habitat and pollinators.

The Orchidaceae in Australia have been the subject of intensive research over the past three decades, resulting in discoveries and circumscription of several hundred new species, and significant revision of generic, subtribal and tribal boundaries informed by DNA sequence analysis. Significant debate continues about competing classifications now published, differing in the assignment of generic rank within monophyletic clades, as well as in details concerning typification and interpretation of the rules in the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature.  These nomenclatural issues aside, knowledge of the evolution and conservation of Australian orchids remains patchy, needing much more work to elucidate one of the world’s centres for radiation in terrestrial orchids. Phenomena such as pollination through sexual deceit of male wasps are especially well developed in the flora.

This project aimed to elucidate the systematics, evolution, biogeography, and conservation biology of Australian orchids, with special emphasis on those found in the Southwest Australian Floristic Region. Two PhD projects based in Kings Park and Botanic Garden, Perth focused on two genera: Caladenia and Drakaea with co-supervision and expertise provided by Professor Steve Hopper Director (CEO & Chief Scientist) of RBG Kew. This work provided great insights into biogeographical patterns and speciation in these two genera of Western Australian orchids and also looked at general issues in rarity, biological specialisation and conservation.  Professor Hopper also co-authored ‘Orchids of Western Australia’, published in 2008 by the University of Western Australia Press, Perth, and this represents the culmination of many decades of taxonomic research, fundamental to ongoing research and conservation.

Key publications 2006-2011

  • Phillips, R.D., Brown, A.P., Dixon, K.W. and Hopper, S.D. (2011) Orchid biogeography and factors associated with rarity in a biodiversity hotspot: the Southwest Australian Floristic Region. Journal of Biogeography 28: 487-501.
  • Hopper, S.D. (2009) Taxonomic turmoil Down-under: recent developments in Australian orchid systematics. Annals of Botany 104: 447-455.
  • Dixon, K.W. and Hopper, S.D (2009) An introduction to Caladenia R.Br. – Australasia's jewel among terrestrial orchids. Australian Journal of Botany 57(4): ii-viii.
  • Phillips, R.D., Backhouse, G., Brown, A.P., and Hopper, S.D. (2009) Biogeography of Caladenia (Orchidaceae), with special reference to the Southwest Australian Floristic Region. Australian Journal of Botany 57: 259-275.
  • Hopper, S.D. and Brown, A.P. (2007) A revision of Australia’s hammer orchids (Drakaea: Orchidaceae), with some field data on species-specific sexually deceived wasp pollinators. Australian Systematic Botany 20: 252-285.
  • Swarts, N.D., Batty, A.L., Hopper, S.D., and Dixon, K.W. (2007) Does integrated conservation of terrestrial orchids work? Lankesteriana 7: 219-222. 


Project partners and collaborators

AustraliaKings Park and Botanic Garden
Department of Environment and Conservation
The University of Western Australia