NERP TE Project 3.2 What is a risk? Identifying rainforest refugia and hotspots of plant genetic diversity in the Wet Tropics and Cape York Peninsula (JCU)

This project will map the genetic and phylogenetic diversity of northeast Queensland rainforest plants and fungi with a focus on the mountaintop species, which are regarded as among the most at risk from climate warming. The project consists of two nested subprojects. Project ‘a’ (PD analysis) will provide a broad scale analysis of patterns of genetic diversity across the NE Qld rainforests. This study will investigate the relative performance of taxonomic richness and phylogenetic diversity measures for conservation priority setting in the Wet Tropics and Cape York rainforest contexts. We will use the results to identify and map areas of high biodiversity significance and investigate correlations with environmental and ecological variables. Preliminary results to date show that areas with higher PD than expected contain a higher proportion of immigrant plant lineages dispersed mostly from Southeast Asia within the past few million years. Our results demonstrate how the integration of historical data and PD can more effectively inform conservation priority setting particularly in biomes with complex evolutionary histories. Project ‘b’ (mountain-top diversity) takes a finer scale look at population-level genetic diversity in one highly restricted rainforest ecosystem – mountain-top rainforest – projected to be most threatened by climate change. We will combine emerging genetic technologies with environmental, ecological and morphological information to: 1) elucidate the location and relative importance of high altitude refugia for plants in the Wet Tropics and Cape York Peninsula Bioregions and the mechanisms that influence the survival of populations and species; and 2) document the fungal biodiversity of the mountain tops.

Far North Queensland’s tropical rainforests are home to much of the remaining ancient Gondwanan flora. As a result, Queensland’s rainforests are incredibly rich in species and contain one of the most complete, intact and continuous records of flowering plant evolution.Little is known however, about the distribution of this evolutionary history within the region, particularly for plants and fungi. Where are the hotspots of evolutionary history and what correlations exist between these and hotspots of taxonomic richness and endemism? Information from this project will provide a solid foundation for conservation prioritization efforts in the region

Principal Investigator
Crayn, Darren, Prof. Australian Tropical Herbarium, James Cook University (ATH/JCU) darren.crayn@jcu.edu.au

Publications / Data