Plant diversity of the Australian Monsoon Tropics

Timeframe: 2004-present
Provider Country: Australia
Provider Communities: Kakadu Park Aboriginal owners and Parks Australia
Researcher Country: United States of America
Research Institutions: Bucknell University, State University of New York - Plattsburgh, University of Connecticut, San Francisco State University
Submitted By: ctm015

Project Background

Long-term study of the ecology and evolution of the flora of the Australian Monsoon Tropics, which special focus on Solanum reproductive biology and new species description. Recent/ongoing work also includes Templetonia, Acacia, Boronia, and Grevillea. Research in molecular phylogenetics/phylogenomics and population genetics has required collection of specimens as both research vouchers (for herbarium deposit) and sources of DNA sequence data.

Funding, Permits, and Certifications

Throughout the project we have worked especially closely with the collections/scientific staff at the Northern Territory Herbarium (both in Palmerston and Alice Springs), receiving important advice/input regarding collecting sites, acquisition of collection permits, deposition of voucher specimens in the appropriate herbaria in Australia, and the shipment of specimens back to the US. Building a relationship with these folks has also led to much work done in their collections, including the collaborative description of new species from within their holdings. We have also worked closely with the parks staff at Kakadu National Park, a World Heritage site requiring additional permitting. Because Kakadu is co-managed with Traditional Owners, the permitting process and fieldwork includes their permission, advisement, and, at times, assistance as guides; this input is especially important for steering clear of sacred sites.

For both the NT and Kakadu, the permissions process (which includes export permits for specimens) begins months in advance and includes submission of a research plan with details about which sites will be visited and when (with marked maps), what species will be collected and how many specimens, and what methods of collection will be used (pressed specimens and leaves in silica). Any changes to the field plans are worked out once we arrive in Australia and/or at each of the ranger stations as we enter any given park (many of our sites are in national parks where checking in with local rangers is a requirement). As per the requirements of the permits, all of our collections are made in duplicate so that at least one Australian institution is provided a voucher in addition to ones kept at my home institution in the US; more often than not, we leave a set of duplicates in the NT Herbarium and send along labels later. The downstream use of the specimens as potential sources of genetic resources are always made clear in the permit application materials, as are our plans for how those genetic resources will be stored and accessed throughout our work.  

Meeting the Mutually Agreed Terms

Most of the permits require that we submit a report of progress to the permitting authority within one year; our reports include ways in which our research findings might influence conservation management decisions, an especially relevant concept for when new species are described.  In addition to that, we also cite the permits in any resulting publications. In terms of long-term record keeping, my lab maintains a database of all specimens we have collected, borrowed, and worked with since the onset of the work. The database includes information regarding records of entry, collectors/donors, permit/permission details, location(s) of vouchers, and accession information for genetic sequences that have been generated and deposited.   

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