Category Archives: News

SA Environment Awards

Since 1998, the annual SA Environment Awards celebrate South Australians, who give their time, expertise and passion on behalf of our precious natural environment. The award is Presented by Conservation Council SA in partnership with Green Adelaide, the Department for Environment and Water and the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute.

Among this year’s recipients was Pam Catcheside, Hon. Research Associate of the State Herbarium of South Australia, who received a Lifetime Award for her work in mycology. Pam is well-known throughout Australia for her enthusiasm about fungi and her scientific contributions. Over the past 20 years she has made almost 5,000 collections, described three new species, one new genus, Antrelloides P.S.Catches. & D.E.A.Catches. (Swainsona 31: 82, 2018, 4.8mb PDF) and wrote papers on rare or interesting species. We all congratulate Pam for this great achievement!

Enid Robertson (1925-2016) received a posthumous Lifetime Award for her work in conservation. She was systematic botanic at the Waite Research Institute of The University of Adelaide, was engaged to revise and edit the second edition of Part 4 of J.M. Black‘s Flora of South Australia (1957) and later worked with Prof. Bryan Womersley at the University’s Botany Department. Her research focused on Asteraceae, Danthonia and seagrasses. Enid was remembered in a previous “Know Our Plants” blog post. The grass Rytidosperma robertsoniae Tiver (Swainsona 33: 36, 2020, 1.3mb PDF) was named after her.

A list of all 2023 award recipients, with more information about their achievements and short videos about the recipients, is available on the SA Environment Award website.

World Oceans Day

The State Herbarium of South Australia sits 15 km inland from the nearest sea and houses over one million, mostly dried, specimens. So why are we posting about World Oceans Day?

Despite our terrestrial location, the herbarium is home to significant collections of marine flora (seagrasses) and macroalgae (seaweeds). Not only that, but we are also helmed by seagrass expert and Chief Botanist Michelle Waycott.

FROM THIS: In situ photo of Metamastophora flabellata, being collected by volunteer Fiona McQueen on a collecting trip to Yorke Peninsula. Photo: F. McQueen.

TO THIS: Fiona collecting a part of Sarcomenia delesserioides from Pondalowie Bay to become a herbarium specimen. Photo: F. McQueen.

Treasure trove

The State Herbarium of South Australia is known to contain plant specimens, including the seagrass families, but its world-renowned algal collection may not be common knowledge to the general public. Housed within the herbarium are examples of all 10 South Australian species of seagrass and almost 1300 species of marine macroalgae! This algal species diversity is partly because the seaweeds in the Southern Ocean and its Great Southern Reef have the highest levels of species richness and endemism in the world and partly because of Prof. H.B.S. Womersley’s lifetime work in compiling the six-volume Marine Benthic Flora of Southern Australia with his team at the University of Adelaide and at the State Herbarium.

Of the more than one million specimens in the herbarium, at least 1500 are seagrasses, and close to 100,000 are seaweeds. But don’t mistake these relatively small specimen numbers for insignificance. Quite oppositely, seagrasses and seaweeds are vital to most oceanic functions.

TO HERE: The herbarium’s wet lab where algal specimens are prepared, mounted, studied and identified. Photo: J. Barrett.

Specimens of significance

World Oceans Day is designed to remind people of the importance of the world’s oceans and to encourage them to care enough to engage in marine protection. And so they should. The ocean covers 70% of the planet and supports every other organism. While many factors and organisms are at play, when it comes down to it, the functions of our oceans are very much a product of the plants and algae within:

AND FINALLY: The mounted specimens, which were floated onto a preparatory sheet before spending time in the drier and being attached to their final herbarium sheets.

  • The vast majority of the planet’s oceanic oxygen is created by microalgae (phytoplankton), macroalgae (seaweeds) and plants (seagrasses). Naturally, photosynthesisers are also effective storers of carbon.
  • Not only do the number of seagrass and seaweed species contribute to oceanic diversity, but these species also feed, house and protect countless other marine organisms.
  • Both algae and seagrasses are the start of many food chains, nourishing animal groups as diverse as shellfish, crustaceans, birds, fish, marine mammals and even us.

These are but a few blips on the radar of seagrass and seaweed functionality and importance. Unfortunately, our marine ecosystems are in decline. Seagrass meadows are especially in dire straits… and dire gulfs, and dire bays.

A strong foundation

This is where the State Herbarium comes in. Our taxonomical knowledge creates foundational information on species and their distribution, abundance, and history. This provides a baseline of data that allows changes to be noticed and tracked over time.

The specimens in our collection are barcoded and databased. The complete datasets (including species name, collecting location and date, etc.) are sent to the Australasian Virtual Herbarium for broader use by anyone with an interest and Internet access.

Not only does our collection comprise the actual reference specimens, but also a wealth of associated data on species descriptions and locations. When collected and stored over time (the earliest seaweed in our collection is from 1799!) our specimens and data can allow scientists to identify and document change, as well as plan for restoration.

When next June rolls around and World Oceans Day pops into your head, I hope you think of our secret sea of marine specimens housed in The Old Tram Barn (2.7mb PDF) in the middle of an urban capital city, and remember our contribution to ocean conservation and public education.

Compiled by State Herbarium staff member Jem Barrett.

New research on eucalypt dieback

Area of severe stringybark dieback, with drooping she-oaks (Allocasuarina verticillata) being the only living trees. Photo: G. Keppel.

Dieback of trees due to drought is becoming increasingly common: Climate change is producing droughts that are hotter and more intense, and this can push trees beyond the limits of what they can tolerate. However, we still know little about the ultimate causes of tree mortality and how dieback progresses through time. Led by researchers Gunnar Keppel, MSc student Udo Sarnow and Stefan Peters from UniSA, in collaboration with Chief Botanist Michelle Waycott, State Herbarium of South Australia molecular botanist Ed Biffin, as well as Greg Guerin from The University of Adelaide, dieback of an isolated population of red stringybark (Eucalyptus macrorhyncha) in Spring Gully Conservation Park was investigated.

What will happen to this isolated population of eucalypts as droughts intensify under climate change? It’s not looking good but there is hope! Read more about the findings of this project on the Biodiversity in Oceania BLOG and in this research paper, published two weeks ago:

G. Keppel, U. Sarnow, E. Biffin, S. Peters, D. Fitzgerald, E. Boutsalis, M. Waycott & G.R. Guerin (2023). Population decline in a Pleistocene refugium: Stepwise, drought-related dieback of a South Australian eucalyptScience of the total Environment  876: 162697.

Moss news

Adelaide’s micro-gallery Flaneur at the corner of Gawler Place and Fisher Place, Adelaide. Photo: A. Thornhill.

Last October was a big month for moss and at the State Herbarium of South Australia we “officially” renamed the month Soft Moss Rocktober. It began at the start of the year when I was asked if I could come up with a potential trivia night for the Nature Festival. Almost instantly I came up with the name Mosstermind and so the spores of the world’s first moss-based trivia night were released. A week later I was asked if I could create a moss art exhibition to be housed in Gallery Flaneur during Nature Festival week. I approached an artist I know who wished to remain unknown and so the An.Annie.Moss project was born.

Over the winter months I began working on different art pieces with An.Annie.Moss and gathered ABC Radio Drive host Jules Schiller to be the mosster of ceremonies for Mosstermind. At the same time our student volunteer Bonnie was spending time in the Adelaide Hills making new collection records of mosses for both the Adelaide Hills region as well as the State.

Fast forward to the start of spring and the artwork and trivia night question were almost done. To complement An.Annie.Moss art I found a second-hand dolls house to convert into a minature art gallery building. I completely dismantled it, sanded off all of the original paper and then bought new wallpaper, roofing and floor to make it look like a proper gallery. An.Annie.Moss also began sculpting moss and the exhibit kept expanding. On 7 Oct. 2022, An.Annie.Moss was launched in Gallery Flaneur and stayed there for three weeks. It was complemented by little terracotta pots filled with the moss that was in the paintings.

Jules Schiller (left) and Andrew Thornhill (right) on stage during Mosstermind. Photo: A. Thornhill.

Then, on the 12 Oct. 2022, we held Mosstermind at The Gov to a sold out audience of 160 people. The night was a great success and many of the contestants soon realised that not all of the questions were about the moss plant. Jules, the mosster of ceremonies, wowed the crowd with his moss knowledge and the puns flowed all night. There have even been requests for a Mosstermind 2 for the 2023 festival but we will have to wait and see how things unfold before we can say it will be back.

Small terracotta pots filled with mosses for the An.Annie.Moss exhibition. Photo: A. Thornhill.

While Soft Moss Rocktober is long over, the moss-events are continuing. An.Annie.Moss is now on display in the Museum of Economic Botany all through summer. If you missed the chance to see it during the Nature Festival then you have another chance to go and enjoy the macro-micro art.

Compiled by botanist Andrew Thornhill
(State Herbarium of South Australia
& The University of Adelaide)

New publication on NZ fossils

View overlooking Foulden Maar showing the now infilled crater and mining pit. Photo: J. Conran.

Next week, the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Adelaide is hosting the Australian launch of a new publication on of New Zealand’s best known (and controversial) fossil localities, co-authored by State Herbarium Research Affiliate Dr John Conran (The University of Adelaide).

D.E. Lee, U. Kaulfuss & J. Conran (2022). Fossil treasures of Foulden Maar: A window into Miocene Zealandia. (Otago University Press: Dunedin, NZ).

Foulden Maar in Otago, New Zealand, a now infilled former lake, is home to an amazing record of life on Earth and is a paleontological site of international significance. Formed by a violent one-off volcanic eruption 23 million years ago, it comprises tens of thousands of undisturbed annual layers that record the changing life and ecosystems in and around a small, deep volcanic crater lake that existed for more than 130,000 years at the very beginning of the Miocene. The site is unsurpassed in the Southern Hemisphere. Continue reading