Collecting mosses and fossils in the Gurbantünggüt Desert of north-western China

It’s All About the Plants
Tuesday, 19 July 2016, 10:30–12:00
Goodman Building Lecture Theatre,
adjacent to the State Herbarium of South Australia
Adelaide Botanic Garden, Hackney Road

by Alison Downing
Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, NSW

Biologists from the Key Laboratory of Biogeography and Bioresources in Arid Lands, Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography in far north-western China, have been studying biological soil crusts typical of the deserts of this region for more than a decade. An invitation to join a Chinese-led, international team of palaeontologists studying crinoids in marginal desert lands of north-western Xinjiang led also to an unexpected invitation to work with Chinese scientists on soil crust biology of the Gurbantünggüt Desert.

Gurbantünggüt Desert, Photo: Wang Ao.

Understanding the biology of desert soil crusts can provide useful tools for the management of arid lands where soil crusts play a major role in minimizing erosional processes and in doing so, reducing sandstorm frequency and the associated costs of adding to pollution in the major cities and towns of eastern China.

Alison will give a brief introduction to some of the studies in which she has been involved, and also a glimpse of some of the spectacular landscapes of north-western China. Don’t expect water buffaloes, lotus and rice paddies; rather camels, deserts, forests of spruce and birch, and snow-capped mountains…

Alison Downing is a Senior Research Fellow in Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. She completed her Masters degree on karst bryophytes  in 1993 and continued with that work and other allied interests, such as Pottiaceae and bryophytes of biological soil crusts, ever since. Besides her collaboration with Chinese researchers on desert soil crusts she also is working on subantarctic bryophytes, at the other end of the world. Current projects include the role of bryophytes in determining strategies for the long term management of subtropical rainforests in eastern Australia.

At a time when academic staff at universities around the world are more and more frustrated by increasing administrative work, her present position allows Alison greater opportunities to facilitate local and international collaborative studies. She also likes promoting bryology to the general public to overcome many of the less favourable preconceptions about bryophytes. Alison is a Council Member of the International Association of Bryologists.