National Herbarium

Sydney, Australia

National Herbarium

Sydney, Australia
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This week’s news that Australian customs officers incinerated irreplaceable plant specimens has shocked botanists around the world, and left many concerned about possible impacts on international research exchanges. Some have put a freeze on sending samples to Australia until they are assured that their packages won’t meet a similar fate, and others are discussing broader ways of assuring safe passage of priceless specimens. "This story is likely to have a major chilling effect on the loan system between herbaria across national boundaries," says Austin Mast, president of the Society of Herbarium Curators and director of the herbarium at Florida State University in Tallahassee. "Without the free sharing of specimens, the pace of plant diversity research slows." As a result of the customs debacle, curators in New Zealand put a stay on shipping samples to Australia. So has the New York Botanical Garden in New York City, which holds the second largest collection of preserved plants in the world. "We, and many other herbaria, will not send specimens to Australia until we are sure this situation will not be repeated," says herbarium Director Barbara Thiers. Herbaria are guardians of plant biodiversity data. Around the world, about 3000 institutions keep a total of 350 million plants specimens that have been pressed, dried, and stored in cabinets. Some are hundreds of years old; others are rare examples of extinct species. Particularly valuable are so-called type specimens, used to describe species for the first time. Botanists consult these when they are identifying new species or revising taxonomy. Many herbaria have digitized images of their specimens, allowing initial research to be conducted remotely. But some details must be examined first-hand. To do that, biologists often request specimens through a kind of interlibrary loan. "The system works well when the risk of damage or destruction of loaned specimens is perceived to be very low," Mast says. But sometimes things go awry. Earlier this week, many botanists learned about the destruction of six type specimens of daisies—some collected during a French expedition to Australia from 1791 to 1793—which the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) in Paris had mailed along with 99 other specimens to the Queensland Herbarium in Brisbane, Australia. After the package arrived in Brisbane in early January, the specimens were held up at customs because the paperwork was incomplete. Biosecurity officers asked the Queensland Herbarium for a list of the specimens and how they were preserved, but the herbarium sent its responses to the wrong email address, delaying the response by many weeks. In March, the officers requested clarification, but then incinerated the samples. "It's like taking a painting from the Louvre and burning it," says James Solomon, herbarium curator at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis. According to Australia’s Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, which enforces biosecurity rules, part of the problem was that the samples had a declared value of $2—and its agents routinely destroy low-value items that have been kept longer than 30 days. Michel Guiraud, director of collections at NMNH, says his museum's policy is to put minimal values on shipments. "If it is irreplaceable, there is no way to put an insurance value on it," he says. Guiraud says the package was sent with the usual documentation and he's trying to find out what went wrong. Concerned about the possibility of other scientific samples being destroyed, the museum is considering stopping loans from all of its collections to Australia. Australia’s agriculture department admitted in a statement that it erred in prematurely destroying the specimens, but didn't take sole responsibility for the snafu. "This is a deeply regrettable occurrence, but it does highlight the importance of the shared responsibility of Australia’s biosecurity system, and the need for adherence to import conditions." The department has reviewed its procedures for handling delayed items and is considering how package labels could highlight the “intrinsic value” of scientific specimens. On Monday, officials met with representatives from a consortium of Australasian herbaria to help them understand and comply with importation rules. "At this stage it appears we are resolving the matter very positively," says botanist Michelle Waycott of the University of Adelaide in Australia and the Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria. A second incident came to light after botanists at the Allan Herbarium in Lincoln, New Zealand, heard last month about the destruction of the French specimens. They inquired about six lichen samples, including a type specimen of Buellia macularis, that they had shipped to the Australian National Herbarium in Canberra last year. It turned out the specimens had been destroyed in October 2016 by biosecurity officers in Sydney, Australia. The department is investigating what happened in this case. New Zealand herbaria have suspended loans to Australia while they wait for written guarantees that their specimens will be safe. “We are disappointed we have lost an important part of our collection but we’re looking forward to further international collaboration,” said Ilse Breitwieser, director of the Allan Herbarium, in a statement this week. Curators elsewhere are reviewing how they ship samples internationally. "We will rethink our policy of lending specimens to countries that would pose a risk for loss of collections," says Christine Niezgoda, collections manager of flowering plants at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois, who, like others, was surprised to learn that specimens would be destroyed rather than returned. The Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, which is following the situation in Australia, hopes to increase communication among curators about shipping regulations and border inspection procedures. A long-standing frustration for many is that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), like its counterpart in Australia, does not have a separate category for low-risk scientific specimens. "The way that the U.S. and Australian governments are treating these shipments is basically going to bring taxonomic work to a halt," says Ellen Dean, curator of the Center for Plant Diversity at the University of California, Davis. "We are thinking of no longer loaning our specimens to other countries, because we are uncertain that APHIS will allow our own specimens back into this country." Whatever the destination, veterans emphasize that every detail matters, even the most obvious. "Nothing derails a shipment faster than a wrong address," says Thiers, who maintains a public database of herbaria addresses and contact information. "Sometimes they don't get returned for years, and unless you take extraordinary measures, you won't get them back." (With the volume of specimens that get mailed from the New York Botanic Garden—up to 30,000 a year—Thiers can't afford tracked shipments and uses cheaper library rate shipping.) Even the most diligent curators confess to late-night worries. "Any time you let something go out the door, there's a risk," says Solomon, who is continuing to send specimens to Australia. "The benefit from making the material available far outweighs the risk." Says Niezgoda: "Collections are meant to be used to promote scientific inquiry and this should not change."

Fun fact: Australia's custom officials are known for procedures teetering on the absurdly overzealous, thanks to the continent's unique natural environment. But those procedures are under investigation, after officials destroyed "irreplaceable" rare flowering plants sent from France. "They were the first type specimens collected of a species," Michelle Waycott, chair at the Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria, told ABC News. "That would be the equivalent of material collected in the Flinders expedition, going and then destroying those. So literally irreplaceable collections and of high historic and scientific value." D'oh! These border officials have absolutely zero chill. SEE ALSO: This company is creating a fusion reactor, which is how stars produce energy The plant samples from the Museum of Natural History in Paris dated back to the mid-1800s. It was intended for the Queensland Herbarium, but was destroyed due to paperwork issues in March. In a statement via email, the Department of Agriculture acknowledged "the intrinsic value of the specimens," and conceded that its destruction was "premature." Once the plants were detained, the Queensland Herbarium sent correspondence to an incorrect email address. Ugh. When their information was eventually received, it was not sufficient, and the plants were destroyed in line with policy. RIP, rare flowering plants. A "comprehensive review of this incident" will be undertaken by the department to prevent a similar situation from occurring again. "This is a deeply regrettable occurrence, but it does highlight the importance of the shared responsibility of Australia's biosecurity system, and the need for adherence to import conditions," according to the statement. In a similar incident, New Zealand's Landcare Research Allan Herbarium loaned lichen samples collected in the 1930s to the Australian National Herbarium last year. The loan was to see if lichen found in both countries were similar, but the sample was destroyed by border officials in Sydney. The incident prompted the Allan Herbarium from stopping further samples being sent to Australia until assurances of its safe arrival are made in writing. The department said it was "unaware of this incident," however it is "investigating it as a matter of priority."

Jayasuriya K.M.G.G.,University of Peradeniya | Baskin J.M.,University of Kentucky | Baskin C.C.,University of Kentucky | Fernando M.T.R.,National Herbarium
Research Journal of Seed Science | Year: 2012

Non dormancy, three of the five classes of dormancy and orthodox and recalcitrant storage behavior occur in seeds of Fabaceae. The aim of the study was to characterize whole-seed dormancy and storage behavior in seeds of three tropical species of Derris (Fabaceae), which are lianas. Seed Moisture Content (MC); effects of drying and low temperature on viability; water-uptake of intact and scarified seeds; and effects of scarification, fruit coat removal and GAS on germination were determined. Seed coat anatomy was studied to check for evidence of physical dormancy. Seeds of D. parvifolia and D. scandens had low MC and those of D. trifoliata high MC. D. trifoliata seeds were sensitive to both drying and low temperature storage. Seeds of D, scandens were water-impermeable and those of D. parvifolia and D. trifoliata water-permeable. D. parvifolia seeds germinated without treatment, whereas those of D. scandens required scarification. Removal of fruit coat and application of GAS overcame dormancy in D. trifoliata seeds. A palisade layer was present only in the seed coat of D. scandens. D, trifoliata seeds are recalcitrant and those of the other two species orthodox. Seeds of D. parvifolia are nondormant and those of D. scandens and D, trifoliata have Physical (PY) and Physiological (PD) dormancy, respectively. The ecological implications of nondormancy/dormancy in relation to orthodoxy/recalcitrant seed storage behavior in tropical lianas are discussed. © 2012 Academic Journals Inc.

Visser V.,University of South Africa | Fish L.,National Herbarium | Cook G.D.,CSIRO | Richardson D.M.,Center for Invasion Biology
Global Ecology and Biogeography | Year: 2016

Aim: Some regions donate more invaders from particular taxonomic and functional groups than they receive. We demonstrate a particularly striking donor-recipient asymmetry in invasion ecology in grasses. Specifically, we explore whether low numbers of invasive grasses in South Africa can be explained by sampling biases, introduction dynamics, species traits or invasibility of ecosystems. Location: South Africa, Australia, Chile, Europe and the USA. Methods: We tested for a donor-recipient asymmetry using lists of native and non-native grasses in five regions across the globe. Then, using distribution, trait and environmental data, we tested whether regions differed in: (1) herbarium sampling effort; (2) introduction dynamics of non-native grasses (primary uses, area of origin and minimum residence time of non-native grasses); (3) traits of native and non-native grasses (leaf size, height, life history, growth form, C3:C4 ratio and taxonomic placement); and (4) fire frequency. Results: South Africa has fewer invasive grasses, and fewer widespread invasive grasses, than other regions; while grasses native to South Africa are much more likely to be invasive elsewhere than other grasses. This asymmetry cannot be explained by sampling biases, historical trade links or minimum residence time. Rather it is likely to be due to a combination of: (1) the massive scale of the introduction of South African grasses around the world; (2) specific traits that make South African grasses successful competitors; and (3) the high fire frequency of many South African ecosystems to which many native grasses are adapted, but introduced grasses are not. Main conclusion: South Africa has a high diversity of grasses that possess specific traits to cope with fire, grazing and disturbance. This makes them more competitive. Moreover, the high diversity of certain grass lineages in South Africa acts as a reservoir of potential invaders and possibly helps limit invasions in South Africa by promoting fire. © 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

Cabrera J.,University Mainz | Jacobs S.W.L.,National Herbarium | Kadereit G.,University Mainz
Telopea | Year: 2010

Camphorosmeae (Chenopodiaceae, formerly Sderolaeneae) are widespread across all states of Australia. Molecular data revealed that the Australian Camphorosmeae represent a monophyletic lineage comprising 147 currently recognised species, 145 of which are endemic to Australia. Like their Eurasian relatives most Australian Camphorosmeae are well-adapted to dry and saline environments, and most species are distributed in semi-arid or arid landscapes of the Eremaean area of central and western Australia. The historical biogeography of the Australian Camphorosmeae is analysed using an ETS phylogeny of the group and DIVA. We found that diversification of the tribe started at the end of the Miocene, and that radiation took place during the Pliocene, probably driven by the aridification of Australia during this time. Southern west Australia probably served as the ancestral area, and we hypothesise that the ancestors of Australian Camphorosmeae were already adapted to dry and saline conditions and might have been distributed in coastal or saline inland habitats. Successful dispersal and establishment of Camphorosmeae in the then newly developed arid regions was probably enhanced by niche pre-emption. Our timing of the radiation of this drought-adapted lineage and the directions of its dispersal support the hypothesis that the aridification of Australia started during the Late Miocene and arid areas expanded during the Pliocene from the west to the east and then north. © 2011 Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust.

Williams V.L.,University of Witwatersrand | Victor J.E.,National Herbarium | Crouch N.R.,Ethnobotany Unit | Crouch N.R.,University of KwaZulu - Natal
South African Journal of Botany | Year: 2013

In 2009, South Africa completed the IUCN Red List assessments of 20,456 indigenous vascular plant taxa. During that process, medicinal plant species (especially those sold in informal muthi markets) were identified so that potential extinction risks posed to these species could be assessed. The present study examines and analyses the recently documented threat statuses of South African ethnomedicinal taxa, including the number of species used, revealing family richness and the degree of endemism, and calculates the Red List Index (RLI) of species survival to measure the relative degree of threat to medicinal species. Approximately 2062 indigenous plant species (10% of the total flora) have been recorded as being used for traditional medicine in South Africa, of which it has been determined that 82 species (0.4% of the total national flora) are threatened with extinction at a national level in the short and medium terms and a further 100 species are of conservation concern (including two species already extinct in the wild). Thirty-two percent of the taxa have been recorded in traditional medicine markets in the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and Limpopo. The study also reflects on the challenges associated with Red List evaluations of medicinal species, many of which, based on market reports, are extracted at a seemingly unsustainable rate. In contrast to the majority of species enumerated in the Red List of South African plants, medicinal taxa are often widespread, with large extents of occurrence. Accordingly, the population decline criteria have necessarily been applied to assess threats to their existence, even though accurate figures for numbers of remaining individuals, areas of occupancy, quantities harvested, and regeneration times are often found lacking. Factors leading to susceptibility of plant species to extinction as a result of harvesting pressure are discussed. The current findings reveal a need for greater emphasis on focussed population level research on prioritised medicinal plant species. © 2013 South African Association of Botanists.

Jacobs S.W.L.,National Herbarium | Hellquist C.B.,Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts
Telopea | Year: 2010

Nymphaea Iukei and N. noelae, both Nymphaeaceae subgenus Confluentes, are described from the Kimberley region of Western Australia and Cape York region of Queensland respectively. The new combination and status of Nymphaea kimberleyensis is provided for Nymphaea immutabilis subsp. kimberleyensis from Western Australia. From Central Eastern Queensland Nymphaea jacobsii (subgenus Anecphya), with two subspecies, and N. vaporalis are described as new taxa. The potential hybrid origin of N. kimberleyensis and N. vaporalis is discussed, as is the presence of an intergrade complex. Another hybrid, N. jacobsii x N. violácea, is described but not named. A key is provided for the native and naturalised species of Nymphaea in Australia. © 2011 Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust.

Dunk C.W.,La Trobe University | Lebel T.,National Herbarium | Keane P.J.,La Trobe University
Mycorrhiza | Year: 2012

The occurrence of the exotic ectomycorrhizal fungus Amanita muscaria in a mixed Nothofagus-Eucalyptus native forest was investigated to determine if A. muscaria has switched hosts to form a successful association with a native tree species in a natural environment. A mycorrhizal morphotype consistently found beneath A. muscaria sporocarps was examined, and a range of morphological and anatomical characteristics in common with those described for ectomycorrhizae formed by A. muscaria on a broad range of hosts were observed. A full description is provided. The likely plant associate was determined to be Nothofagus cunninghamii based upon anatomy of the roots. Analysis of ITS-1 and ITS-2 regions of nuclear ribosomal DNA sequences confirmed the identities of both fungal and plant associates. These findings represent conclusive evidence of the invasion of a non-indigenous ectomycorrhizal fungus into native forest and highlight the ecological implications of this discovery. © 2011 Springer-Verlag.

Barkworth M.E.,Utah State University | Jacobs S.W.L.,National Herbarium
Telopea | Year: 2010

We endorse recognition of four morphologically and cytologically distinct genera for Australasia's native Triticeae: Australopyrum, Stenostachys, Anthosachne and Connorochloa. To encourage adoption of this recommendation, we present a key to all genera of Triticeae found in Australasia, descriptions of the native genera, keys to their species, the new combinations required to implement our generic recommendations (Anthosachne falcis, A. fertilis, A. longiseta, A. multiflora var. kingiana, A. plurinervis, A. rectiseta, A. solandri and Stenostachys enysii), and representative line drawings. These and additional identification resources are available on the web at We also lectotypify Agropyron velutinum Nees. © 2011 Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust.

Tikssa M.,Addis Ababa Institute of Technology | Bekele T.,Addis Ababa Institute of Technology | Kelbessa E.,National Herbarium
African Journal of Ecology | Year: 2010

The vegetation along the Awash River (1200-km long) in the main Ethiopian Rift, and its relationship with environmental factors was studied. Seven plant communities were described from the study area: (1) Acacia nilotica subsp. leiocarpa. - Carissa edulis type; (2) Acacia robusta subsp. usambarensis - Acokanthera schimperi type; (3) Celtis africana - Mimusops laurifolia type; (4) Acacia senegal - Acacia mellifera - Dobera glabra type; (5) Acacia nilotica subsp. indica - Ficus capreaefolia type; (6) Lannea schimperi- Glycine wightii type; and (7) Tamarix nilotica - Acacia hocki community type. It has been shown that the plant communities along the river follow an altitudinal gradient. The vegetation of the Awash River is mainly the result of the interactions between edaphic factors, the hydrology, altitude, slope and climate. © 2009 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

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