Featured News Threatened plant rescue is a Eureka Prize finalist

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Wed, 19 Jul 2023

Threatened plant rescue is a Eureka Prize finalist

Project team in the field
Tropical Mountain Plant Science, Australian Tropical Herbarium at James Cook University Project team in the field. Photo: Donna Davis

A botanical mountaintop rescue mission, led by the Australian Tropical Herbarium at James Cook University in Cairns, is a finalist in this year’s prestigious Australian Museum Eureka Prizes.

Scientists from the Herbarium and JCU, in partnership with 12 other institutions around Australia, are recording, researching and collecting plant species from the mountaintop cloud forests of Queensland’s Wet Tropics World Heritage Area before they are impacted by climate change.

The project is one of three finalists for The Australian Institute of Botanical Science Eureka Prize for Excellence in Botanical Science.

“It’s a real thrill to be a finalist for this prestigious award,” Australian Tropical Herbarium Director, Professor Darren Crayn said. “We share the honour with an impressive team from around the country, who are all working together to study and protect these plants, which help tell the story of the Earth’s evolution.”

By building conservation reserves of at-risk wild species in botanic gardens and seed banks, the team aims to protect Australia’s tropical flora for future generations.

“Until now, the remote and rugged nature of these sites has helped shelter them from the usual human impacts,” Professor Crayn said.

“Climate modelling now predicts drastic habitat loss across the tropical highlands over the coming decades, with droughts becoming longer, hotter, drier and more frequent.

“Lowland species might be able to migrate to favourable niches elsewhere, but these mountaintop species may already be at their geographical limits. They can’t go up as the climate warms. They’re running out of space and they’re running out of time.

“Conserving biodiversity where it lives is always the best outcome, but in some cases it makes sense to ‘back-up’ threatened flora off-site, in germplasm collections such as seedbanks and botanic gardens. That is what we are doing for these iconic tropical cloud forest plants,” Professor Crayn said.

The five-year project, led by Professor Crayn, is funded by a $500,000 grant from the Ian Potter Foundation and $50,000 from the Wet Tropics Management Authority (WTMA).

The winners of the 2023 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes will be announced at The Australian Museum in Sydney on Wednesday 23 August.

The Australian Tropical Herbarium’s partners in the project are:

  • Australian National Botanic Gardens, Parks Australia
  • Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, Cranbourne
  • Mossman Botanic Garden
  • Cairns Botanic Gardens
  • Brisbane Botanic Gardens
  • Queensland Department of Environment and Science
  • Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust
  • Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden
  • Australian Rhododendron Society (Victorian Branch)
  • Jabalbina Yalanji Aboriginal Corporation
  • Western Yalanji Aboriginal Corporation
  • Wet Tropics Management Authority
  • Donna Davis, artist.