Plant Evolution and Pollination Group


young man in sunglasses smelling a flowerOur Research develops globally significant understanding and solutions to the biodiversity conservation in flora. Our projects span from systematics and ecology to the genomics of adaptation and speciation in plants. We have a specific interest in how species perform within their ecosystems in regard to reproductive functions especially through pollination.

Northern NSW is a terrific location for this kind of work as it is a hot-spot for endangered flora with some 380 local species listed nationally as being threatened. Many of our staff and students have applied our expertise in plant reproductive ecology for the rehabilitation and recovery of such species.

Scholarship Opportunity

We are looking for Australian or NZ honours/Masters graduates to take up an exciting UNE PhD scholarship entitled "Linking pollinator biodiversity with spatial variability in tree characteristics". More information is available on the scholarships page.


Reproductive Plant Ecology and Conservation
with Professor Caroline Gross

In my research I aim to unravel the causes and effects of reproductive perturbations on plant population persistence.  Perturbations studied to date include exotic pollinators (e.g., Gross et al. 2010; Dafni et al. 2010), habitat fragmentation (Fatemi & Gross 2009, Neal et al. 2010), large scale disturbances from habitat clearing (Gross & Vary 2014) and fire (Gross et al. 2012), smaller scale disturbances from forestry activities (Gross & Mackay 2014), loss of mating morphs (Hadaddachi et al. 2014) and the ecology and evolution of weeds (e.g., Xu et al. 2009). 

I study endemic threatened species where reproductive effort is often compromised through to weedy species where elevated reproduction can accelerate the invasion process. This is a very important area of endeavour in Australia where 20% of the 20,000 plant species are threatened with extinction (Sjöström & Gross, 2006) and another c. 2,500 introduced plant species are threatening ecosystem integrity. I combine my expertise from working with both declining and ascending species to bring new knowledge for the rehabilitation of degraded and threatened ecological communities. There are two important lines of investigation in this work; the plant-pollinator interface and the role of disturbance in population persistence. I use a variety of techniques (e.g. pollination experiments in the field and glasshouse, seed bank analyses, seed viability testing, genetic testing) to work out why some species are in decline and how this may be arrested. Currently we are studying the impacts of habitat fragmentation on the Rusty Fig (Ficus rubiginosa Moraceae).

Pollination Ecology
with Professor Caroline Gross and Dr Romina Rader

One of the important lines of work on threatened endemic species is the plant and pollinator interface Our current focus is the pollination ecology of highly disjunct cool temperate species such as Aristotelia australasica (Eleaocarpaceae). Caroline also has standing interests in the impacts of introduced honeybees on plant fitness and native bee behaviour and I have a project to look at the effects of Apis cerana on native pollinator networks.

Romina is interested in the role of biodiversity in providing ecosystem processes/services and how communities respond to drivers of global change (i.e. climate change, land use change).  She is particularly interested in understanding how communities assemble and disassemble, change in functioning and how different forms of diversity are impacted at local and landscape scales. Her current focus is on:

  • Pollinations interactions in natural and human-modified landscapes, particularly the role of native pollinators in food crops.
  • How plant and animal functional traits respond to landscape structure, configuration and management.
with Professor Jeremy Bruhl

My main research interests are in the biology, ecology and systematics of Cyperaceae. I am part of the international network of researchers working on the Cyperaceae. My contributions to the Flora of North America (see below) were published in Volume 23 (2002).

  • Floral development in Cyperaceae: What is a Flower?
  • Sedge Genera of the World
  • Photosynthetic pathway variation in Cyperaceae
  • Species and other taxonomic limits in the Cyperaceae
  • Phylogeny of Cyperaceae. Current work is particularly focussed on Schoeneae
  • Flora of Australia treatments of some sedges and 'spurges'

I also have been and am involved in studies on a wide range of Australian plant groups (including ferns, wattles, Myrtaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Phyllanthaceae, Juncaceae, etc).

Genetics and Genomics
with Dr Rose Andrew

Eucalyptus Species distruibution MapDistribution of Eucalyptus Species in NSW

Eucalyptus hybridisation and adaptation: Eucalyptus offers an unique opportunity to investigate the sources of allelic variation underlying adaptive radiation. It is a species-rich (>700 species) genus, primarily consisting of essential foundation species on which entire ecosystems of interacting organisms depend. My research uses whole-genome and reduced representation sequencing in the box-ironbark eucalypts to address fundamental evolutionary questions.

Chiloglottis orchidChiloglottis orchid

The genomics of pollinator-driven speciation in Australian sexually-deceptive orchids: Many Australian terrestrial orchid species have a trick up their sleeves. Instead of attracting pollinators by tempting them with food, they mimic female insects visually and chemically to deceive males into trying to copulate with the orchid flower and transfer pollen in the process. My group is developing genomic resources for several genera, including Chiloglottis, and studying the genomic consequences of pollinator-driven speciation.

Helianthus in GlasshouseHelianthus annulus in Glass house

Evolution and ongoing introgression in naturalised sunflowers: Helianthus annuus is an important crop worldwide, but also has a substantial impact as an agricultural weed. Typically, the weedy form has evolved from the wild, undomesticated form of the species, which is native to North America. However, we have found evidence of gene flow (introgression) from the domesticated form, especially in introduced populations on other continents, such as Australia, where it may promote adaptation to new environments. Naturalised populations near Armidale display traits that suggest introgression of genes from domesticated lines has occurred.That is, does it increase or decrease the fitness of the weedy populations?

native  fig pollinators

Research Student Opportunities

Opportunities in plant ecology
  • The impacts of habitat fragmentation on the Rusty Fig (Ficus rubiginosa Moraceae) (contact Prof Caroline Gross)
Opportunities in pollination

lady bird on mango flower

LadyBird on Mango flower - Sue Jagger

  • The pollination ecology of highly disjunct cool temperate species such as Aristotelia australasica (Eleaocarpaceae). (contact Prof Caroline Gross)
  • Impacts of introduced honeybees on plant fitness and native bee behaviour specifically the effects of Apis cerana on native pollinator networks.(contact Prof Caroline Gross)
  • The efficiency of managed vs wild pollinators in crop pollination (contact Dr Romina Rader)
  • The impact of global environmental change upon species interaction networks (contact Dr Romina Rader)
  • The role of biodiversity in providing ecosystem function and services (contact Dr Romina Rader)
Opportunities in systematics
  • Floral development in Cyperaceae: What is a Flower?
  • Sedge Genera of the World
  • Photosynthetic pathway variation in Cyperaceae
  • Species and other taxonomic limits in the Cyperaceae.
  • Phylogeny of Cyperaceae. Current work is particularly focussed on Schoeneae
  • Flora of Australia treatments of some sedges and 'spurges'

contact Professor Jeremy Bruhl

Opportunities in genetics and genomics
  • Genomics of adaptation in naturalised Helianthus sunflowers (contact Dr Rose Andrew)
  • Speciation and genetics of Chiloglottis cornuta, the lone selfer among deceivers (contact Dr Rose Andrew)
  • Hybrid swarms or narrow contact zones: characterising hybrids between Eucalyptus species (contact Dr Rose Andrew)

Further Information

Our People


Caroline GrossProfessor Caroline Gross

Ecosystem Management

Phone: +61 2 6773 3759

Jeremy BruhlProfessor Jeremy Bruhl

Director, N.C.W. Beadle Herbarium (NE)

Phone: +61 2 6773 2429

Rose AndrewDr Rose Andrew

Ecosystem Management

Phone: +61 2 6773 3160

Romina RaderDr Romina Rader

Ecosystem Management

Phone: +61 2 6773 2857

Insect Pollination - in the media >

Research Students

Ahmad Barati (PhD candidate): Complex social structures and behaviours of Noisy Miners, Manorina melanocephala. Supervisors: Rose Andrew and Paul McDonald.

Steve McAlpin (PhD candidate): Ecology and social structures of the Yakka skink, a large burrowing lizard. Supervisors: Rose Andrew and Hamish Campbell.

Rokeya Sultana (PhD candidate): Mechanisms of speciation in Wahlenbergia. Supervisors: Caroline Gross and Rose Andrew.

David Mackay (PhD candidate): Habitat fragmentation in the rusty fig (Ficus rubiginosa). Supervisors: Darren Ryder and Caroline Gross.

Aaron Mulchahy (PhD candidate): The effects of canopy position on the reproductiove output and community composition of Ficus rubiginosa. Supervisor: Caroline Gross.

Sue Jagger (MEnvSci): Wild insect pollinators of mango crops. Supervisor: Romina Rader.


Tim Collins: Rare and endangered Eucalyptus magnificata (Myrtaceae): genetic diversity and taxonomy Supervisors: Jeremy Bruhl and Rose Andrew.

Deane Smith: Population genetics and local adaptation of feral cats in NSW. Supervisors: Rose Andrew and  Hamish Campbell.

Join Us

We're always on the look out for interested students to come and join the lab. If the research on this site sounds interesting, then feel free to contact us and discuss some options...

Living in Armidale

Armidale is a beautiful city, with distinct seasons. While it can be cold overnight in winter, the trade-off is glorious sunny days with little wind and clear skies. We are fortunate that within a couple of hours drive are many aquatic habitats from mountain streams, peat swamps, coastal rivers and estuaries. Armidale is also surrounded by many National Parks and reserves, so finding a close field site is easy! To learn more about Armidale, have a look here.

Scholarship opportunities

For those looking for scholarships to fund PhD projects, see Scholarships.


Ecology Laboratories

Equipped with a range of equipment including incubators, ovens, refrigerators, balances, microscopes (including some of research standard with fibre-optic cold-light source), portable field based automatic weather station, light and radiation meters, specimen storage facilities etc.

Plant & Soil Laboratories

Equipment includes germination cabinets, incubators, drying ovens, balances, refrigerators, pH and conductivity meters, EM38 conductivity meter for measuring apparent soil salinity, neutron moisture probe, field sampling equipment including soil and forest mensuration kits, and preparation areas for sample analyses.

Molecular ecology laboratory for studies in Plants, Evolution and Pollinators

This small  laboratory houses molecular biology equipment for population and conservation genetics and genomics. Equipment includes centrifuges, thermal cyclers (PCR machines), agarose gel electrophoresis equipment, bead mill (tissue disruptor), PCR setup, QiAxcel (capillary electrophoresis).  Researchers interested in using the equipment should contact either Professor Caroline Gross or Dr Rose Andrew.


The N.C.W. Beadle Herbarium (NE) at UNE consists of c.100 000 vascular plant specimens, housed in a purpose built facility with excellent stereomicroscopes and specimen imaging equipment. Herbarium NE was the first university-only herbarium to deliver data to Australia's Virtual Herbarium and Atlas of Living Australia (c. 83 000 records from 2013). Herbarium NE is an internationally recognised Herbarium. Herbarium NE is able to exchange specimens with, borrow from and lend to other recognised herbaria.

Related publications from 2010 to the present


If you are interested in some of the projects we are undertaking or have ideas that fall into similar areas, please contact:

Professor Caroline Gross
Ecosystem Management, School of Environmental and Rural Science
Phone: +61 2 6773 3759