Botany conference to link science and society

Published 18 November 2009

asbsOne hundred plant scientists from throughout Australia and abroad will meet at the University of New England at the beginning of December to discuss new botanical discoveries and their significance for human societies.

The 2009 conference of the Australian Systematic Botany Society (ASBS) will be held at UNE from the 1st to the 3rd of December. The overseas delegates will travel to Armidale from New Zealand, The Netherlands, the UK, and the United States.

The convener of the conference, UNE’s Associate Professor Jeremy Bruhl, said this year’s theme – “Systematic botany: from science to society” – acknowledged that the discovery and classification of plant species was the vital basis for all new applications of botanical knowledge.

“We’re at a particularly exciting time to be dealing with the fundamental questions ‘What are the species out there?’ and ‘What are their evolutionary relationships?’,” Dr Bruhl said. “There’s a convergence of new technologies for analysing plant samples and data with a greater awareness of how much more we need to know about the biological world in order to address the threats of weeds, habitat clearing, and climate change.”

“According to conservative estimates, 20 per cent of all Australia’s plant species are still unrecorded,” he said, “but that estimate jumps to about 75 per cent when looking at certain groups of plants.”

The conference will include an important workshop titled “National accreditation of providers of biological identification”. “This workshop is very timely,” Dr Bruhl said, “as some States are gearing up for accreditation of people who provide species identification and biological surveys. The workshop will include discussion of the role of vouchers, herbaria, and software and databases for identification and planning, and the need for adequate funding to support these systems.”

The workshop panel will include Dr David Coates (Leader of the Flora Conservation and Herbarium Program, WA Department of Environment and Conservation), Mr Greg Elks (Ecological Consultants’ Association of NSW), Dr Tim Entwisle (Executive Director of the Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney), Dr Klaus Koop (Director, Environment and Conservation Science, and Chief Scientist, Environment Protection Authority, NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water), and Mr Cameron Slayter (Director of the Australian Biological Resources Study, Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts).

Dr Bruhl is the Director of the N.C.W. Beadle Herbarium at UNE, and the conference is being hosted by the Herbarium and the Botany discipline within UNE’s School of Environmental and Rural Science.

Dr Bruhl said that 17 universities and 15 herbaria would be represented at the conference, as well as other research institutions and botanical consulting companies. The keynote speaker will be Peter Stevens, Professor of Biology at the University of Missouri in St Louis, USA, and Curator of the Missouri Botanical Garden. “Professor Stevens will bring a clear understanding of what we need to do in matching newly-acquired molecular data on species relationships with morphological data acquired over hundreds of years,” Dr Bruhl said.