Big questions in biology: Australia’s biodiversity, its past, present and future

Presented by ANU College of Health & Medicine

In this discussion forum, four internationally recognised researchers will present their own research on different aspects of Australian biodiversity.

They will look back at historical evidence to show how Australian plants and animals evolved and what factors have influenced them.

By analysing the variety of animals and plants in Australia today, the researchers will propose ways they can be managed, protected and used effectively.

The presenters will then come together in a panel moderated by Dr Rod Lamberts (Deputy Director of the Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science) to discuss the future of Australia's biodiversity and what factors, including climate change, are likely to influence it.

Researchers and their topics

Dr Marcel Cardillo, ANU Research School of Biology

Why do some parts of the world have many more species than others?

It is well known that the tropics tend to be richer in biodiversity than high latitudes - a tropical rainforest in New Guinea, for example, will have many more species of trees, birds, mammals and insects, than a Tasmanian forest of equal size. But despite the generality of the latitudinal diversity gradient, we are still unsure of the explanation: is it climate, evolutionary history, or something else?

Professor Craig Moritz, Centre for Biodiversity Analysis, ANU Research School of Biology

Australia is globally recognised as having high and very unique biological diversity. Evolutionary biologists are leading the charge to discover and understand this rich heritage, which we as a nation must protect. Even for vertebrates - and reptiles and amphibians in particular - we are far from having a full inventory, and this "Linneaen shortfall" is becoming especially obvious in the tropical north.

Dr Carsten Kulheim, ANU Research School of Biology

Surprised to see the Australian iconic eucalypt on your overseas trip? Not only are they the most planted hardwood trees worldwide and dominate most terrestrial ecosystems in Australia, with 800 species, Australia is also filled with eucalypt diversity. Dr Kulheim will discuss what climate change means for eucalypt distributions in the future, the effects on the ecosystem if key players are eliminated and the use of chemotypes for novel applications such as the production of high-tech graphene and high energy biofuel production.

Professor Adrienne Nicotra, ANU Research School of Biology

Rapid climate change is threatening alpine regions in Australia and across the world more acutely than many other regions as alpine warming is accelerated and alpine species have little option for migration. These changes will affect the distribution of species and the community composition of our iconic alpine landscapes. Decisions about how to prepare for and manage these changes require not only sound science, but substantive discussions among researchers, managers, and society at large. 

Full talk summaries can be found here.