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Dr Russell Barrett

Systematic Botanist

Dr Russell Barrett is a research botanist, author and photographer who grew up in the remote Kimberley region of Western Australia. He is passionate about botany, ecology, conservation, the Kimberley and sedges (just to name a few). Dr Barrett has discovered over 400 new plant species, sometimes from helicopters in remote wilderness, and sometimes in the middle of our capital cities. 

"I grew up in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, developing an early passion for botany after discovering new species on our family property while still in high school. Since completion of my PhD at The University of Western Australia I have held positions at the Botanic Gardens & Parks Authority; Parks & Conservation, ACT Government; Australian National Herbarium, CSIRO and the Australian Biological Resources Study (ABRS) prior to joining the RBG&DT. I focus on the discovery and naming of new Australian plants. I collaborate internationally with a wide range of researchers to provide a broad context for my work, including phylogenetics, biogeography and conservation."

Research projects

Keys to the flora of the world renown Kimberley region of Western Australia and a bibliographic synopsis

This project will deliver an 800+ page publication providing identification keys to 3,500 vascular plant taxa in north-western Australia. It also includes representative colour photographs, comprehensive bibliographic data, misapplication of names, type citations and synoptic flowering and distribution data. Updating the Flora of the Kimberley Region (Wheeler 1992), which included 2,045 taxa, it includes many ‘phrase-name’ taxa for which there is currently no published identification tool. Nearly a quarter of a century in compilation, this will be an essential tool for identifying plants in north-western Australia.

Funded by an Australian Biological Resources Study Bush Blitz grant.

Cryptic speciation in Arivela (Cleomaceae)

Collaborators: Margaret Byrne, David Coates, Craig Moritz, Kym Ottewell, Kevin Thiele

This project is investigating cryptic speciation in Australian species of Arivela (formerly included in the large genus Cleome; Cleomaceae). It complements phylogenomic studies for a recent ARC Linkage Grant “Phylogenomic assessment of conservation priorities in two biodiversity hotspots: The Pilbara and the Kimberley”. There appears to be a high level of cryptic speciation in several species complexes not identified in the existing Flora of Australia account. Most Australian native species are best placed in the segregate genus Arivela and new combinations have been made (Barrett et al. 2017). However, the unusual C4 species Cleome oxalidea, endemic to the tropical arid zone of Australia, was found to be an isolated lineage, described as a new genus Areocleome. We are currently working with the Genomics of Australian Plants project to sequence the Areocleome genome. Both molecular markers and morphological characters are being used to assess taxonomic limits in the genus.

Funded by an Australian Biological Resources Study grant.

Untangling the sand lilies – taxonomic revision of the genus Corynotheca (Asphodelaceae / Hemerocallidaceae)

Collaborators: Terry Macfarlane, Greg Keighery

The unusual Australian sand lily genus is being revised following the recognition of new species in Western Australia. The taxonomic status of all varieties of Corynotheca micrantha is being re-evaluated. Type specimens have been examined and new descriptions have been prepared for all taxa. Corynotheca has an unusual distribution, with many species in inland Australia, another cluster of species in south-west Western Australia, and an apparent replacement series of species in northern Australia, but it is absent from the east coast and Tasmania.

Facilitated by grants from the Australian Biological Resources Study.

Species boundaries in Erythrophleum (Fabaceae: Caesalpinioideae) in Australia

A small genus of about 10 species distributed across Africa to South-east Asia and Australia. Fieldwork in northern Australia has shown that three species should be recognised in Australia. Found from the Great Sandy Desert in Western Australia, to the tip of Cape York in Queensland, this genus occurs in a wide range of habitats. It has many traditional uses and is an important native timber source in the Northern Territory as it is one of the few species resistant to termites. The core wood is deep red in colour, and very hard, making it excellent for woodworking. On a note of caution, almost all parts of the plant are highly toxic to both people and livestock, and even dust from cut wood can be highly irritating.

Phylogenetics of the Sword sedges (Lepidosperma) and allied genera

Collaborators: Matt Barrett, Jeremy Bruhl, George Plunkett, Mark Wallace, Karen Wilson

One of Australia's largest genera, Lepidosperma is a common component of many ecosystems in southern and eastern Australia (Barrett & Wilson 2012; Barrett 2013). With a few species extending to New Zealand, New Caledonia, New Guinea, Borneo, Malaysia and China, it presents many exciting opportunities to study patterns of biogeography and speciation. With large numbers of undescribed species, the species-level taxonomy of this genus only now being determined. It is estimated that over 200 species are yet to be formally named, most of these from Western Australia. New species are also known from most Australian states.

Current student collaborators

Hai-hua Hu. Temporal and spatial diversity differences between the floras of eastern Asia and North America. PhD Student. Supervised by Li-min Lu and Zhi-duan Chen. State Key Laboratory of Systematic and Evolutionary Botany, Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100093, China.

Kun-kun Zhao. Phylogenomics and speciation in Diabelia (Caprifoliaceae). PhD Student. Supervised by Hua-Feng Wang. Hainan Key Laboratory for Sustainable Utilization of Tropical Bioresources, Institute of Tropical Agriculture and Forestry, Hainan University, Haikou 570228, China.

Artémis Anest. Plant architecture and key functional traits associated with biome shifts in Combretaceae. PhD Student. Supervised by Tristan Charles-Dominique. Evolution of the plant architecture, Community Ecology & Conservation Group, Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden (XTBG), Yunnan, China.

Research papers

Dr Barrett has published 9 books, 12 book chapters, and over 65 research papers, along with numerous contributions to the electronic Flora of Australia. Details can be found at:

Publication highlights:

  • Ottewell K, Byrne M, Barrett MD, Barrett RL (2019) Phylogenetic studies of Arivela (Cleomaceae: Brassicales) reveals cryptic speciation and contrasting patterns of dispersal. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution: Submitted
  • Barrett RL, Wilson KL, Bruhl JJ (2019) Anthelepis, a new genus for four mainly tropical species of Cyperaceae from Australia, New Caledonia and South East Asia. Australian Systematic Botany SB18047. Accepted April 2019.
  • Barrett RL, Cosgrove M, Milner RNC (2018) Field guide to plants of the Molonglo Valley: Natural Temperate Grassland, Box Gum Woodland, Riparian Vegetation. ACT Government, Parks & Conservation Service, Canberra. 436 pp.
  • Barrett RL, Roalson EH, Ottewell K, Byrne M, Govindwar SP, Yadav SR, Tamboli AS, Gholave AR (2017) Resolving generic boundaries in Indian–Australasian Cleomaceae: circumscription of Areocleome, Arivela and Corynandra as distinct genera. Systematic Botany 42(4): 694–708. doi: 10.1600/036364417X696401
  • Barrett RL, Pin Tay E (2016) Perth Plants. A field guide to the bushland and coastal flora of Kings Park and Bold Park. Second Edition. CSIRO Publishing: Melbourne and Botanic Gardens & Parks Authority, West Perth. 440 pp.
  • Erickson TE, Barrett RL, Merritt DJ, Dixon KW (eds) (2016) Pilbara seed atlas and field guide. Plant restoration in Australia’s arid north-west. CSIRO Publishing: Melbourne. 312 pp.
  • Stevens JC, Rokich D, Newton VJ, Barrett RL, Dixon KW (eds) (2016) Restoring Perth’s Banksia woodlands. University of Western Australia Press: Crawley.
  • Barrett RL, Barrett MD (2015) Twenty-seven species of vascular plants from Western Australia. Nuytsia 26: 21–87.
  • Barrett RL (2013) Ecological importance of sedges: a survey of the Australasian Cyperaceae genus Lepidosperma. Annals of Botany 111(4): 499–529. doi:10.1093/aob/mct008
  • Barrett RL, Wilson KL (2012) A review of the genus Lepidosperma (Cyperaceae: Schoeneae). Australian Systematic Botany 25(4): 225–294. doi:10.1071/SB11037

Affiliations and committees

  • Associate Editor, Telopea. (2017– )
  • Visiting Fellow, College of Medicine, Biology and Environment, Research School of Biology, Australian National University. (2015– )
  • Research Associate, Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority. (2015– )
  • Moderator, Canberra Nature Map (2015– )
  • Associate Editor, Australian Systematic Botany. (2014– )
  • Adjunct Lecturer, School of Plant Biology, The University of Western Australia. (2012– )

Scientific Curatorial responsibilities in herbarium

Alstroemeriaceae, Alstroemeriaceae, Amaryllidaceae, Asparagaceae, Asphodelaceae, Asteliaceae, Blandfordiaceae, Boryaceae, Burmanniaceae, Campynemaceae, Colchicaceae, Corsiaceae, Cyperaceae, Dasypogonaceae, Dioscoreaceae, Doryanthaceae, Fabaceae subfamily Faboideae, Hanguanaceae, Hypoxidaceae, Iridaceae, Ixioliriaceae, Juncaceae, Lanariaceae, Liliaceae, Melanthiaceae, Melanthiaceae, Nartheciaceae, Petermanniaceae, Petrosaviaceae, Philesiaceae, Ripogonaceae, Smilacaceae, Stemonaceae, Tecophilaeaceae, Tofieldiaceae, Xeronemataceae.

In the media 

Listen to the Garden's Branch Out podcast featuring Dr Russell Barrett

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