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Dr Karen Sommerville

Research Scientist
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Once destined for a life of bean counting, a far cry from her current work, Dr Karen Sommerville only discovered her affinity for plant science in her late twenties. While she’d always fostered a love of plants, inspired by her grandmother’s colourful and bountiful garden, Karen hadn’t ever planned on making a career out of it. 

After completing a Certificate in Horticulture Operations at TAFE, Karen realised her passions lay somewhere other than a bank. So, began her fruitful career. While studying her craft, Karen worked in a nursery and completed a Bachelor of Science (Hons 1st class) at UTS. As her love of science grew, so too, did her academic career. Before long Karen completed a PhD in the ecology and biology of saltmarsh plants. Today, she is an expert in her field and has a deep love of scientific research.

Karen is currently the Research Scientist in charge of the Rainforest Conservation Project. She assists in the storage of suitable seeds through seedbanking, and continues to research alternative measures for storing seeds not suitable for standard techniques. She is highly motivated by the prospect of contributing to the survival of some of our most threatened species. 

Research Interests

  • Ex situ conservation of Australian plants
  • Conservation options for rainforest species with desiccation-sensitive or freezing-sensitive seeds
  • Effects of environmental stress on plant germination and growth
  • Restoration of degraded natural environments
  • Molecular ecology of clonal plants
  • Symbiotic germination and cultivation of terrestrial orchids

Current Projects

The Rainforest Seed Conservation Project

Recent Media

TEDx Sydney: The other pandemic: Can we save our native plants from extinction? 

ABC news: Mountaintop rescue mission in FNQ's Wet Tropics to save threatened plant species

Sydney Morning Herald: Meet Karen Sommerville, the woman saving NSW rainforests one precious seed at a time 

Podcast appearances