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Dr Matt A.M. Renner

Systematic Botanist


Dr Matt Renner has been part of our team since 2010, first as a Postdoctoral Fellow before taking the role of Systematic Botanist in 2016. Matt began his botanist career more than 20 years ago when he commenced a Bachelor of Science in Botany and Ecology at the University of Auckland. 

Matt earned a PhD from the University of Sydney in Biology in 2008. Matt’s work has taken him all around New Zealand and eventually to join our team here in Sydney. 

Matt has won a number of awards for his contributions to botany research and has published nearly forty papers on various topics in the last four years alone. His research interests today lie in the discovery and documentation of Australian plants, with a focus on groups that have not been studied before. In recent years, Matt has spent time in the wet tropics of Queensland and brought home more than 10 new plant species. 

"I got the orchid bug at 14, and this spread to ferns then all New Zealand plants via some pretty inspirational Stage 2 and 3 Ecology courses at the University of Auckland taught by Dr Shane Wright and A/Prof. John Ogden. 

By the end of my Bachelors degree my obsession encompassed all plants, so I pursued those I then knew least into post-graduate research supervised by Dr John Braggins, then one of two professional liverwort authorities in New Zealand.  I completed a PhD at the University of Sydney under A/Prof Glenda Wardle and Dr Elizabeth Brown. 

Finding new things is always a thrill, and bryophytes present so many opportunities for discovery that they’ve held me captivated for more than 2 decades.  More important than finding new things, though, is the broader context that makes things new, and it is that context that frames many of my research questions.  Understanding what is in the world, how you tell species apart, untangling how organisms are related, and reconciling historical confusion are all core themes of my research.  While bryophytes are a major focus, I pursue research on other plants, including forget-me-nots, orchids, and peas."

Research Interests

Discovery and documentation of Australian plants, especially more challenging, understudied groups and encompassing both living and fossil taxa, using a range of data sources and tools including molecular phylogeny inference and geometric morphometric methods. 

Current Projects

My research has two broad themes:
  1. Documenting the diversity of Australian plant life. This is a broad and long-term research theme, comprising a sequence of projects investigating more challenging plant groups, particularly bryophytes.  
  2. Understanding the diversity of Australian plant life. Understanding how Australia’s unique plant life has come to be, through changing climates and vegetation types, interactions with other land masses, involves reconstructing historical processes from contemporary patterns. 

 An integrative revision of Australian Aneuraceae
Collaborators: Drs Lei Shu (East China Normal University) and David Glenny. 
Arguably the Aneuraceae are the last 'black box' in the Australian bryophyte flora, in that they present such a challenge to morphological studies that we don’t yet have a clear idea of how diverse they might be.  This project, which has been funded by ABRS from July 2019, aims to synthesize molecular and morphological data to resolve species in Australia and their relationships in a global context. 
The Pultenaea glabra complex
Collaborators: Drs Russell Barrett and Peter Weston
This project will combine next generation molecular and morphological techniques to understand relationships within the Pultenaea glabra complex, a species of conservation significance but which includes a number of morphologically and ecologically distinct forms. 
Species boundaries in Australasian Lejeuneaceae (Marchantiopsida)
Collaborators: Drs David Glenny (Landcare Research, NZ) Peter de Lange (Unitech, Auckland), and the late Prof. Jochen Heinrichs (Ludwig Maximillans University, Munich).
Lejeuneaceae is the most species-rich family of liverwort, with more than 1000 species.  Though diversity is concentrated in the tropics, Australasia has a distinctive flora comprising many unique southern-temperate elements.  Species of this family are usually small, difficult to work with, and relatively character poor, so have not attracted as much attention as other, more charismatic bryophyte groups.  As such there are still new species to discover and describe in this family. 
Climate space exploration in Acacia, linking traits, rates, and time-trees.
Collaborators: Drs Daniel Murphy (Royal Botanic Garden, Victoria), Charles Foster (University of Sydney), Joe Miller (GBIF, Copenhagen)
This project synthesizes biodiversity data from Australia’s Virtual Herbarium (AVH) with BioClimatic layers, trait data, and a comprehensively sampled molecular phylogeny to query how Acacia has explored climate space on a drying continent through time. 
Phylogenetics of Astrotricha (Araliaceae)
Collaborators: Mr Richard Dimon, Drs Trevor Wilson, Marlien van der Merwe, and A/Prof Murray Henwood (University of Sydney)
Astrotricha is endemic to Australia, comprising around 25 species in mesic, monsoon, and semi-arid zones.  Most diversity is in south-east Australia, however species circumscription remains problematic.  This project, which formed the basis for an honours thesis, seeks to resolve the relationships of Astrotricha within the Araliaceae, resolve relationships among species, to provide a robust phylogenetic framework upon which revisionary studies can proceed, and understand the timing and tempo of speciation across Australia. 

Publication highlights

For a complete publication list, see my Google Scholar or ResearchGate profiles

Renner MAM (2018) A revision of Australian Plagiochila (Lophocoleinae: Jungermanniopsida). Telopea 21: 187—380.
Renner MAM, Heslewood MM, Heinrichs J (2018) Geometric morphometric methods achieve type specimen assignment in the cryptic Plagiochila arbuscula complex (Plagiochilaceae: Jungermanniopsida) with the minimum of morphological evidence. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 186: 108—128.
Renner MAM, Heslewood MM, Patzak SDF, Schafer-Verwimp A, Heinrichs (2017) By how much do we underestimate species diversity of liverworts using morphological evidence? An example from Australasian Plagiochila (Plagiochilaceae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 107: 576—593.
Renner MAM, Heslewood MM, Patzak SDF, Schafer-Verwimp A, Heinrichs J (2016) The genera Chiastocaulon, Cryptoplagiochila and Pedinophyllum (Plagiochilaceae) in Australia. Australian Systematic Botany 29: 358—402.
Renner MAM, Devos N, Brown EA, von Konrat MJ (2013) Three modes of heterochrony explain lobule diversity in Radula subgenus Cladoradula (Porellales: Jungermanniopsida), a small lineage of early land plants today. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 173: 153—175.

Current Students 

  • Mr Christopher Donovan. Root and shoot nutrition in vascular epiphytes. PhD Student, University of Sydney, primary supervisor A/Prof. Charles Warren.
  • Ms Chachatba Promma. A systematic revision of Radula subg. Amentuloradula (Marchantiopsida). PhD Student, East China Normal University, primary supervisor Prof. Rui-Liang Zhu.

Affiliations and committees

Fellow of the Linnean Society, London (2010—)
Research Associate, University of Sydney (2017—)
Scientific Editor, Telopea (2018—)

Scientific Curatorial responsibilities in herbarium

 Anthocerotaceae, Dendrocerotaceae, Leiosporocerotaceae, Notothyladaceae, Phymatocerotaceae, Acrobolbaceae, Adelanthaceae, Allisoniaceae, Aneuraceae, Antheliaceae, Arnelliaceae, Aytoniaceae, Balantiopsidaceae, Blasiaceae, Blepharidophyllaceae, Blepharostomataceae, Brevianthaceae, Calyculariaceae, Calypogeiaceae, Cephaloziaceae, Cephaloziellaceae, Chonecoleaceae, Cleveaceae, Conocephalaceae, Corsiniaceae, Cyathodiaceae, Dumortieraceae, Endogemmataceae, Exomothecaceae, Fossombroniaceae, Frullaniaceae, Geocalycaceae, Goebeliellaceae, Grolleaceae, Gymnomitriaceae, Gyrothyraceae, Haplomitriaceae, Harpanthaceae, Herbertaceae, Herzogianthaceae, Hygrobiellaceae, Hymenophytaceae, Jackiellaceae, Jubulaceae, Jungermanniaceae, Lejeuneaceae, Lepicoleaceae, Lepidolaenaceae, Lepidoziaceae, Lophocoleaceae, Lophoziaceae, Lunulariaceae, Makinoaceae, Marchantiaceae, Mastigophoraceae, Metzgeriaceae, Moerckiaceae, Monocarpaceae, Monocleaceae, Monosoleniaceae, Myliaceae, Neohodgsoniaceae, Neotrichocoleaceae, Noterocladaceae, Notoscyphaceae, Oxymitraceae, Pallaviciniaceae, Pelliaceae, Petalophyllaceae, Phyllothalliaceae, Plagiochilaceae, Pleuroziaceae, Porellaceae, Pseudolepicoleaceae, Ptilidiaceae, Radulaceae, Ricciaceae, Riellaceae, Saccogynaceae, Sandeothallaceae, Scapaniaceae, Schistochilaceae, Solenostomataceae, Southbyaceae, Sphaerocarpaceae, Stephaniellaceae, Targioniaceae, Treubiaceae, Trichocoleaceae, Trichotemnomataceae, Wiesnerellaceae, Adelotheciaceae, Amblystegiaceae, Ambuchananiaceae, Andreaceae, Andreaeobryaceae, Archidiaceae, Aulacomniaceae, Bartramiaceae, Brachytheciaceae, Bruchiaceae, Bryaceae, Bryobartramiaceae, Bryoxiphiaceae, Buxbaumiaceae, Calomniaceae, Calymperaceae, Campyliaceae, Catagoniaceae, Catoscopiaceae, Cinclidotaceae, Climaciaceae, Cratoneuraceae, Cryphaeaceae, Cyrtopodaceae, Daltoniaceae, Dicnemonaceae, Dicranaceae, Diphysciaceae, Disceliaceae, Ditrichiaceae, Drummondiaceae, Echinodiaceae, Encalyptaceae, Entodontaceae, Ephemeraceae, Erpodiaceae, Eusticiaceae, Fabroniaceae, Fissidentaceae, Fontinalaceae, Funariaceae, Garovagliaceae, Gigaspermaceae, Grimmiaceae, Hedwigiaceae, Helicophyllaceae, Helodiaceae, Hookeriaceae, Hydropogonaceae, Hylocomiaceae, Hypnaceae, Hypnodendraceae, Hypopterygiaceae, Lembophyllaceae, Leptodontaceae, Leptostomataceae, Lepyrodontaceae, Leskeaceae, Leucobryaceae, Leucodontaceae, Lecomiaceae, Meesiaceae, Meteoriaceae, Microtheciellaceae, Mielichhoferiaceae, Mitteniaceae, Mniaceae, Myriniaceae, Nyuriaceae, Neckeraceae, Oedipodiaceae, Orthodontaceae, Orthorrhychiaceae, Orthotrichaceae, Pyllodrepaniaceae, Phyllogoniaceae, Pilotrichaceae, Plagiotheciaceae, Pleuroziopsaceae, Polytrichaceae, Pottiaceae, Prionodontaceae, Pseudoditrichaceae, Ptergynandraceae, Pterobryaceae, Pterobryellaceae, Ptychomitriaceae, Ptycomniaceae, Racopilaceae, Regmatondtaceae, Rhabdoweisiaceae, Rhacocarpaceae, Rhizogoniaceae, Rhytidiaceae, Rigociaceae, Rutenbergiaceae, Schistostegaceae, Scouleriaceae, Seligeriaceae, Sematophyllaceae, Serpotortellaceae, Sorapillaceae, Sphagnaceae, Spridentaceae, Splachnaceae, Splachnobryaceae, Stereophyllaceae, Symphyodontaceae, Takakiaceae, Tetraphidaceae, Theliaceae, Thuidiaceae, Timmiaceae, Trachylomataceae, Viridivelleraceae, Wardiaceae, Lycopodiaceae, Isoetaceae, Selaginellaceae, Anemiaceae, Aspleniaceae, Athyriaceae, Blechnaceae, Cibotiaceae, Culcitaceae, Cyatheaceae, Cystodiaceae, Cystopteridaceae, Davalliaceae, Dennstaedtiaceae, Desmophlebiaceae, Dicksoniaceae, Didymochlaenaceae, Diplaziopsidaceae, Dipteridaceae, Dryopteridaceae, Equisetaceae, Gleicheniaceae, Hemidyctiaceae, Hymenophyllaceae, Hypodematiaceae, Lindsaeaceae, Lomariopsidaceae, Lonchitidaceae, Loxogrammaceae, Loxsomataceae, Lygodiaceae, Marattiaceae, Marsileaceae, Matoniaceae, Metaxyaceae, Nephrolepidaceae, Oleandraceae, Onocleaceae, Ophioglossaceae, Osmundaceae, Plagiogyriaceae, Platyceriaceae, Platyzomataceae, Pleurisoriopsidaceae, Polypodiaceae, Psilotaceae, Pteridaceae, Rhachidosoraceae, Saccolomataceae, Salviniaceae, Schizaeaceae, Tectariaceae, Thelypteridaceae, Thyrsopteridaceae, Woodsiaceae, Boraginaceae, Hydroleaceae, Polemoniaceae, Orchidaceae.