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Dr Peter Weston

Honorary Research Associate, Systematic Botany

Research Interests

My research has been in the theoretical and practical aspects of systematic botany, with emphasis on the theory and practice of phylogenetic analysis, and the broader uses to which phylogenetic knowledge may be applied. I have phylogenetically analysed groups in the plant families Proteaceae, Fabaceae, Orchidaceae, Rutaceae, Winteraceae and Lauraceae, contributed to more general analyses of angiosperm phylogeny, and used the results of these analyses to improve biological classification and to test theories of historical biogeography, trait evolution, co-evolution and adaptation. I have earned an international reputation for my contributions to both theoretical and empirical developments in this field.

Current Projects

Phylogenetic analysis of Proteaceae tribe Embothrieae subtribe Hakeinae.
Collaborators: Dr Marcel Cardillo (Australian National University), Dr Hervé Sauquet (NSW), Dr Austin Mast (Florida State University), Peter Olde (NSW).
Funded by an ARC Discovery Grant to Marcel Cardillo.
Our next goal is to reconstruct the phylogeny of all >500 species of the iconic Australian genera Hakea and Grevillea.

Evolution in action or the demise of iconic Australian flora?
Collaborators: Dr Susan Hoebee, Dr Gareth Holmes (both La Trobe University).
Funded by ARC Discovery Grant DP150100508 to Susan Hoebee.
We are reconstructing the phylogeny of the Grevillea floribunda species group and using it to reconstruct the evolution of pollination systems.

The biosynthesis and evolution of novel semiochemicals in orchids.
Collaborators: Prof. Rod Peakall, Prof. E. Pichersky (University of California, Davis), Assoc. Prof. Celeste Linde.
Funded by ARC Discovery Grant DP150102762 to Rod Peakall.
We are reconstructing the phylogeny of Chiloglottis and reconstructing the evolution of the pseudo-pheromones that these orchids use to attract their male Thynnine wasp pollinators.

Systematics of Murraya (Rutaceae).
Collaborators: Dr Chung Nugyen, Prof. Andrew Beattie, Dr Paul Holford, Dr Tony Haigh (all Western Sydney University), Prof. David Mabberley (NSW).
A taxonomic revision of orange jasmine and its close relatives.

Origin and evolution of plant functional traits in relation to fire.
Collaborators: Dr Byron Lamont, Dr Tianhua He (both Curtin University of Technology).
Funded by ARC Discovery Grant DP120103389 to Byron Lamont and Tianhua He.
Phylogenetic reconstruction of Proteaceae subfamily Proteoideae down to species level.

Publication highlights

  • Weston PH, Perkins AJ, Indsto JO, MA (2014). Phylogeny of Orchidaceae tribe Diurideae and its implications for the evolution of pollination systems. In: Bernhardt, P. and Edens-Meier, R. (editors) Darwin's Orchids: Then and Now. University of Chicago Press: Chicago.

Conventional dogma holds that deceptive pollination systems have repeatedly evolved from nectar rewards in Orchidaceae. This paper decisively shows the opposite to be true for the predominantly Australian tribe Diurideae.

  • Crisp MD, Arroyo MTK, Cook LG, Gandolfo MA, Jordan GJ, McGlone MS, Weston PH, Westoby M, Wilf P, Linder HP (2009). Phylogenetic habitat conservatism on a global scale. Nature 458, 754-758.

Showed that policymakers cannot expect plants to dramatically change their ecological preferences and evolve to fit new habitats as the boundaries of their biomes change in response to climate change.

  • Sauquet H, Weston PH, Anderson CL, Barker NP, Cantrill DJ, Mast AR, Savolainen V (2009). Contrasted patterns of hyperdiversification in Mediterranean hotspots. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A. 106, 221-225.

Introduced novel method for rigorously determining optimal phylogenetic placements of fossils used for calibrating molecular chronograms. Showed highest net diversification rates in Proteaceae are in Mediterranean hotspots.

  • Jordan GJ,  Weston PH, Carpente R Jr, Dillon RA, Brodrib TJb (2008). The evolutionary relations of sunken, covered, and encrypted stomata to dry habitats in Proteaceae. American Journal of Botany 95, 521-530.

Refuted the commonly accepted hypothesis that stomata covered by hairs or sunken in broad pits evolved as adaptations to aridity. Won Grady L. Webster Structural Botany Publication Award (2008-2009).

  • Barker NP, Weston PH, Rutschmann F, Sauquet H (2007). Molecular dating of the “Gondwanan” plant family Proteaceae is only partially congruent with the timing of Gondwanan break-up. Journal of Biogeography 34, 2012-2027.

Refuted the long-held view that the Proteaceae have undergone minimal long distance dispersal. Several disjunct clades are far too young to have vicariated with continental rifting.

  • Weston PH, Barker NP (2006). A new suprageneric classification of the Proteaceae, with an annotated checklist of genera. Telopea 11(3), 314-344.

Comprehensive revision of the classification of the family Proteaceae above generic level.

  • Mant JG, Schiestl FP, Peakall R, Weston PH (2002). A phylogenetic study of pollinator conservatism among sexually deceptive orchids. Evolution 56, 888-898.

Falsified the hypothesis that sexually deceptive Chiloglottis orchids have intimately co-evolved with their Thynnine wasp pollinators.

  • Crisp MD, Linder HP, Weston PH (1995). Cladistic biogeography of plants in Australia and New Guinea: congruent pattern reveals two endemic tropical tracks. Systematic Biology 44, 457-473.

One of the very few empirical examples where classic cladistic biogeographic methods have been used successfully to resolve historical biogeographic patterns within a continental biota.

  • Weston PH, Crisp MD (1994). Cladistic biogeography of Waratahs and their allies (Embothrieae: Proteaceae) across the Pacific. Australian Systematic Botany 7, 225-249.

A classic paper in cladistic biogeography, showing that area cladograms for Embothriinae and Lomatia are significantly similar to each other and to a geological area cladogram.

  • Weston PH (1988). Indirect and direct methods in systematics. In Humphries C.J., ed Ontogeny and Systematics, pp. 27-56 (Columbia Univ. Press: New York).

Phylogenetic analysis had been criticised because outgroup comparison leads to an infinite regress. I refuted this argument by substantially broadening the applicability of a “direct method” of character analysis.

Current students

Nanette Thomas, Systematics of Tasmannia informs biogeography of Winteraceae, with Jeremy Bruhl and Wal Whalley, University of New England

In the media

Collecting-Proteaceae with Drs Greg Jordan and Renske Onstein at Appin Road.

Peter Weston examining Spatalla incurva growing in Erica patch, Breede River Valley, South Africa.

Peter Weston photographing Vexatorella obtusata ssp albomontana. Image: Tony Rebelo.