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The distribution and assembly of Australian rainforest plants

We actively research the origins and distribution of highly diverse flora found within Australian rainforests.

We do this by integrating a range of investigative approaches including:

  1. Gathering information on the distribution of species. This helps us understand how rainforest communities are assembled across the continent.
  2. Using environmental models to understand habitat preferences of species, and their potential vulnerability to change.
  3. Measuring morphological and physiological variation within and between species. This helps us assess how local selection impacts on the distribution of species.
  4. Measuring genetic diversity. This helps us understand how species move across the landscape, and how between-population connectivity changes through time.

 Our genetic, functional and ecological research suggests that many rainforest species and communities can respond relatively rapidly to changing conditions. As a vegetation type, Australian rainforests are represented by areas of high concentration of diversity patchily distributed within a near-continuum of a smaller number of species (the ‘continental connectivity’ hypothesis).

Such distribution along the eastern coast of the continent is very different from the original narrative of a ‘fragmented archipelago of islands isolated by fire-tolerant sclerophyll vegetation’. This dynamism has important implications for interpreting rainforest ecological and evolutionary processes, as well as for managing diversity.

Current research

We use continuously advancing analytical approaches to continue the exploration of our rainforests and support their management and conservation. In particular, we are interested in the impact of dispersal, historical climatic shifts, associations between genes and environment, colonization potential of new species, and much more.

Distribution of rainforests in Australia (Kooyman et al. 2013)


Phylogenetic diversity and endemism in Australia (Kooyman et al. 2013)


Some of our relevant publications:

  1. Yap JYS, Rossetto M, Costion C, Crayn D, Kooyman R, Richardson J, Henry R (2017) Filters of floristic exchange: how traits and climate shape the invasion of Sahul from Sunda. Journal of Biogeography 45(4): 838-847
  2. Worth JRP, Holland BR, Beeton NJ, Schönfeld B, Rossetto M, Vaillancourt RE, Jordan GJ (2017) Habitat type and dispersal mode underlie the capacity for plant migration across an intermittent seaway. Annals of Botany 120(4): 539–549
  3. Rossetto M (2015) The evolutionary history of the Australian flora and its relevance to biodiversity conservation. Chapter 13 pp. 259-277 in A. Stow, N. Maclean, GI Holwell eds. Austral Ark: the State of Wildlife in Australia and New Zealand. Cambridge University Press.
  4. Rossetto M, McPherson H, Siow J, Kooyman R, van der Merwe M, Wilson PD (2015) Where did all the trees come from? A novel multidisciplinary approach reveals the impacts of biogeographic history and functional diversity on rain forest assembly. Journal of Biogeography 42: 2172-2186.
  5. Kooyman RM, Wilf P, Barreda VD, Carpenter RJ, Jordan GJ, Sniderman JMK, Allen A, Brodribb TJ, Crayn D, Field TS, Laffan SW, Lusk CH, Rossetto M, Weston PH (2014) Paleo-Antarctic rainforest in the modern old world tropics: the rich past and threatened future of the “Southern wet forest survivors”. American Journal of Botany 101(2): 2121-2135.
  6. Mellick R, Wilson PD, Rossetto M (2014) Demographic history and niche conservatism of tropical rainforest trees separated along an altitudinal gradient of a biogeographic barrier. Australian Journal of Botany 62: 438-450. 
  7. Heslewood MM, Lowe AJ, Crayn DM, Rossetto M (2014) Contrasting levels of connectivity and localised persistence characterise the latitudinal distribution of a wind-dispersed rainforest canopy tree. Genetica 142(3): 251-264.
  8. van der Merwe M, McPherson H, Siow J, Rossetto M (2014) Next Gen phylogeography of rainforest trees: exploring landscape-level cpDNA variation from whole-genome sequencing. Molecular Ecology Resources 14: 199-208.
  9. Kooyman RM, Rossetto M, Sauquet H, Laffan SW (2013) Landscape Patterns in Rainforest Phylogenetic Signal: Isolated Islands of Refugia or Structured Continental Distributions? PLOS one 8(12): e80685.
  10. Mellick R, Lowe A, Allen C, Hill RS, Rossetto M (2012) Palaeodistribution modelling and genetic evidence highlight differential post-glacial range shifts of a rain forest conifer distributed across a broad latitudinal gradient. Journal of Biogeography 39: 2292-2302.
  11. Kooyman R, Rossetto M, Allen C, Cornwell W (2012) Australian tropical and sub-tropical rain forest community assembly: phylogeny, functional biogeography, and environmental gradients. Biotropica 44(5): 668-679.
  12. Kooyman R, Rossetto M, Cornwell W, Westoby M (2011) Phylogenetic tests of community assembly across regional to continental scales in tropical and sub-tropical rainforests. Global Ecology and Biogeography 20(5): 707-716.
  13. Rossetto M, Kooyman RM (2011) Predicting distributions by analysing evolutionary, functional and environmental information – a review of population genetic studies on the Australian rainforest flora. Chapter 11 pp. 305-322 in JA Daniels ed. Advances in Environmental Research, Volume 9. Nova Science Publishers Inc., New York.
  14. Rossetto M, Crayn D, Ford A, Mellick R, Sommerville K (2009) The influence of environment and life-history traits on the distribution of genes and individuals: a comparative study of 11 rainforest trees. Molecular Ecology 18: 1422-1438.
  15. Rossetto M, Kooyman R, Sherwin W, Jones R (2008) Dispersal limitations, rather than bottlenecks or habitat specificity, can restrict the distribution of rare and endemic rainforest trees. American Journal of Botany 95:321-329.
  16. Rossetto M (2008) From populations to communities: understanding changes in rainforest diversity through the integration of molecular, ecological and environmental data. Telopea 12(1): 47-58.
  17. Rossetto M, Crayn D, Ford A, Ridgeway P, Rymer P (2007) The comparative study of range-wide genetic structure across related, co-distributed rainforest trees reveals contrasting evolutionary histories. Australian Journal of Botany 55(4): 416-424.
  18. Crayn DM, Rossetto M, Maynard DJ (2006) Molecular phylogeny and dating reveals an Oligo-Miocene radiation of dry-adapted shrubs (Tremandraceae) from rainforest tree progenitors (Elaeocarpaceae) in Australia. American Journal of Botany 93(9): 1328-1342.
  19. Rossetto M, Kooyman RM (2005) The tension between dispersal and persistence regulates the current distribution of rare paleo-endemic rainforest flora: a case study. Journal of Ecology 93: 906-917.
  20. Rossetto M, Jones R, Hunter J (2004) Genetic effects of rainforest fragmentation in an early successional tree (Elaeocarpus grandis). Heredity 93(6): 610-618.
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