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11 Feb 2018

Celebrating the brainpower of women scientists

In celebration of International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we would like to introduce you to four inspirational scientists that are part of our world class team of botanists, ecologists, plant pathologists, curators, geneticists and seed researchers. Learn more about the work and research they do for the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney. 

Dr Marlien van der Merwe

Marlien is interested in the distribution and maintenance of biodiversity and finds herself asking questions like - Why are organisms where they are? How do they interact with their environment? And how can we somehow, in this developing world, maintain biodiversity?
Within her current work she focuses on the distribution of genetic diversity across landscapes (population genetics), saying “The distribution of genetic diversity provides us with invaluable information that we can use to get an idea of the history of a population and a species. Improving our knowledge about the history of multiple plant species within a landscape can help us to improve conservation and management plans.
Furthermore, research has shown us just how important genetic diversity is for the long term survival of species. High genetic diversity increases the chances of a species to adapt and be resilient to change.”

One of the things that she is exploring is the relationship between genetic diversity within adult populations versus the genetic diversity captured through seed collecting. While this sounds pretty simple, filling this knowledge gap can increase our capacity to produce self-sustainable new populations that have the genetic armour to combat future environmental changes.


Dr Shelley James

Shelley has been a research scientist for more than 20 years, collecting plant specimens in the rainforest of New Guinea to the mountain tops of Hawaii and the deserts of Australia. As the Manager Collections for the National Herbarium of NSW, she works with the collections team and botanists to maintain, curate and preserve the more than 1.4 million preserved plant specimens of scientific and cultural value housed at the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney.
This vast collection of specimens and data they contain is a key resource for local and international botanical researchers. The collection is essential for informing and making decisions about the conservation and management of our natural environment and comprise a continuing and vital part of our scientific heritage. Many specimens from Australia’s early explorers, including those collected by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander in 1770 on Captain James Cook’s first voyage to the Pacific are in the Herbarium. 

Amara Glynn

Amara has over 13 years work experience in the field of environmental management. She holds a Bachelor of Applied Science (Honours) degree and has worked with Government Agencies, Consultancies, Volunteer groups and a Co-operative Research Centre on a range of environmental management activities.

Her work is focused on water quality assessment (pond and groundwater management), protected species management (including the endangered plant community Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub and threatened species Grey-headed Flying-fox), native vegetation management (noxious and aquatic weeds management, and habitat restoration) and resource efficiency projects (reporting on energy, water, waste, and clean air).
Communicating environmental messages to students, staff and park visitors is an important part of Amara’s role, and as a mother to daughter Andrea (age 7) she hopes to encourage a love of nature and conservation.  She encourages anyone interested in Environmental Science to pursue their passion, as it’s exceedingly important for us to understand ecology and environmental issues, manage human impacts and protect the environment for future generations.

Dr Susan Rutherford

Susan's research is in evolutionary biology, and she is particularly interested in the evolution of eucalypts. She uses molecular data in combination with field, morphological, and environmental data to better understand the evolutionary history of plant lineages. Dr Rutherford earned her PhD in Biological Sciences at the University of New South Wales.

In 2015, she won a prize for the best student paper in the journal Australian Systematic Botany. Prior to that, she worked in plant physiology, focusing on the water relations of species from coastal habitats. Currently, she is investigating genetic diversity in a range of eucalypt species for the Restore and Renew project. This data will be used to provide information to land and restoration managers on where to source seed for revegetation projects.

It doesn't stop there

Resident Botanical Illustrators, Lesley Elkan and Catherine Wardrop will take us behind the scenes of their fascinating jobs in the science department on Instagram Live. The interview will start at 11am AEDT on @botanicsydney on Monday 12 February.

Followed by Susan Rutherford who will be Live @ the Calyx via Facebook Live at 12:30 pm to discuss her ongoing work on Restore and Renew, advice for women thinking about entering the industry and new eucalyptus research projects. 

Or if you are interested in the mysteries of mycology, Dr Zoe-Joy will be discussing all things fungi on Tuesday at The Calyx.

If you can't watch live on Monday or attend the talk on Tuesday, stay connected by sending us your questions beforehand or tag us in your Women in Science appreciation pics @RBGSydney #RBGSydney. 

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