A team from the Australian Institute of Botanical Science has collected around 400 plant specimens on the recent Australian Museum-led expedition to Norfolk Island, helping the community identify new weeds that potentially could cause havoc to local ecosystems.
Botanic team on a mission to fill knowledge gaps
Norfolk Island, about 1,600km north-east of Sydney, has a diverse environment and provided a great research opportunity for a team from the Australian Institute of Botanical Science (Institute).
The Institute team’s mission was to collect herbarium specimens to help fill knowledge gaps of Norfolk Island’s flora, focusing on areas where no or few collections have been lodged in Australasian herbaria, such as the National Herbarium of New South Wales.
Although weeds are not part of Norfolk Island’s endemic and unique flora, they have the potential to cause a threat to the local ecosystem and became a matter of interest for the researchers. The threat of the Oxalis pes-caprae (Soursob), which is a very serious, pernicious weed, was of particular concern.
Senior Botanist Marco Duretto said as well as Oxalis pes-caprae, Soliva anthemifolia (Button Burweed) and Hypochaeris albiflora (White Flatweed) were provided to the team by locals and are new records for Norfolk Island. A new species of fern in the genus Blechnum was also a significant find, and may represent a new, possibly naturalised, species for the island.
While the researchers had their eyes on weeds, team member Honorary Research Associate Matt Renner collected Bryophytes (mosses, liverworts and hornworts), which are his research speciality. Matt’s collections significantly expanded the knowledge of the Bryophyte flora of the region with first records of families, genera, and species for the region commonplace.
All up the team made c. 400 collections (including 160 Bryophytes) of c. 140 species and the numbers of species will increase as identifications are finalised, especially that of the Bryophytes.
Collaborating with the community to improve conservation
The team also included Senior Technical Officer ID Counter, Andrew Orme, Digitalisation Officer Mel Wong, and Plant Information Network Officer, Wayne Cherry. They joined forces with the local community, the Australian Museum, Parks Australia and the Auckland War Memorial Museum in a biological survey covering many animal and plant groups.
Marco said building close contacts with the local community to develop long-term relationships was very important in helping the team to discover new flora.
“The local Flora and Fauna group on Norfolk Island has been meeting for many years and has built up a wealth of knowledge,” Marco said.
“We were lucky enough to be able to engage with some of them and hopefully form some long-term relationships so that together we can continue to build on the knowledge and understanding of Norfolk Island’s flora.
“Often scientists like us will sometimes go about our work and not connect with locals but both Museums and the Gardens were very keen to build long-term relationships with the local community.”
“This Oxalis weed is a real scary one – it’s a spectacular species and beautiful to look at – but it has underground bulbs and is a very serious weed. Once it gets into local areas it’s hard to get rid of. It forms monocultures because other things that live on the ground next to get excluded.
“Local people knew it was there, but records didn’t exist in herbaria collections, and now we have a permanent record for this species of weed on Norfolk Island. And our confirmation of the identity will help the local council take appropriate action to eradicate it before it becomes an issue,” Marco said.