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Broome and Beyond

R&D Now

“The Kimberley is one of the last great botanical frontiers, with more new species being discovered than anywhere else on Earth.”

Bungle bungle ranges
Photo credit: Peter Ruckstuhl

Professor Kingsley Dixon surely is the world’s crusader for the botany of Western Australia’s Kimberley. For more than 40 years Dixon has been undertaking field trips during the region’s wet season, discovering new plant species and cataloguing tropical flora.

Dixon joined Curtin’s Department of Environment and Agriculture in 2015, considerably extending the University’s capability in Australian plant sciences. His particular interests are the conservation of rare and threatened indigenous flora, and ecological restoration of degraded landscapes. Through Dixon’s partnerships with leading botanical research organisations, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (UK) and the Missouri Botanical
Garden (US), Curtin is able to access one of the best knowledge networks in tropical botany.

Shortly after taking up his professorship, Dixon established the ‘Broome and Beyond’ research program, which has had early success with the discovery of a new species of blue waterlily.

“The Kimberley’s biodiversity has been misunderstood and overlooked. Only now is the flora being recognised as internationally significant,” Dixon says.

“During the wet season the Kimberley is a botanical wonderland of orchids and waterlilies, and the ephemeral pools are among the most unique rock pools on the planet.”

As such, Dixon expects that discoveries of the region’s rock pool flora will lead to a new horticultural industry in indigenous Kimberley plants and food plants for the region. Perhaps more importantly, the outcomes of the Broome and Beyond program will help conserve the Kimberley’s flora from several introduced threats.

“Overgrazing is a problem, as are feral animals such as donkeys, and the spread of exotic weeds,” he explains.

“The high frequency of burning is also harmful to the unique vegetation of the Broome peninsula, where some species take up to 15 years to mature.”

Accordingly, he expects the Broome and Beyond research to not only facilitate new studies in indigenous tropical botany and offer new opportunities in horticulture, but also to inform better fire management regimes.

In addition, Dixon’s research interest in restoring degraded landscapes have led him to initiate a new International Network for Seed-based Restoration. To be launched in Washington in 2016, the network will bring together scientists, industry, NGO organisations and governments to advance seed ecology and restoration technologies. Importantly, the initiative will facilitate seed-based restoration of landscapes worldwide, as well as focus world attention on Curtin’s emerging restoration ecological capabilities.

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