Posted by Eric Kataoka
From January to February 2014 I was part of the annual Student’s Volunteer Botanical Internship Program at the Australian National Herbarium (ANH). The initiative is held by the ANH and the Centre for Australian National Biodiversity Research (CANBR), located at CSIRO, Canberra – next door to the Australian National Botanic Gardens. This year we were the 22nd group of interns accepted to undertake herbarium technique trainings, field work, plant identification etc.
Now, you might be asking yourselves ‘what is a herbarium ?‘, ‘What do we use it for?’. Well, a herbarium can be defined as a museum of dried and pressed plant specimens kept in special conditions to serve as long-term physical evidences for researchers to work on. Herbarium specimens are often historical materials. During the internship I handled a specimen collected during Captain Cook’s voyage to Australia in the 1770s – isn’t that impressive? Additionally, there is a vast array of utilities of herbarium specimens including taxonomy, systematics and biological conservation!
During the internship, one of our field works involved visiting a project that applied herbarium data to guide revegetation. The Harden Murrumburrah Landcare Group Revegetation Project (Natural Heritage Trust – Bushcare) is located in the Harden Shire region of New South Wales . The region has historically been used as a mixed farming enterprise, with crops and livestock production. As a result, they estimated that only 2.8% of the original vegetation cover was present.
Therefore, the original species composition within that area was fairly uncertain, and revegetation attempts would not have the essential starting point: species to plant. That is when herbarium data helped them to work out what species were likely to have existed there.
Basically, they searched the herbarium database for past collections of plant specimens within that area. Based on that, a recommended list consisting of approximately 400 species could be generated. Without herbarium specimens, it would be virtually impossible to retrieve that information. The list also provides cultivation notes and ecological requirements such as salinity tolerance.
In our one-day field trip, we visited a 20-year-old riparian revegetation area with River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) and associated species. We also worked on a database that is intended to improve the previous list of species for that region.
Overall, it was a very enriching experience where I could see the applied linkage between biological collection and on-the-ground conservation efforts. In my opinion, the current status of the Harden shire region is quite optimistic, but there is still room for improvement – and they are committed to it! In addition to that, landowners are becoming more aware of the benefits of revegetation and restoration of ecological aspects such as water quality.
Photo credits: Eric Kataoka