Dr Alexander Schmidt-Lebuhn 'Phylogenetic Diversity and 'hot spots' for Conservation’

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Thursday, 14 March 2019 - 12:30pm

Alexander is from the CSIRO, and will explain how phylogenetic diversity works and its logic, and how it can identify areas of conservation priority and patterns of biogeographic interest.


Biodiversity is declining rapidly at a global scale, fueling the need for urgent conservation action. With limited resources available, areas for conservation often need to be prioritised.  Phylo‐diversity metrics such as phylogenetic diversity (PD) and phylogenetic endemism (PE) combine phylogenies and spatial distribution data and can be used to rank candidate areas for conservation.  Phylogenetic trees underlying phylo‐diversity metrics are available in two main forms, phylograms and chronograms. We examined the use of these two types of phylogenies in spatial studies and it was demonstrated for the first time that in some cases the choice between phylogram and chronogram can have a dramatic effect on the resulting hotspot distributions.  Branch lengths of phylograms indicate divergence in features (or at least in those used to infer the phylogeny), while those of chronograms indicate time since divergence. The interpretation of the resulting phylo‐diversity hotspots should reflect this difference.


Alexander's research interests include the systematics and evolution of flowering plants, in particular Asteraceae (daisy family), Lamiaceae (mint family) and Acanthaceae, spatial patterns of biodiversity, user-friendly plant identification tools, and polyploidy and its impact on reproductive success and conservation management.

He uses DNA sequence data to resolve phylogenetic relationships and understand the evolution of Australian native daisies, and he combines phylogenetic information and specimen data from biodiversity databases such as the Atlas of Living Australia to explore hotspots of biodiversity.  Alexander has collaborated with the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources to deliver an online identification key to the seeds of weedy daisies, to make it easier for biosecurity officers to document pathways of introduction and ultimately prevent weed incursions. He uses flow cytometry and traditional chromosome counts to study genome duplication (polyploidy) in native Australian plants.

Alexander studied biology at the University of Göttingen, Germany, and obtained a doctorate with research on the South American mint genus Minthostachys.  After post-doctoral work at the University of Halle and the University of Zürich he joined CSIRO in 2010.