Unknown and Forgotten - uncovering and discovering the biodiversity of Papua New Guinea

Kew’s work in New Guinea: species discovery and conservation in the ‘Last Unknown’

Dr Tim Utteridge, Head of the Identification & Naming Department and Senior Research Leader Asia Team, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK

New Guinea, the largest tropical island in the world, harbours a diverse range of ecosystems from mangrove forests, lowland rainforests and savannahs to montane cloud forests and alpine meadows. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew has been working with in-country partners to understand the plant biodiversity of New Guinea for many years. In this talk I will discuss Kew’s recent historic botanical exploration and research and outline current Kew science, especially species discovery and conservation programmes, taking place in the region. In collaboration with Indonesia partners, Kew ran two extensive collecting programmes in Indonesian New Guinea in the Bird’s Head Peninsula and the Mt Jaya region, the latter running from 1997 to 2005 resulting in over 5000 collections, more than 30 new species papers and a checklist to the subalpine and alpine flora. With the Forest Research Institute in Lae, we have undertaken several trips to Papua New Guinea, especially as part of our long-running programme as part of the Palms of New Guinea project. Kew botanists are currently working on the taxonomy of several species-rich groups, such as the orchids, compiling a guide to the Trees of New Guinea, as well as producing an expert verified checklist; the island is also the only South-East Asian candidate for Kew’s Tropical Important Plant Areas initiative which aims to identify priority sites for the conservation of plant diversity and threatened habitats.

The “Forgotten” Savannas of New Guinea: the Australian National Wildlife Collection’s Research in one of the world’s most biodiverse area

Dr Leo Joseph, Director of the Australian National Wildlife Collection, CSIRO National Research Collections Australia

The rainforests of the island of New Guinea are famous as one of the world’s richest treasures of biodiversity. Not so well-known is that New Guinea harbours three small “islands” of savanna. These are in many ways small outposts of the vast northern Australian savannas and their biodiversity. Together with the wetlands often associated with them, these habitats in New Guinea and northern Australia have nonetheless been recognized globally as among the most important areas for biodiversity. For biologists, the Australian and New Guinean savannas and their wildlife provide a wonderful natural laboratory in which to study how evolution proceeds in different groups of animals that have experienced the same environmental history. The Australian National Wildlife Collection has been working in Papua New Guinea to build the research materials necessary to do this kind of work. Results are now filtering in and the talk will review some of the interesting and at times surprising findings that are emerging. The talk will briefly outline where these savannas occur and discuss their palaeoenvironmental history. It will review DNA sequence-based patterns evident in studies of New Guinean savanna birds. Several species are closest to populations or other species in north-western Australia not to the geographically closer north-eastern Australia. Bird migration between Australia and the New Guinean savannas is a topic of interest and the talk will cover this as well as highlighting areas for further research such as the origin of the Oro Province savannas, and the origins of several distribution patterns that seem particularly puzzling.

More information here

Date & time

5.30pm 23 October 2019


CSIRO Discovery Centre, Acton, Canberra


Tim Utteridge, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Leo Joseph, CSIRO National Research Collections Australia


 Brendan Lepschi

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