Conservation ecologist Dr Bill Lee and postdoctoral researcher Dr Angela Brandt, both of Landcare Research, Dunedin, look at several hebe species. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Otago's native plants, including its many hebe species, may
help solve a puzzle which botanists have been scratching
their heads about for centuries.
Dr Bill Lee, a conservation ecologist at Landcare Research in
Dunedin, has recently gained a $920,000 Marsden Fund grant to
lead the research.
The three-year project aims to discover ''why some plant
groups produce many species and others very few'', Dr Lee
said. New Zealand in general and Otago in particular provided
an ''ideal laboratory'' to examine this question.
''Much of the diversity of our flora derives from impressive
radiations in groups such as Hebe, Coprosma, Celmisia,
Olearia and Aciphylla, and these plants are
especially significant in southern New Zealand because of the
range of habitats and environments,'' he said.
Hebe, with more than 70 species, is New Zealand's largest
native plant group, and more than a third of these species
grow in the wild in Otago.
Hebe species range from dwarf shrubs to small trees and
flourish in many different places, ranging from coastal to
Dr Lee is also a professor at the Joint Graduate School in
Biodiversity and Biosecurity at Auckland University.
He felt ''very privileged'' to have the chance to undertake
He will study some of the country's ''spectacularly rich''
plant groups, and will work with colleagues at Landcare
Research, as well as scientists at Lincoln University and
abroad, including at Stanford University.
New molecular methods will be used to determine when such
plant groups arrived.
The research would focus on the relative importance of being
''first to arrive'' in an island habitat or region, and what
effect that had on overall plant group diversity, he said.