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Media Release
Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment

$1.2 MILLION BOOST TO SOLVING THE MYSTERIES OF NATURE


19 November 1997
(137/97)

Greater knowledge of Australian octopuses, spiders, flies and a raft of other species will be the outcome of 52 research projects being funded by the Australian Biological Resources Study.

Federal Environment Minister Robert Hill has announced funding of $1.2 million for 1997-98 for vital taxonomic research into identifying and describing a range of relatively unknown Australian plants, animals and micro-organisms.

The grants are awarded annually to scientists and post graduate students in universities, museums and herbaria, and to private researchers in Australia and overseas, this year including New Zealand and the United States.

"More than 75 per cent of Australia's species remain a mystery because they are yet to be studied in detail.

"Through this national grants program, important support is provided for taxonomists to gather, synthesise and produce critical inventories of our plants and animals, particularly for species that are still completely unknown.

"Among the projects, the University of Melbourne receives $37 000 to conduct an important study of at least 60 species of octopuses in Australian waters, including identifying current and potential fisheries species.

"Researchers at the Queensland Museum will shed light on native hunting spiders and their venoms with a grant of $45 000, while the Western Australian Museum receives $18 000 to study ground-dwelling spiders.

"With a grant of $20 000, Melbourne's Institute for Horticultural Development will research fungi which disfigures the leaves of a range of native plants and can reduce production, providing valuable information for the horticulture and forestry industries.

"The Australian Biological Resources Study plays a critical role in helping Australians better understand the natural environment, laying the groundwork for improved conservation strategies and potential nature-based industries.

"Apart from helping us better understand Australia's biodiversity, this work will add to the scientific basis on which large-scale conservation projects, such as those being supported by the Natural Heritage Trust, are based."

Contact: Matt Brown (Senator Hill) 02 6277 7640 or 0419 693 515
Liz Visher (Australian Biological Resources Study) 02 6250 9554
19 November 1997
137/97

Australian Biological Resources Study
1998 Research Projects

Overseas

Biodiversity of Australian Ground Spiders

Organisation: American Museum of Natural History, Department of Entomology
Amount: $14 000
Contact: Norman Platnick
Phone: 212 769 5612 (New York, USA)

The project will provide the first comprehensive analysis of a large group of ground spiders of Australia, including keys to species and a totally revised higher classification. An estimated 650 species will be covered, about 80 per cent of which will be new to science. Some of these spiders, such as the white-tailed spider and its relatives, have been implicated in human bite cases, and previous lack of knowledge of the species involved has compromised the accuracy of much of the relevant literature.

Rhytismatales of Australia Part 1

Organisation: Landcare Research, New Zealand
Amount: $11 000
Contact: Peter Johnston
Phone: (64) 9 849 3660 (Auckland, New Zealand)

Members of the fungal order Rhytismatales are associated with most higher plants in Australian wetland and forest communities. These are an important component of Australia's biota, both for their biological diversity, and for the key functional roles they play in plant communities. Biologically they are diverse, living as plant parasites, nutrient recyclers, or forming endophytic symbiotic partnerships with their hosts. Although these fungi remain poorly collected in most geographic areas, including Australia, recent work has shown them to be highly diverse in the Southern Hemisphere and the tropics. Most of the Australian species are completely new to science.

Coprophilous Ascomycetes of Australia

Organisation: Victoria University of Wellington, School of Biological Sciences
Amount: $3 000
Contact: Ann Bell
Phone: (04) 472 1000 (Wellington, New Zealand)

The project will study fungi involved in the breakdown of native animal faeces. The dung of herbivorous animals such as koalas, wallabies and wombats provides a rich food source upon which a diverse and little known community of fungi flourish. Such fungi may be a potential source of biocontrol agents for controlling animal parasites and antibiotics which could potentially be economically significant. But until we know what fungi are present, we have no way of increasing our knowledge as to their potential usefulness.

Flora Accounts of the Family Phyllachoraceae

Organisation: University of Hong Kong, Department of Ecology and Biodiversity
Amount: $17 637
Contact: Kevin Hyde
Phone: (082) 2559 2502 (Hong Kong)

The project will provide basic data for plant pathologists on Australia's "tar spotting" plant parasites. It is being undertaken as a postgraduate project by a student based in Queensland, but supervised from Hong Kong, FRC. The Phyllachoraceae is a family of plant parasites which mostly produce "tar spots" on leaves. They are economically important as they may cause loss of agricultural crop production. They also cause unsightly blemishes on some nursery plants. This project aims to document these fungi in Australia. With only five per cent of Australia's fungi presently known, this project is a major step towards assessing Australia's fungal diversity

Contact:
Liz Visher
Australian Biological Resources Study
Environment Australia
02 6250 9554

Commonwealth of Australia