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

Dr Leo Joseph, Director of the Australian National Wildlife Collection, CSIRO, Canberra.


Brendan Lepschi

Event date: 23Oct 2019

Wednesday 23 Oct 2019

CSIRO Discovery Centre

  • Doors open 5:30 pm, first lecture starts at 6:00 pm

North Science Rd, Acton ACT

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Dr Tim Utteridge


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

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.



Tim is a tropical botanist working on the plants of South-East Asia, especially the islands of New Guinea and eastern Indonesia - Sulawesi and the Lesser Sundas. Tim’s day job is as the Head of the Identification and Naming Department at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, which undertakes fundamental taxonomic research and inventories, manages the curation of the 7 million Herbarium specimens, as well as Teams working in the Americas and Africa and undertaking Mycological research and conservation. Tim leads the Asia Team in the Dept., and his botanical research is based on woody plants, especially trees and climbers (and always happy to take on the more neglected groups with small, obscure flowers). He first worked at Kew in 1991 doing a placement year during his undergraduate studies before doing an MSc at Reading on Plant Taxonomy (1993-1994), and then going to the University of Hong Kong for his PhD (1995-1998). Tim returned to Kew in 1999 undertaking expeditions to New Guinea with the Mt Jaya Flora project to document the plants in the various habitats in a transect from the coast to alpine grasslands on New Guinea’s highest peak at 4884 m. Since the Mt Jaya project, he has worked at Kew in various roles, such as naming the Millennium Seed Bank herbarium vouchers (including specimens from western Australia), until becoming Head of Dept. in 2015. Tim regularly visits SE Asia each year to do fieldwork, teaching and meet with key partners, and has been visiting New Guinea since 1996 - both Indonesia and PNG. He is currently finishing off a generic guide to the Trees of New Guinea, mapping important plant areas for conservation, and completing taxonomic revisions for several plant groups on the island.


Dr Leo Joseph


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

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.


Leo’s roots are in birdwatching but very early in his birdwatching career he began thinking about and was drawn into the world of evolution. Today he is an evolutionary biologist and ornithologist working on the birds of Australia and New Guinea – the evolution of their diversity against the geological and environmental histories of the region, and he studies how present-day communities have been assembled. Like many in this area, Leo is adamant that we cannot fully understand evolution of birds if we don’t know them under field conditions so thinking about birds in their habitats is always paramount. Leo did his undergraduate (1977-79) and Honours (1981) degrees at the University of Adelaide. After a few years of travelling and working in Australia and South America, he went on to a PhD at the University of Queensland (1989-1994), and then lived in Uruguay and the USA. In Uruguay he studied the evolution of migration in shorebirds and the climatic correlates of bird migration in South America. From 1997-2005, he was curator and eventually Chair of the Department of Ornithology at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia (now affiliated with Drexel University). He returned home to Australia as Director of the Australian National Wildlife Collection at the end of 2005 and has been busy with much collaborative work on the evolution of birds in Australia and New Guinea ever since.

Science areas: Animals and plants and Environment

Event type: Conference or seminar