Latest News

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Australian origin likely for iconic New Zealand tree

Ancestors of the iconic New Zealand Christmas Tree, Pōhutukawa, may have originated in Australia, new fossil research from the University of Adelaide suggests.

Published in the American Journal of Botany, the research describes two new fossil species of Metrosideros, the scientific name for Pōhutukawa and related species. The fossils, found near St Helens, East Coast Tasmania, come from roughly the middle of the Cenozic era of about 25 million years ago.

“The Rātā, the most famous of which is the Pōhutukawa otherwise known as the New Zealand Christmas Tree, is one of New Zealand’s most iconic flowering plants, holding a special place in the hearts of Kiwis and is of particular significance in Maori culture,” says researcher Myall Tarran, PhD candidate in the University of Adelaide’s School of Biological Sciences. His research has been supervised by Professor Bob Hill, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Adelaide, and Dr Peter Wilson, a Principal Research Scientist at the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney, in collaboration with Associate Professor Greg Jordan, University of Tasmania, and Honorary Associate Professor Mike Macphail, Australian National University.

“It is also one of, if not the, most widely spread flowering plant groups in the Pacific. It grows in Hawaii, Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, Tahiti, the Bonin Islands near Japan, on sub-Antarctic islands, and many other islands in between, as well as having single representatives in Africa and South America.”

But surprisingly, Myall Tarran says considering the species’ unique and highly effective seed dispersal biology, Pōhutukawa is not found in Australia. In fact, Australia is the only major vegetated landmass in the Southern Hemisphere where Metrosideros does not occur today.

“The Rātā’s lightweight and robust seeds are able to be blown by light winds, survive freezing temperatures in the atmosphere and up to 30 days in salt water and still germinate,” he says. “This makes it hard to pin down where the genus might have originated. Metrosideros seems to have achieved most of its present distribution relatively recently through dispersal.”

“Previous work we have done described the oldest fossils of Metrosideros from the earlier Eocene-Oligocene (35-40 million years ago) in Tasmania, showing that the genus once did occur in Australia but has since become extinct,” says Mr Tarran.

“This new research, which identifies two new fossil species of Metrosideros from Tasmania from about 25 million years ago, shows that a diversity of the trees once grew in Australia. But these more recent fossils belong to a subgenus of Metrosideros that is less widely distributed than the earlier fossils, mainly in areas that were part of the great supercontinent Gondwana – in Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, New Caledonia and New Zealand.

“These species may not have been as well adapted for long-distance dispersal as those other species, and so it is likely that they originated here”

“The fact that fossils with affinities to both subgenera of Metrosideros have been found in Australia now is strong evidence that the diversity of Rātā first evolved in Australia, and that the genus may have had an Australian origin. The question still remains as to why they became extinct in Australia.” [Full Story]

RSS News Feed

Latest Headlines

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Regional students target of new push for STEM skills

Staff and students from the University of Adelaide will visit six regional centres as part of a nation-wide push to improve STEM skills. [Full Story]

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

New catalyst paves way for carbon neutral fuel

Australian scientists have paved the way for carbon neutral fuel with the development of a new efficient catalyst that converts carbon dioxide from the air into synthetic natural gas in a 'clean' process using solar energy. [Full Story]

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

High-tech solution for some woolly farming issues

A proposal for low-cost wireless systems that will help farmers to keep track of sheep has won a major prize at the Tech eChallenge. [Full Story]

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Exhausted immune cells linked to irritable bowel syndrome

Adelaide researchers have for the first time discovered that a specific type of irritable bowel syndrome is associated with exhaustion of the immune system in patients. [Full Story]

Upcoming Events

BREXIT: Challenges and Opportunities for Australia

Monday, 26 June 2017, 3:30 pm to 6:00 pm
Room 4/5, Level 7, 10 Pulteney Street, Adelaide


Monday, 26 June 2017, 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm
Urrbrae House Ballroom, (access via stairs only) Waite campus The University of Adelaide off Fullarton Road, Urrbrae

China Briefing: Launch of the China Story Yearbook

Tuesday, 4 July 2017, 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm
Napier 102, North Terrace Campus

Evening Concert Series - Australian String Quartet

Tuesday, 18 July 2017, 6:30 pm
Elder Hall

Evening Concert Series - Schubertiade

Saturday, 22 July 2017, 6:30 pm
Elder Hall

Find an Expert

Events Calendar

< June 2017 >
1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30

News Publications

The Adelaidean provides news about the teaching, research and other activities of the University.

The University's bi-annual alumni magazine.

Staff News
The University's weekly newsletter keeping staff informed about what's on.

The Media Unit

For help with finding an expert for your story or the latest news from the University of Adelaide, please contact one of the Media Officers below:

Lachlan Parker
Deputy Director
Media & Corporate Relations
work: +61 8 8313 3196
mobile: +61 417 810 890

David Ellis
Media and Communications Officer
work: +61 8 8313 5414
mobile +61 421 612 762

Robyn Mills
Media and Communications Officer
work: +61 8 8313 6341
mobile +61 410 689 084