Megan Hirst

PhD CandidateHirstM
CESAR House
Room 113
+613 9035 42491
megan.hirst@rbg.vic.gov.au

Biography:

My background is in horticulture, having spent most of my undergraduate years at Burnley College. I began working at the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne in their propagation nursery, which introduced me to the world of rare and threatened plants and the interesting work involved to protect them. This opened my eyes to the plant sciences from a very different perspective. My current position is with the Victorian Conservation Seed bank (VCS) the local arm of a global initiative (The Millennium Seed Bank Project), based in the National Herbarium in the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne. Basically my duties involve seed collecting, preparing collections for long term seed banking and establishing germination protocols.

Every fortnight, I can be found on a small family hobby farm in Booroolite (near Mansfield NE Victoria), pursuing as many horticultural activities as there is soil to fill them; a few acres of wine grapes (Sangiovese & Sauvignon blanc), 100 cider apples (Brown Snout & Kingston Black), vegies, and a dream of truffles (very early days).  With no irrigation system and a slow leaking dam, we are at the mercy of the seasons to turn our sunshine into wine (or should I say into Wonky Plonk)……

Current Projects:

Predicting climate change adaptability from phylogenetic and morphological signals in a key Australian plant genus, Brachyscome.

A number of iconic Australian plant groups are thought to be threatened by rapid climate change but there is very little information to test if these groups possess inherent resilience, as the role of natural selection and evolution on trait differentiation can vary between species under the same selective pressures.    This study examines the phenotypic, morphological and physiological characters in the genus Brachyscome, to explore a number of issues. Are threatened species related, or interlinked with more resilient widespread species? Is there a ‘home’ site advantage? To what degree does phenotypic plasticity and genetic differentiation affect distributions?

Brachyscome comprises >80 species of native daisies found in a wide range of habitats, and includes both highly restricted and widespread species. A detailed phylogeny of Brachyscome to determine evolutionary relationships at the molecular level, reciprocal transplants and common garden experiments testing for the presence/absence of shared environmental tolerances, will be linked to an assessment of the ecology of the different Brachyscome lineages. Through growth experiments the resistance of key life stages to thermal and other climatic stresses will be explored. This will indicate the level of resilience to climate change and also the extent to which the species are growing in conditions close to their environmental limits.

Publications:

Hirst, M. J., Sexton, J. P., Hoffmann, A. A. (2016) Extensive variation, but not local adaptation in an Australian alpine daisy. Ecology and Evolution 6 (15): 5459 – 5472.

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