Plant Life of Southwestern Australia: A Review

Plant Life of Southwestern Australia. Adaptations for Survival  by Byron Lamont and Phillip Groom

Over more than 40 years the knowledge of the biology of our native plants for life in the Southwest has hugely benefitted from the work of a group of research botanists trained by Byron Lamont (then at Curtin University). One of these students, Phillip Groom, who has been pivotal in much of this research for 20 years has worked with Byron on producing  Plant Life of Southwestern Australia. Adaptations for Survival  (De Gruyter, Berlin 2015, 258 pages). This book commenced in 2010, focuses on plants of the Southwest.

It is clear that Plant Life benefits having two such knowledgeable authors in Phillip and Byron, demonstrated in more than 100 papers authored by either or both in the reference list. They have assembled a diverse range of information and generalised comment about the outcomes of this information on a single group of organisms, vascular plants.

The book expands on the Southwest’s recognition as Australia’s only biodiversity hotspot, one of 25 recognised internationally (biodiversity is the variability in genes, species and communities). Each of the Southwest’s major environmental constraints is discussed alongside particular plant adaptations. The constraints include: a flat landscape, nutrient impoverished soils, drought and fire. Other related topics include the plant-animal interactions related to the unique range of pollinators, and intensive herbivory (general plant eating) and granivory (seed eating). Particular plant groups, such as the Proteaceae, have met these challenges have proliferated to a remarkable extent, resulting in the Southwest’s species richness and endemism.

Strategies and morphologies plants use to cope with the above factors are covered in 11 chapters: Evolution and Diversity of the Flora; Fire Adaptations; Drought Response; Carnivory; Parasitic Plants; Specialised Nutrient uptake; Pollination Strategies and Syndromes; Leaf Properties; Seed Release and Dispersal and Seed Storage; and Germination and Establishment. Each topic typically has a case study to illustrate the generalisations. An intriguing example of a case study is that on dispersal of fungi by marsupials and, briefly, by native dung beetles. We found the particular strengths of the book (a focus of Phillip’s and Byron’s research) are the sections on fire adaptations, seed biology and the biology of leaves.

Overall the book is an excellent introduction to what makes our plants successful at home and unique at a world scale and leaves one desiring to understand more. Plant Life is available from the Wildflower Society Bookshop and online as an Open Access book at the De Gruyter website.

– Bronwen and Greg Keighery