Doctor Paul Rymer

Paul Rymer

Growing up in the Blue Mountains, Dr Paul Rymer was inspired by nature and the capacity for plants to not only cope with major disasters (e.g. wildfires and drought), but thrive in their wake with an amazing diversity of forms and functions.

He went on to do a BSc majoring in Environmental Science at the University of Western Sydney, Hawkesbury. His Honours research project, supervised by Charles Morris and Barry Richardson, investigated the reproductive biology and population genetics of a rare, Cumberland Plain plant, Dillwynia teniufolia (Fabaceae).

He graduated from a PhD in Biological Sciences at the University of Wollongong in December 2006 supervised by David Ayre, Rob Whelan, Peter Weston (Royal Botanic Garden Sydney) & Tony Auld (NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service). Paul's thesis was titled: Plant rarity: species distributional patterns, population genetics, pollination biology and seed dispersal in Persoonia (Proteaceae).

After submitting his PhD thesis, he went to the UK for four years to obtain some postdoctoral experience in different research groups. At the University of Oxford, he investigated historical and recent population structure in neutral and coding genetic loci and mating patterns in fragmented landscapes for neotropical trees as a post-doctoral researcher on a large EU project (SEEDSOURCE).

He also worked with John Pannell at Oxford on Mercurialis annua (Euphorbiaceae) a sexually variable ruderal weed developing co-dominant SSR markers for this allohexaploid system. He also obtained a Marie Curie Incoming International Fellowship to work with Vincent Savolainen at RBG Kew & Imperial College London to explore the role of pollinators in the diversification of flowering plants in southern Africa, focusing on the Iridaceae plant family.

This research project had three broad levels of investigation (1) macroevolution of floral characters in the genus Sparaxis, (2) population differentiation (a) parapatric pollinator and habitat shifts in the Gladiolus carinatus species complex (b) Gladiolus longicollis allopatric floral divergence and reinforcement in zone of secondary contract, and (3) assortative mating among morphs: a paternity analysis in a natural hybrid zone.

He returned to Australia to work as a postdoctoral researcher in the Section Evolutionary Ecology at The Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney with three major lines of research:

  • Next Generation Sequencing of rainforest tree communities
  • Plastic and adaptive response to climatic gradients in NSW Waratahs' (Telopea; Proteaceae)
  • Coevolution of leaf fungi with Eucalyptus (sensu lato) and Proteaceae host plants. 

He is currently a Research Lecturer in Environmental Genomics, Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment at Western Sydney University. Paul is also a Honorary Research Associate at The Botanic Gardens Trust.

Areas of Research / Teaching Expertise

Paul combines classical and novel ecological and molecular techniques to address outstanding questions in evolutionary ecology. His research focuses on the ecology and evolution of organisms in natural populations, in particular plant-animal interactions, mating patterns, hybridisation and local adaptation, and how these factors drive and erode species diversity. His research is applied to understanding the origin of biodiversity hotspots, the evolution of invasiveness, and adaptation to climate change.

Fields Of Research

Ecology: Community Ecology, Population Ecology; Evolutionary Biology: Biogeography and Phylogeography; Biological Adaptations; Evolutionary Impacts of Climate Change, Speciation and Extinction
Genetics: Population, Ecological and Evolutionary Genetics

Socio-Economic Objectives

Environment- Ecosystem adaptation to Climate Change; Ecosystem Control of Pests, diseases, and Exotic Species; Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity.

Grants / Current Projects

Genetic Issues In Seed Production For Restoration Purposes

There is an urgent need to move beyond the individual planting of container stock at restoration sites which is labour intensive and costly, and instead use direct seeding methods to populate sites. This approach has been successfully shown at field scales in re-establishing complex combinations of species that establish and persist successfully over time.

This project is working towards this goal by providing knowledge of Seed Production methods and how seed mixes can be reintroduced to sites through restoration.

Co-researcher: Dr Paul Gibson Roy, Greening Australia

Psyllid Outbreaks On Cumberland Plain Grey Gums

Investigating psyllids that are defoliating and killing Grey Box eucalypts on the Cumberland Plain in Western Sydney. The project, which has been assisted by the New South Wales Government through its Environmental Trust and in partnership with the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust, aims to develop measures to try to conserve this once dominant tree species.

Co-researchers: Dr Markus Riegler, Prof James Cook, Dr Ben Moore

Capacity to respond to climate change

Biodiversity assessment "Species and gene turnover across environmental gradients – a landscape-level approach to quantify biodiversity and resilience for climate adaptation"

This ambitious project will develop next-generation sequencing approaches for biodiversity assessment in changing environments. Plant community plots along a steep environmental gradient traversing major bioregions from Sydney across the Blue Mountains to the Western Plains will be characterised and sequenced. Ecological and phylogenetic analyses will be utilised to determine the role of dispersal, environmental selection, plant competition and pathogen loads on species distribution patterns and co-existence.

Co-Researchers: Andrew Lowe (University of Adelaide), Maurizio Rossetto & Brett Summerell (Botanic Gardens Trust). ARC Linkage LP110100721

Experimental response of functional groups

Telopea Flower"Adaptive and plastic response to climate change: exploring intra-specific variation along environmental gradients"

Understanding the capacity of species in natural populations to respond to changing environmental conditions is of critical importance to conservation managers, ecologists, and evolutionary biologists. Plant functional groups are likely to respond differentially to the same environmental conditions – explaining distributional patterns – however the relative adaptive and plastic response is largely unknown.

This project will focus on Sydney sandstone species from coastal, lower mountains, and upland populations for several functional groups of natural ecosystems (trees, resprouting shrubs, obligate seeders, herbs, C3 and C4 grasses). A multifaceted approach combining ecological, physiological, and genomic experiments with niche modelling will be applied to predict the impact of climate change.Telopea Seedlings

Much work has been carried out on Telopea speciosissima (NSW Waratah).

Co-Researchers: David Tissue (University of Western Sydney), Maurizio Rossetto (Botanic Gardens Trust), David Keith (NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service), David Freudenberger (Greening Australia)

Evolution of invasiveness

Comparative phylogenetic approach

Testing "Darwin's naturalization hypothesis" that introduced plant species are more likely to become invasive in the absence of closely related species in the native flora. This study focuses on Australian and New Zealand Senecio species (Asteraceae) where recent taxonomic (Thompson 2006) and phylogenetic (Pelser etal 2007) studies provide the framework for the development of a robust species-level phylogeny. Stages of the invasion, time since introduction, spatial scales, and ecological traits will be investigated to obtain an understanding of the conditions for introduced species to become invasive.

Co-Researcher: Pieter Pelser (Canterbury University), Elisabeth Brown (Botanic Gardens Trust) 

Experimental transcriptomic approach

Introduced species are a major threat to global biodiversity. They also represent an excellent experimental system for studying the response to novel environments and evolution in action. We will address the following fundamental evolutionary questions:

  • Are there common genomic processes involved in invasion?
  • What is the source of genetic variation for adaptive traits?
  • What is the role of phenotypic plasticity and trait adaptation?

Our innovative approach combines ecological and physiological experiments with population transcriptomics, utilising next-generation sequencing, to understand evolutionary processes. It will determine the source of invasiveness genes associated with the evolution of phenotypic plasticity and adaptive divergence.

Senecio Madagascariensis Field

This work focuses large on Senecio madagascariensis (Fire Weed).

Co-Researchers: Peter Prentis (Queensland University of Technology), Stephen Bonser (University of New South Wales)

Diversification of flowering plants

Mediterranean biodiversity hotspots

Species are not distributed evenly across the globe – creating areas with high and low diversity – as seen in the reduction in species diversity from the tropics to the poles. Mediterranean biodiversity hotspots buck this trend, indicating other processes are in play. The Western Cape of South Africa and South Western Australian represent excellent comparative systems with similar evolutionary histories, climates, geography and high levels of plant diversity. Using a combination of phylogenetic and population genetic approaches this project aims to determine the drivers of this amazing diversity.Sparaxis Elegans

My work in the Western cape explored diversification in the Iridaceae.

Co-Researchers: Vincent Savolainen (Kew & ICL), John Manning (South African National Biodiversity Institute), Peter Goldblatt (Missouri Botanic Gardens), Peter Weston (Botanic Gardens Trust), Marcel Cardillo (Australian National University)

Geographic mosaic of coevolution

Species occurring in the same geographic and environmental conditions will tend to converge on the similar optimal phenotypes given stable conditions and enough time. This line of research aims at understanding the convergence of traits in disparate lineages and the role plant interactions play. Case studies under investigation (i) hawkmoth pollination in sub-Saharan Africa (ii) Geographic floral colour convergence in the Iridaceae (iii) leaf spot fungi with Eucalyptus and Proteaceae hosts. A array of approaches are being applied – from spatial modelling, ecological experiments, population genetics to phylogenetic analyses – to gain an understanding of the mechanisms involved in genetic and trait convergence.Gladiolus longicollis

Hawkmoth pollination provides a direct association of traits with fitness.

Co-Researchers: Stephen Johnson (University of Kwa-Zulu-Natal), Bruce Anderson (Stellenbosch University), Ian Kitching (Nature History Museum, London), Brett Summerell (Botanic Gardens Trust)

Selected Publications

Drake JE, Aspinwall MJ, Pfautsch S, Rymer PD, Reich PB, Smith RA, Crous KY, Tissue DT, Ghannoum O, Tjoelker MG, (2015) 'The capacity to cope with climate warming declines from temperate to tropical latitudes in two widely distributed Eucalyptus species', Global Change Biology, vol.21, no.1, pp 459-472

Huang G, Rymer PD, Duan H, Smith RA, Tissue DT, (2015) 'Elevated temperature is more effective than elevated [CO2] in exposing genotypic variation in Telopea speciosissima growth plasticity: Implications for woody plant populations under climate change', Global Change Biology, vol.21, no.10, pp 3800-3813

Rymer PD, Sandiford M, Harris SA, Billingham MR, Boshier DH, (2015) 'Remnant Pachira quinata pasture trees have greater opportunities to self and suffer reduced reproductive success due to inbreeding depression', Heredity, vol.115, no.2, pp 115-124, SI  

Rymer PD, Harris S, Boshier D, (2014) 'Isolation and characterization of microsatellite markers for the neotropical tree, Pachira quinata (Malvaceae)', Conservation Genetics Resources, vol.6, no.2, pp 375-382

McPherson H, van der Merwe M, Delaney SK, Edwards MA, Henry RJ, McIntosh E, Rymer PD, Milner ML, Siow J, Rossetto M, (2013) 'Capturing chloroplast variation for molecular ecology studies: a simple next generation sequencing approach applied to a rainforest tree', BMC Ecology, vol.13, article no.8

Rymer PD, Dick CW, Vendramin GG, Buonamici A, Boshier D, (2013) 'Recent phylogeographic structure in a widespread 'weedy' Neotropical tree species, Cordia alliodora (Boraginaceae)', Journal of Biogeography, vol.40, no.4, pp 693-706

Rymer PD, Manning JC, Goldblatt P, Powell MP, Savolainen V, (2010) 'Evidence of recent and continuous speciation in a biodiversity  hotspot: a population genetic approach in southern African gladioli (Gladiolus; Iridaceae)', Molecular Ecology, vol.19, no.21, pp 4765–4782 * Perspectives article by Peter Linder

Rymer PD, Johnson SD, Savolainen V, (2010) 'Pollinator behaviour and plant speciation: can assortative mating and disruptive selection maintain distinct floral morphs in sympatry?', New Phytologist, vol.188, no.2, pp 303–306 * Special issue 'Pollinator-Mediated Selection'

Audigeos D, Buonamici A, Belkadi L, Rymer PD, Boshier D, Scotti-Saintagne C, Vendramin GG, Scotti I, (2010) 'Aquaporins in the wild: natural genetic diversity and selective pressure in the PIP gene family in five Neotropical tree species', BMC Evolutionary Biology, vol.10, article.202

Korbecka G*, Rymer PD*, Harris SA, Pannell JR, (2010) 'Solving the problem of ambiguous paralogy for marker loci: microsatellite markers with diploid inheritance in allohexaploid Mercurialis annua (Euphorbiaceae)', Journal of Heredity, vol.101, no.4, pp 504-511 * Equal contribution.

Yakimowski SB, Rymer PD, Stone H, Dorken ME, Barrett SCH, (2009) 'Isolation and characterization of 11 microsatellite markers from Sagittaria latifolia (Alismataceae)', Molecular Ecology Resources, vol.9, no.2, pp 579-581

Mcpherson H, Porter C, Rymer PD, Crayn DM, Rossetto M, (2008) 'Isolation and characterization of polymorphic microsatellite loci from Tetratheca ericifolia (Elaeocarpaceae)', Molecular Ecology Resources, vol.8, no.4, pp 867-869

Rossetto M, Crayn D, Ford A, Ridgeway P, Rymer PD, (2007) 'The comparative study of range-wide genetic structure across related, co-distributed rainforest trees reveals contrasting evolutionary histories', Australian Journal of Botany, vol.55, no.4, pp 416-424

Porter C, Rymer PD, Rossetto M, (2006) 'Isolation and characterization of microsatellite markers for the waratah, Telopea speciosissima (Proteaceae)', Molecular Ecology Notes, vol.6, no.2, pp 446-448

Rymer PD, Ayre DJ, (2006) 'Does genetic diversity and gene flow vary with rarity in obligate seeding Persoonias (Proteaceae)?', Conservation Genetics, vol.7, no.6, pp 919-930

Rymer PD, (2006) 'Are seed dispersal and predation in fire-sensitive shrubs associated with rarity?', International Journal of Plant Sciences, vol.167, no.6, pp 1151-1160

Rymer PD, Whelan RJ, Ayre DJ, Weston PH, Russell KG, (2005) 'Reproductive success and pollinator effectiveness differ in common and rare Persoonia species (Proteaceae)', Biological Conservation, vol.123, no.4, pp 521-532

Rymer PD, Morris EC, Richardson BJ, (2002) 'Breeding system and population genetics of the vulnerable plant Dillwynia tenuifolia (Fabaceae)', Austral Ecology, vol.27, no.3, pp 241-248

Student Supervision

Honours and PhD research projects are available for qualified and enthusiastic students. Feel free to approach me if you are interested in pursuing research in any of the areas listed above. Post-doctoral research candidates are invited to contact me with regard to potential research projects.

Contact Details

»Telephone: (02) 4570 1094     
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