The BioOne Ambassador Award recognizes early-career researchers who excel at communicating the importance and impact of their research beyond their discipline. Nominees were asked to provide a 250-word plain-language summary of their research which responded to the question: "How do the results of your work apply across disciplines and to the public?" Responses were judged for their relevance and clarity. Read below to read Dr. Anderson's winning summary, and learn more about his research.
New species of scintillating Australian grasses!
Photo taken by Matthew Barrett
In order to share knowledge about living creatures, we need to clearly name and describe them. Biologists who do the naming and describing are called taxonomists, and my research identifying eight new species of grass in Australia is an example of taxonomy. Why is my research important? Well, imagine you are about to start a mining operation in the dry Pilbara region of Australia. You know that you are allowed to disrupt the landscape, but that you are also required to restore it (and plants in it) after mining. To achieve restoration, you would first need to know what plants are growing there (so you can put them back after). This is where my research comes in. By showing that there are multiple species in the Pilbara and describing how to tell them apart, my results will help mining surveyors accurately characterise the plants growing on their mine sites.
A neat byproduct of exploring biodiversity is the discovery of new traits and features of living organisms. In my study of Australian grasses, I discovered species that had mysterious resinous droplets on their leaves. As it turns out, the droplets had a taste reminiscent of salt and vinegar chips! We don’t know the function of the droplets, but perhaps that will be discovered in the future. In the meantime, the novelty of the droplets and their distinctive taste has captured the attention of many, and has helped people to better appreciate the marvelous biodiversity in Australia.
This summary is in reference to:
A revision of the Triodia basedowii species complex and close relatives (Poaceae: Chloridoideae). Australian Systematic Botany October 2017 : Vol. 30, Issue 3 (Oct 2017), pg(s) 197-229. Benjamin M. Anderson, Kevin R. Thiele and Matthew D. Barrett.
Funding for this research was partly supported by the Australian Research Council, Linkage Project LP120100350, an International Postgraduate Research Scholarship, an Australian Postgraduate Award, Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment, and a University of Western Australian Top-Up.
Photo taken by Russell Barrett
Dr. Ben Anderson
Nominated by CSIRO Publishing
Dr. Ben Anderson grew up in Canada and did his undergraduate work at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, where he discovered his interest in plants, particularly their systematics. Following his undergrad, he pursued a masters degree at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, where he learned taxonomic and systematic techniques and gained a better understanding of how plants are related. After his masters in the UK, Ben traveled to Australia to start his PhD on the systematics of a group of desert grasses in the genus Triodia. Dr. Anderson completed his PhD four and a half years later, and has since been pursuing post-doc opportunities while living in North Vancouver.
What drew you to your current research field?
If we go way back, it was playing in the forest behind my house when I was growing up. I would learn about, say, leaf shapes in my science textbook and then see those shapes in the real world. Understanding and categorizing the natural world of plants was fascinating. Later, I was drawn toward taxonomy and systematics probably because I like to order my world (everything in its place) and to understand how things relate.
Who most inspired and/or influenced your career?
A number of my university professors and supervisors definitely encouraged my interests and direction of studies. For a specific person, I remember one university instructor, Shona Ellis, both inspiring me with her passion for the natural world and encouraging me in particular to pursue my interest in taxonomic work despite its reputation for fewer job prospects compared to other areas of biology.
What one thing would you like the public to remember or understand about your research?
Most of the species we share the planet with remain undiscovered or poorly studied. Knowing what’s out there is a key part of appreciating and protecting our living world.
If you had one piece of advice for someone who wants to pursue research in your field, what would it be?
People/relationships are more important than what you’re studying: making and maintaining connections at conferences and elsewhere will serve you better than that extra time invested at the microscope.