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Plant traits measured for Australian alpine plants

Cite this dataset

Sritharan, Meena Sivagowre (2022). Plant traits measured for Australian alpine plants [Dataset]. Dryad.


Rapid evolution is likely to be an important mechanism allowing native species to adapt to changed environmental conditions. Many northern hemisphere species have undergone substantial recent changes in phenology and morphology. However, we have little information about how native species in the southern hemisphere are responding to climate change. We used herbarium specimens from 21 native alpine plant species in Kosciuszko National Park, Australia to make over 1500 measurements of plant size, leaf thickness, leaf mass per area, leaf shape and leaf size across the last 126 years. Only two out of 21 species (9%) showed significant changes in any of the measured traits. The number of changes we observed was not significantly different to what we would expect by chance alone, based on the number of analyses performed. This lack of change is not attributable to methodology – an earlier study using the same methods found significant changes in 70% of species introduced to south-east Australia. Australia’s native alpine plants do not appear to be adapting to changed conditions, and because of the low elevation of Australia’s mountains, they do not have much scope for uphill migration. Thus, our findings suggest that Australia’s native alpine plants are at even greater risk in the face of future climate change than was previously understood. 


Plant trait data were measured from a combination of historic and modern herbarium specimens collected between 1890 and 2017. Specimens were sourced from the John T. Waterhouse Herbarium at UNSW Sydney (UNSW), Downing Herbarium at Macquarie University (MQU), National Herbarium of New South Wales at the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney (NSW), and the Australian National Herbarium at CSIRO in Canberra (CANB). All modern and historic herbarium specimens used were collected within a five-kilometre radius from the summit of Mount Kosciuszko, and from sites above 1800m.


Usage notes

1. Each sheet contains the values for the five plant traits measured; leaf length, leaf shape, growth form, leaf thickness, and leaf mass per unit area.

2. Units for leaf traits measured are present in the first tab (metadatatab)

3. Due to the varying conditions of herbarium specimens, it was not possible to measure every trait on every species. However, we measured all the possible traits available for each species.