Emeritus Professor Michael Crisp

ANU College of Science

Areas of expertise

  • Conservation And Biodiversity 050202
  • Plant Systematics And Taxonomy 060310
  • Biogeography And Phylogeography 060302
  • Phylogeny And Comparative Analysis 060309
  • Speciation And Extinction 060311


I am an emeritus professor in the Research School of Biology, Australian National University. I have a PhD from the University of Adelaide (1976) for studies on long-term change on arid zone vegetation in South Australia. Subsequently, at the Australian National Botanic Gardens, I developed a expertise in phylogenetics and classification of Australian plants, particularly the pea-flowered legumes, revising (with collaborators) the large genera Daviesia, Gastrolobium, Gompholobium and Jacksonia. More recently, my broad knowledge of the Australian flora has led me to address questions such as: How is biodiversity distributed in space and what factors limit distribution? How have species and their traits diversified through time and what are the drivers? By constructing molecular phylogenies and dating the divergences between lineages, we have detected the signatures of ancient shifts in the rates of speciation and extinction, and of evolutionary change in their traits. We have discovered how climatic change has driven the course of evolution in multiple plant lineages, creating biodiversity hotspots such as in southwestern Australia.

For example, I led an international collaborative study that resolved a controversy about whether organisms separated by the southern oceans have been isolated since Gondwana broke up (vicariance) or dispersed across the oceans to establish new populations. We found that long distance dispersal had been far more common that previously supposed and published the results in Nature. In another study, published in Nature Communications, we discovered that fire-dominated eucalypt communities were likely present in Australia when it was part of Gondwana, 50 million years earlier than previously thought. Hence, eucalypts likely played an early role in transforming the continent from a rainforest-dominated landscape to one of open, flammable sclerophyll communities. This transformation was made possible by a unique adaptation in eucalypts to resprout after even the most intense bushfires from dormant buds in their bark.


Projects and Grants

Grants information is drawn from ARIES. To add or update Projects or Grants information please contact your College Research Office.

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Updated:  19 April 2024 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers