PROFESSOR Kingsley Dixon’s contribution to research on native plants and the regeneration of ecosystems was recognised last night in London when he was awarded the Linnean Medal.
The Linnean Society of London, the world’s oldest and most prestigious biological society, presented Professor Dixon with the medal at its Anniversary meeting. The organisation’s Patron is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and it counts Sir David Attenborough among its current Fellows.
Professor Dixon, who is currently working in Saudi Arabia on a major desert regeneration project, is the Director (Science) at the Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority (BGPA), in Western Australia. He is also a visiting Professor at the University of Western Australia’s School of Plant Biology. At BGPA he oversees a team of 44 scientific staff, including 14 PhD students from UWA, Curtin, Murdoch and Edith Cowan Universities.
His leading work, which included scientific teams from UWA and Murdoch University, resulted in the discovery of a chemical in smoke which causes the germination of many native plants. This research has greatly changed the way mining restoration and land conservation is undertaken.
Professor Dixon’s work has also led to a greater understanding of why diseases migrate from agricultural crops to native plants.
Professor Dixon is working with the science team and others from Kings Park on a two year project for the Saudi Arabian Government, near Riyadh the capital city, which involves planting more than 48,000 seedlings to test approaches to desert restoration. The project’s aim is to halt the deterioration of the ecosystem, enhance biodiversity and to enable local fauna to flourish as well as improve air quality in the capital.
“I feel that often Western Australian scientists undersell our expertise in the conservation and restoration sciences particularly the regeneration of arid ecosystems. The Saudis have recognised what we have been able to achieve in places like the Great Sandy Desert. The impressive size and scale of the Saudi restoration project will undoubtedly lead to improved methods for arid restoration in Australia,” Prof Dixon said.
Western Australia’s Chief Scientist, Lyn Beazley says that it is only the second time an Australian has won the prestigious Linnean Medal.
“Professor Dixon is a true world leader in his discipline, plant biology and ecology.
“Working in key regions of the world that have greatest biodiversity and/or face the most significant threats, including the southwest of Western Australia, Professor Dixon has conducted research with world-wide impact,” Prof Beazley said.
Professor Beazley believes that Dixon’s influential publications on climate change and seed viability and his ability to influence policy making across local, national and international arenas led to him winning the medal.
For Professor Dixon, last night’s award comes after 30 years of doing what he loves and having the chance to work alongside and mentor a number of outstanding young scientists.
“From a young age I was fascinated about everything to do with plants and I knew I wanted to become a biologist. I have been lucky enough to earn a living following my passion, “Dixon said.
Asked what he hopes will come from this recognition, Professor Dixon’s answer is simple:
“I believe that Western Australia has an extraordinary landscape and a fantastic array of native species — and every scientist has the opportunity to build a great career working in our state.
“I hope that more young people who share my passion for biology will choose to develop their careers here, safe in the knowledge that our work can have a global impact,” Dixon said.
Professor Dixon recalls how his career at Kings Park started out as a one man operation in a tin shed. Upon learning about the post, Dixon’s PhD Professor at the time remarked “so you’re going to become a gardener?”
A leading voice in his field across academia, government and the environmental community –and now Linnean Medal winner, Professor Dixon has turned out to be much more than just a local gardener.
“In summary, Professor Dixon is a star whose contribution is now receiving the recognition it richly deserves,” Prof Beazley said.