I am a molecular systematist and evolutionary biologist with a research focus on tropical plant biodiversity. My research interests lie in understanding the diversification of species-rich tropical plant groups in time and space, and the underlying factors that shaped today’s diversity. I am using molecular tools such as high throughput DNA sequencing to reconstruct evolutionary relationships and historical biogeography, investigate differences in speciation and extinction rates between lineages and examine correlations with other factors, such as past climatic change, the development of putative key innovations or other significant morphological/physiological traits.

Since 2010 I have been working at the Australian Tropical Herbarium where I am leading the orchid research program. My current research projects employ genomic approaches to reconstruct phylogenetic relationships and the spatio-temporal evolution of Australia’s major orchid lineages, in particular the highly diverse orchid tribe Diurideae (the Donkey, Spider, Leek orchids and Co.), the subtribe Pterostylidinae (the Greenhood orchid alliance), and the two epiphytic plant mega genera Dendrobium and Bulbophyllum. A greater understanding of these orchid groups is key for the establishment of a more stable and widely accepted taxonomic classification for Australasian orchids.

Students with research interests in plant phylogenomics, historical biogeography, diversification rates analyses and conservation genomics, please feel free to contact me to enquire about opportunities within my research group.

  • Orchid phylogenomics: Phylogeny, evolution and systematics of Australasian orchids
  • Conservation genomics for Australian threatened orchid species
  • Organizer, ATH Science Circle, Australian Tropical Herbarium, James Cook University, Cairns.
  • 2016 to present - CSIRO Research Scientist, Australian Tropical Herbarium (Cairns)
  • 2013 to present - Research Associate, Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Studies (Cairns, Australia)
  • 2012 to present - Research Associate, Center for Tropical Biodiversity and Climate Change, JCU (Townsville, Australia)
  • 2010 to present - Program leader, Orchid Research, Australian Tropical Herbarium (Cairns, Australia)
  • 2015 to 2016 - Acting Director (12/15-01/16), Australian Tropical Herbarium (Cairns, Australia)
  • 2010 to 2016 - CSIRO/JCU Postdoctoral Fellow, Australian Tropical Herbarium (Cairns, Australia)
  • 2014 - Acting Director (09/2014), Australian Tropical Herbarium (Cairns, Australia)
  • 2013 - Acting Director (08/2013), Australian Tropical Herbarium (Cairns, Australia)
  • 2008 to 2011 - Principal Investigator. Project area A: Evolution and Climate. Project group: Cenozoic diversification and climate change, Biodiversity and Climate Center (Frankfurt/Main, Germany)
  • 2008 to 2010 - Project leader (S1 laboratory), Grunelius Möllgaard laboratory, Research Institute Senckenberg (Frankfurt/Main, Germany)
  • 2007 to 2010 - Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Dept. Botany and Molecular Evolution, Research Institute Senckenberg and Goethe University (Frankfurt/Main, Germany)
  • 2001 to 2007 - Research Assistant, Dept. Systematics and Taxonomy of Higher Plants, Goethe University and Research Institute Senckenberg (Frankfurt/Main, Germany)
Research Disciplines
Socio-Economic Objectives
  • 2006 - Marga and Kurt Möllgaard Research Fellow at the Jodrell Laboratory, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, United Kingdom
  • 2017 - Decadal Plan for Biosystematics and Taxonomy in Australasia Working Group, Australian Academy of Sciences
  • 2016 - Committee member, CSIRO Vacation Scholarship Program
  • 2016 - Research Committee member, Australasian Systematic Botany Society
  • 2013 - Chapter convener, Australasian Systematic Botany Society
  • 2010 - Member, Australasian Systematic Botany Society
  • 2003 - Member, Deutsche Bromeliengesellschaft e.V.
  • 2014 to 2017 - Coordinator, Decadal Plan for Biosystematics and Taxonomy in Australasia

These are the most recent publications associated with this author. To see a detailed profile of all publications stored at JCU, visit ResearchOnline@JCU. Hover over Altmetrics badges to see social impact.

Journal Articles

ResearchOnline@JCU stores 16+ research outputs authored by Dr Katharina Schulte from 2010 onwards.

Current Funding

Current and recent Research Funding to JCU is shown by funding source and project.

Australia & Pacific Science Foundation - The Australia Pacific Science Hermon Slade Research Fund

Next generation systematics for Nepenthes Pitcher Plants

Indicative Funding
$43,717 over 3 years
The carnivorous pitcher plant genus Nepenthes comprises c.160 species distributed throughout the Southeast Asia and Oceania. Species have traditionally been distinguished using morphological characteristics, but many recently described species have been distinguished on the basis of minor differences, whose stability has been questioned. To date, no taxonomically informative molecular phylogeny of Nepenthes has been published. The lack of an objective taxonomic framework has hindered efforts of biologists who seek to study and conserve threatened Nepenthes. This study seeks to eliminate this problem using next generation sequencing methods to construct a robust, informative phylogeny of Nepenthes based on c. 100 species.
Darren Crayn, Charles Clarke and Katharina Schulte (Division of Tropical Environments & Societies)
Phylogeny; Systematics; Nepenthes; Pitcher plant; Next Generation Sequencing; Evolution

Department of the Environment - National Taxonomy Research Grant program

Next-generation tassel-fern systematics: species delimitation in the Phlegmariurus phlegmaria complex (Lycopaiaceae)

Indicative Funding
$30,000 over 3 years
Tassel-ferns (Lycopaiaceae genus Phlegmariurus) are a highly threatened group of rainforest epiphyte (all EVNT) that are prized in horticulture and are the source of an anti-Alzheimer's drug. Phylogenetic investigation has resolved their deeper worldwide radiation but has discovered that previous interpretations of species diversity are inadequate. This project will use Next-Generation Sequencing to resolve their species diversity and determine if there is one common tassel-fern species (Phlegmariurus phlegmaria) ranging from Madagascar to Tahiti or if there are many localised and vulnerable or critically endangered endemics.
Ashley Field and Katharina Schulte in collaboration with Sabine Hennequin, Weston Testo and Melissa Harrison (Division of Tropical Environments & Societies, Universite Pierre et Marie Curie, University of Vermont and Australian Tropical Herbarium)
Lycopodiaceae, Phlegmariurus, Huperzia; Endangered, vulnerable, threatened; Phylogeny, Systematics, Taxonomy; Wet Tropics, Rainforest, Daintree; Evolution, Bioiversity, speciation; DNA, next generation, RAD sequencing

Department of the Environment - Australian Biological Resources Study - Postdoctoral Fellowship

Next-generation systematics for Australia's challenging taxa: Unravelling phylogeny, evolution and species delimitation in the sun orchids (Thelymitra Orchidaceae)

Indicative Funding
$270,000 over 3 years
Standard molecular markers provide only limited insights into phylogenetic relationships in cases where plant groups i) underwent a recent and rapid diversification, ii) are subject to reticulate evolution, and/or iii) include polyploids. Next-generation sequencing technologies now offer the unprecedented opportunity to investigate the evolution of such challenging plant groups. In this project, we aim to apply Next-Generation sequencing approaches in the sun orchids (Thelymitra, Orchidaceae) to a) unravel infrageneric relationships; b) assess the taxonomic value of key morphological characters; c) improve our understanding of interspecific relationships and species delimitation in three significant species complexes through population-level molecular analysis.
Katharina Schulte in collaboration with Darren Crayn, Mark Clements and Kingsley Dixon (Division of Tropical Environments & Societies, Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research and Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority)
Sun Orchids (Thelymitra Orchidaceae); Molecular Phylogeny; Systematics and Taxonomy; Evolution; Next Generation Sequencing; Hybridisation

Australian Orchid Foundation - Research Grant

Disentangling evolutionary relationships in the Thelymitra pauciflora/nuda species complex using next-generation sequencing

Indicative Funding
The sun orchids (Thelymitra) are with ~118 species a diverse orchid genus with centre of diversity in Australia. Despite considerable taxonomic work over the past two decades, evolutionary relationships and species delimitation within Thelymitra are still poorly understood. Even molecular phylogenetics using several loci could not resolve most species complexes within the genus, of which the pauciflora/nuda complex is the biggest one, comprising almost half of the genus diversity. This project aims to apply RAD sequencing, a recently developed next generation sequencing method, to unravel the relationships of this complex and improve the taxonomy and systematics of the sun orchids.
Lars Nauheimer, Katharina Schulte and Mark Clements (Division of Tropical Environments & Societies and Centre for Australian National Biodiversity)
Thelymitra; Orchidaceae; Next Generation Sequencing; Genomics; Phylogeny; RADseq

Australia & Pacific Science Foundation - Research Project Grant

A next-generation framework phylogeny for Diurideae (Orchidaceae)

Indicative Funding
Australia's biodiversity is characterised by a rich endemic flora of terrestrial orchids. Tribe Diurideae (over 900 species) comprises several lineages that underwent major radiations on the continent, such as in Caladeniinae, Prasophyllinae, or Thelymitrinae. This project aims to generate a phylogenetic framework for the orchid tribe Diurideae based on next-generation DNA sequence data. The molecular phylogeny will be used to assess subtribal delimitations and controversial generic concepts in Diurideae, evaluate the taxonomic value of key diagnostic characters, and to infer the spatio-temporal evolution of the tribe. Additionally, the project will provide DNA barcodes across the tribe Diurideae.
Katharina Schulte and Darren Crayn in collaboration with Claire Micheneau, Mark Clements and Peter Weston (Division of Tropical Environments & Societies, Centre for Australian National Biodiversity and Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust)
Diurideae (Orchidaceae); Next Generation Sequencing; Molecular Phylogeny; Evolution; Systematics and Taxonomy; DNA Barcoding

Advisory Accreditation: I can be on your Advisory Panel as a Primary or Secondary Advisor.

These Higher Degree Research projects are either current or by students who have completed their studies within the past 5 years at JCU. Linked titles show theses available within ResearchOnline@JCU.

  • Phylogenomic Insights into the Spatio-temporal Evolution of Australasian Bulbophyllum (Orchidaceae) (PhD , Primary Advisor)
  • Origins of the Northern Australian Flora: Role of the Sunda-Sahul Floristic Exchange (PhD , Secondary Advisor)

The map shows research collaborations by institution from the past 7 years.
Note: Map points are indicative of the countries or states that institutions are associated with.

  • 5+ collaborations
  • 4 collaborations
  • 3 collaborations
  • 2 collaborations
  • 1 collaboration
  • Indicates the Tropics (Torrid Zone)

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