Jennie Whinam

Jennie Whinam

Professionally, I am more of an ecologist, than a bryologist. I became interested in peatlands when I started my degree at the Australian National University as a mature age student in 1980 under the guidance of the late Prof Geoff Hope, a palynologist and paleoecologist, who first sparked my interest in peatlands.

When I moved to Tasmania with my husband (Russell Bauer, my loyal field assistant), I completed my Honours research on the string bogs of Mt Wellington (1985), under the supervision of Prof Jamie Kirkpatrick and onto what was to become a life-long passion – the ecology of Tasmanian Sphagnum peatlands for my PhD thesis (1990). So, technically my bryology research has focussed on mainly one genus of moss, Sphagnum (albeit one of the most interesting, diverse and widely distributed species), with a bit of work on its closely related, Tasmanian endemic, sister species Ambuchanania leucobryoides and forays into the world of the beautiful and resilient Antarctic and Subantarctic mosses with my colleagues Dr Patricia Selkirk and Dr Mary Skotnicki.

Sphagnum occurs from Subantarctic Macquarie Island, Tasmania and the eastern mountain ranges of mainland Australia and continues north to the Arctic boreal zone. It is a genus that has a profound influence on its ecosystem acidifying the peats which allow it to flourish with a suite of other plant species well adapted to this often waterlogged and acid environment. Over long periods of time it helps store water, filter sediments and pollutants to form carbon-rich peatland landscapes. 

My work on Sphagnum peatlands led to my appointment to the Main Board of the International Mire Conservation Group (IMCG) completing my term as Chair from 2004 to 2012. Later I became the English editor of the IMCG benchmark publication ‘Mires and Peatlands of Europe’ (2017). This diverse specialist group has focussed on the science and conservation of peatlands globally and afforded me the opportunity to visit peatland landscapes from Tierra del Fuego, Colombia, throughout Europe and the United Kingdom, up to the mountains of Georgia and Armenia.

As part of a French RAMSAR nomination, I was invited to study the remarkable Sphagnum peatlands of the French islands of St Paul and Amsterdam in 2007, where new species of Sphagnum were identified (with Prof Kjell-Ivar Flatberg). Here, Sphagnum moss is confined to volcanic vents on Ile St Paul (meaning that you have warm rubber boots!) and the spectacular vista of a Sphagnum landscape in a drowned caldera on Ile Amsterdam.

I have enjoyed working with Australian ecologists, such as the late Roger Good, Keith McDougall, Gen Wright, David Keith and Arn Tolsma (all endlessly keen to discuss the wonders of Sphagnum moss) and contributed to Alpine Sphagnum Bogs and Associated Fens being nationally listed as an endangered community under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. This community faces threats from climate change (evapotranspiration in the warmest month is a limiting factor for distribution in Australia), bushfires and feral animals (feral horses, pigs and deer). I participated in trialling various techniques in early post-fire restoration programs in Australia’s Kosciuszko and Namadgi National Parks for over a decade after widespread and devastating bushfires in 2003.

It’s surprising how one genus of endlessly fascinating moss has opened so many opportunities in science and conservation and over the past 35 years has taken me to so many amazing landscapes across the globe.