Alison Downing

Alison Downing

by Patricia Selkirk, Chris Cargill & Pina Milne

Alison Downing grew up amongst nurserymen and orchardists on her mother’s side of the family and bushwalkers and environmentalists on her father’s side.  She trained in horticulture and was the first woman to be employed by the Forestry Commission of New South Wales as a nurseryman.

She joined the staff of the School of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University in 1970 specifically to take responsibility for plant production and plant collecting for both research and teaching.  Alison retired in 2003 but continues her research activities as an Honorary Associate and Curator of Cryptogamic Collections at Macquarie University. At the time of her retirement the Macquarie University Herbarium, was renamed The Downing Herbarium (MQU) in her honour. This was in recognition of services to the University and in particular, her role in the establishment of the herbarium in 1972.

Alison became interested in bryophytes when collecting for university laboratory classes a task she continues today. Encouraged by Patricia Selkirk and Rod Seppelt, her earliest bryological publications related to collections of bryophytes from Macquarie Island. During a visit to Jenolan Caves with bryologists Helen Ramsay and Wilf Schofield, her curiosity was aroused by the unusual and eclectic combination of mosses that occurred on limestone outcrops at Jenolan Caves. These included species from rainforests, from arid and semi-arid biological soil crusts and introduced and cosmopolitan species. This led to completion on a part time basis (between 1989 and 1993) of her MSc Distribution of bryophytes on calcareous substrates in south-eastern Australia, supervised by Patricia Selkirk.

Alison has studied Mandarin and when attending the 2007 World Bryology Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a fortuitous introduction to Professor Zhang Yuan Ming from the Chinese Academy of Sciences led to an invitation to give a presentation to his students in Urumqi when she visited China with a Chinese-led international team of palaeontologists in 2007. Subsequently she has contributed to studies on the biological soil crusts of the Gurbantünggüt Desert in north-western China (e.g. Zhang, J. et al. 2009). More recently, she has advised and mentored students working on bryophyte ecology in Guizhou Province of south-western China. In Australia, she has encouraged Chinese researchers and their students, proof-read manuscripts and hosted them and their families. Alison is held in high regard by the biocrust and bryological research community of China.

Alison and her husband Kevin have been regular participants of New Zealand’s annual John Child Bryophyte and Lichen Workshops and Australasian Bryophyte Workshops. These field trips over many years have contributed extensively to the bryophyte collections of The Downing Herbarium.

Alison and Kevin have also been most welcoming to international and local bryologists visiting Sydney, accompanying them on field work. They have maintained contact with their many visitors by correspondence and by visiting them on overseas trips.

From 2013 to 2016 Alison served as a Councillor of the International Association of Bryologists and worked hard in this role to support the bryological community in Australia and worldwide. She has been active in raising awareness amongst non-botanists of plants of many kinds but particularly bryophytes

In retirement, Alison continues to manage the bryophyte collection at Macquarie University and has been actively involved in research on the taxonomy of Australian members of the moss family Bruchiaceae with Helen Ramsay and Rod Seppelt. She continues to be actively involved with both the international and Australian bryological communities.   Noteworthy also has been Alison’s steadfast support of bryology, bryologists and bryophyte research in Australia for 35 years. She has been a wonderful colleague and friend over many years.

Selection of publications

Downing, A.J. (1992), Distribution of bryophytes on limestones in eastern Australia, Bryologist 95: 5-14.

Downing, A. and Marner, S. (1998). The first moss to be collected in Australia? Leucobryum candidum – collected by William Dampier in 1699. Journal of Bryology, 20, 237-240.

Downing, A.J. and Oldfield, R. (2000), Rainforest bryophytes in karst landforms of south-eastern South Australia, Hikobia 13: 225 – 233

Downing, A.J. and Selkirk, P.M. 1993 Bryophytes on the calcareous soils of Mungo National Park, an arid area of southern Central Australia. Great Basin Naturalist 53(1): 13-23.

Downing, A. and Zhang, Y.-M. 2010 Mosses from marginal desert lands of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, north-western China. Hikobia 15(4):  477 – 484

Downing, A.J., Oldfield, R.J. and Fairbairn-Wilson, E. (2002), Mosses, liverworts and hornworts of Mount Canobolas, New South Wales, Cunninghamia 7: 527 – 537.

Downing, A.J., Oldfield, R.J. and Selkirk, P.M. 1995. Bryophytes in the vicinity of Wombeyan Caves, New South Wales. Cunninghamia 4:129-141.

Downing, A., Peacock, R.J., and Ramsay, H. 2014. Some new and noteworthy bryophytes from Antarctic Beech (Nothofagus moorei) forests of north-eastern New South Wales. Telopea 17: 239–251.

Downing, A.J., Ramsay, H.P. & Schofield, W.B. (1991), Bryophytes in the vicinity of Jenolan Caves, New South Wales, Cunninghamia 2: 371 – 384.

Downing, A.J., Selkirk, P.M. and Oldfield, R.J. 1997.The mosses of the Yarrangobilly Caves district, New South Wales: a review of the mosses collected by the Reverend W.W. Watts in 1906. Journal of the Hattori Botanical Laboratory 82: 105-121.

Downing, A., Selkirk, P.M. and Oldfield, R.J. 1998. Changes in the assemblage of mosses on limestones in south-eastern Australia–some implications for the management of karst systems. ACKMA Journal 30:42-45. (Australasian Cave and Karst Management Association Inc. Journal).

Downing, A. J., Seppelt, R. D. and Selkirk, P. M. (1986) Analysis of bryophyte distribution patterns on Sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island CNFRA 58, Issue 1 177-182   

Downing, A.J., Seppelt, R.D. and Selkirk, P.M. 1988. Analysis of bryophyte distribution patterns on subantarctic Macquarie Island. Colloque sur Les Ecosystèmes Terrestres Subantarctiques, 1986, Paimpont, C.N.F.R.A. 58:177?182.

Downing, AJ, Brown EA, Oldfield RJ, Selkirk PM, and Coveny R 2007 Bryophytes and their distribution in the Blue Mountains region of New South Wales. Cunninghamia 10(2): 226-254.

Guo, Y., Zhao, Y., and Downing, A.J. 2020. Effect of storage time on the physiological characteristics and vegetative regeneration of desiccation-tolerant mosses on the Loess Plateau, China. Restoration Ecology 28 (S2): S203-S211.

Ramsay H P, Seppelt R D, and Downing A J. 2018. Trematodon (Bryopsida: Bruchiaceae) in Australia: unravelling the conundrum. Telopea, 21: 101-119.

Ramsay H P, Seppelt R D, and Downing A J 2020. The genus Trematodon (Bruchiaceae) in Australia. Telopea 23: 1-19.

Ramsay, H. P., Seppelt, R. D., and Downing, A. J. (2018). Additional notes, corrections and sporophyte descriptions for Mesochaete Bryopsida: Aulacomniaceae) in Australia. Telopea, 21, 1-8.

Selkirk PM, Downing AJ, and Seppelt, RD. 1987 Distribution of bryophytes on Sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island Symposia Biologica Hungarica 35: 677-683.

Selkirk, P.M., Whinam, J.P., Downing, A.J. and Skotnicki, M.L. 2008. Mosses of subantarctic Heard Island: updated list and discussion of their distribution. Polar Record 44(229): 155-164.

Seppelt R.D., Downing A.J., Deane-Coe K.K., Zhang Y., and Zhang J. 2016. Bryophytes within biological soil crusts. In: Weber B., Büdel B., Belnap J. (eds) Biological Soil Crusts: An Organizing Principle in Drylands. Ecological Studies (Analysis and Synthesis), vol 226. Springer, Cham.

 Whinam, J., Selkirk, P.M., Downing, A.J. and Hull, B. 2004. Return of the megaherbs: plant colonisation of derelict ANARE Station buildings on subantarctic Heard Island. Polar Record 40:235-243. 

Zhang, B., Zhang, Y., Downing, A. and Niu, Y. 2011. Distribution and composition of cyanobacteria and microalgae associated with biological soil crusts in the Gurbantünggüt Desert, China. Arid Land Research and Management 25(3): 275-293.

Zhang J., Zhang Y., Downing, A., Cheng J., Zhou X., and Zhang B. 2009. The influence of biological crusts on dew deposition in Gurbantunggut Desert, Northwest China. Journal of Hydrology 379 (3-4): 220-228.

Zhang, J., Zhang, Y.M., Downing, A., Wu, N. and Zhang, B.C. 2011. Photosynthetic and cytological recovery on remoistening Syntrichia caninervis Mitt., a desiccation-tolerant moss from Northwestern China. Photosynthetica 49: 13-20.

Zhou, X., Zhang, Y. and Downing, A. 2012. Non-linear response of microbial activity across a gradient of nitrogen addition to a soil from the Gurbantünggüt Desert, northwestern China. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 47: 67-77.

Zhou, X., Zhang, Y., Ji, X., Downing, A. and Serpe, M. 2011. Combined effects of nitrogen deposition and water stress on growth and physiological responses of two annual desert plants in northwestern China. Environmental and Experimental Botany 74: 1-8.

Book Chapters:

Downing A, and Oldfield R. 2001 Mosses and Liverworts In A Guide to Berowra Valley Regional Park. Friends of Berowra Valley Regional Park pp 57-58, 206-207. ISBN 0-95756907-0-1

Downing A, and Oldfield R. 2008 Mosses, Liverworts and Hornworts (Bryophytes) at Jenolan Caves. pp. 1- 5, In: Eddison, I. Flora and Fauna of the Jenolan Karst Conservation Reserve¸ C. Melbourne and E. Christian, ISBN: 978-0-9805833-1-1