Dr. Katharina Nargar

Dr. Katharina Nargar

CSIRO Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Australian Tropical Herbarium

PhD, University Frankfurt/Main / Research Institute Senckenberg, Germany

Diploma in Biology (equiv. British Masters degree), University Frankfurt/Main, Germany


E2.202B, Sir Robert Norman Building (E2), James Cook University, PO Box 6811, Cairns QLD 4870


+61 (0)7 4232 1686




Mine and my group’s research are in fields of phylogeny, evolution, systematics and historical biogeography of tropical plants, with particular focus on Australasian Orchidaceae and neotropical Bromeliaceae.

Taxonomic concepts in Australian orchids are highly controversial. This is in great part due to the tremendous pace of taxonomic change over the last decade. Within this short time, there has been a massive increase in the number of described genera, from 110 to over 190, resulting in generic re-assignment of about 45 % of Australian orchid species (Hopper 2009). Many of the generic level changes were based either entirely on morphology or on single DNA marker phylogenies, often with poor resolution of relationships between clades and with a limited taxon sampling .Therefore, the notion that these changes might have been premature prevails and greatly hampers progress toward a consensus in Australasian orchid taxonomy. In my research group we are generating multi-locus molecular phylogenies of major Australasian orchids groups to re-evaluate generic concepts, and to elucidate their evolution in space and time.

Likewise, the number of described Australian species has increased in the past few years from around 900 to over 1300, and several authors estimate that there still might be hundreds of Australian orchid species yet to be described. So far, it often remains unclear which concepts best reflect the actual species diversity of Australasian orchids. In our research, we use highly informative molecular DNA marker techniques to assess species delimitation questions in Australasian species complexes. The outcomes of this research are highly relevant for a re-assessment of the conservation status of Australia’s threatened orchid species.

ATH orchid research group 1

Research projects

Re-evaluation of taxonomic concepts in Australian Orchidaceae based on molecular phylogenetic evidence

This project aims to rigorously re-evaluate highly controversial taxonomic concepts in Australian Orchidaceae based on multi-locus molecular phylogenetic evidence. DNA barcodes and highly informative nuclear markers are used to reconstruct comprehensive phylogenies, infer character evolution and historical biogeography, and develop molecular identification tools for conservation and legislative enforcement.

This research is supported by an Australian Biological Resources Study BushBlitz grant, the Skyrail Rainforest Foundation, the CSIRO student summer student program, a JCU FSE Faculty grant, and the National Environmental Research Program (NERP).

Team: Katharina Schulte, Claire Micheneau, Agustina Arobaya, Janani Jayanthan, Sarah Mannel (CSIRO Summer Student), Ashley Field, Darren Crayn, Peter Weston (Botanic Garden Trust, Sydney), and Mark Clements (CANBR)

A next-generation framework phylogeny for Diurideae Orchidaceae

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.

This research is supported by an Australian Biological Resources Study BushBlitz grant, the Australia and Pacific Science Foundation, and Bioplatforms Australia.

Team: Katharina Schulte, Vera Zizka Goethe University Frankfurt, Claire Micheneau, Janani Jayanthan, Darren Crayn, Peter Weston Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust, and Mark Clements Centre for Australian National Biodiversity

Next-generation systematics for Australia’s challenging taxa: unravelling phylogeny, evolution and species delimitation in the sun orchids Thelymitra Orchidaceae

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.

This research is supported by an Australian Biological Resources Study research grant, the Australian Orchid Foundation and the Australasian Systematic Botany Society Eichler grant

Team: Katharina Schulte, Lars Nauheimer, Claire Micheneau, Rowan Schley Imperial College London, Darren Crayn, Mark Clements Centre for Australian National Biodiversity and Kingsley Dixon Botanical Gardens and Parks Authority

Phylogeography of orchid species complexes of the Australian Wet Tropics

This project aims to provide important insights into phylogenetic relationships of closely related orchid taxa of the Australian Wet Tropics and to unravel their biogeographic history in the context of Cenozoic climate change. The project will increase our understanding of patterns of morphological variation within species complexes and will provide insights into the role of past climate changes for the diversification of these groups. Thus, it will help to improve taxon delimitation and conservation management.

This project is externally funded by an Australian Biological Resources Study BushBlitz grant, the Australian Orchid Foundation, the Eichler Research Fund (Australian Systematic Botany Society), Wet Tropics Management Authority student grant, Australian Conservation Taxonomy Grant (The Nature Conservancy and the Thomas Foundation), and the National Environmental Research Program (NERP).

Team: Lalita Simpson, Katharina Schulte, Claire Micheneau, Keith MacDonald (DSITIA), Marcia Goetze (Universidade Federal Rio Grande do Sul), Ashley Field, Darren Crayn, and Mark Clements (CANBR)

Evolution and systematics of Bromeliaceae

Bromeliaceae are one of the most important epiphyte families of the Neotropics. Within the family, several lineages underwent rapid radiations in different regions of Central and South America (e.g. Bromelioideae: eastern Brazil, Puyoideae: Andes), whilst others exhibit only a low diversity today (e.g. Fosterella: Andes). To unravel the factors that contributed to the evolutionary success of different bromeliad lineages, molecular phylogenies are used to reconstruct the evolution of key traits (e.g. tank habit, leaf succulence, flower morphology), changes in diversification rates, and the historical biogeography of the groups and to explore correlations among these and with the Cenozoic history of the Neotropics (climate, geology, vegetation).

The project consists of several subprojects that are mainly funded by the German Research Foundation, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), and the Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre, Frankfurt.

Team: Georg Zizka (Research Institute Senckenberg), Katharina Schulte, Daniele Silvestro (University of Gothenburg), Daniel Cáceres, Sascha Heller (RIS & Goethe University Frankfurt), Rafael Louzada (Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, Recife), Elton Leme (Herbarium Bradeanum, Sao Paulo), Ana Maria Benko-Iseppon (Univerdidade Federal de Pernambuco, Recife), Kurt Weising (University of Kassel), Marcia Goetze (Universidade Federal de Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil).

Photos of diverse bromeliads and orchids

Selected Publications

Crayn, D., Winter, K., Schulte, K., Smith, A.C. (2015): Photosynthetic pathways in Bromeliaceae: phylogenetic and ecological significance of CAM and C3 based on carbon-isotope ratios for 1893 species. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 178: 169-221.

Gitai, J., Paule, J., Zizka, G., Schulte, K., Benko-Iseppon, A.M. (2014): Chromosome numbers and DNA content in Bromeliaceae: additional data and critical review. Journal of the Linnean Society, 176: 349-368

Louzada, R.B., Schulte, K., Wanderley, M.G.L., Silvestro, D., Zizka, G., Barfuss, M.H.J., Palma-Silva, C. (in print): Molecular phylogeny of the Brazilian endemic genus Orthophytum (Bromelioideae, Bromeliaceae) and its implications on morphological character evolution. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ympev.2014.03.007

Silvestro, D., Zizka, G., Schulte, K. (2014): Disentangling the effects of key innovations on the diversification of Bromelioideae (Bromeliaceae). Evolution 68: 163-175. Doi:10.111/evo.12236

Givnish, T. J., Barfuss, M.H.J., Van Ee, B., Riina, R., Schulte, K., Horres, R., Gonsiska, P.A., Jabaily, R.S., Crayn, D.M., Smith, J.A.C., Winter, K., Brown, G.K., Evans, T.M., Holst, B.K., Luther, H., Till, W., Zizka, G., Berry, P.E., Sytsma, K.J. (2014): Adaptive radiation, correlated and contingent evolution, and net species diversification in Bromeliaceae. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 71: 55-78.

Jersáková, J., Trávníček, P., Kubátová, B., Krejčíková, J., Urfus, T., Liu, Z.-J., Lamb, A., Ponert, J., Schulte, K., Čurn, V., Vrána, J., Hřibová, E., Doležel, J., Leitch, I. J., Suda J. (2013): Genome size variation in the subfamily Apostasioideae: filling the phylogenetic gap in orchids. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 172: 95-105

Cáceres, D.A.G., Schulte, K., Schmidt, M., Zizka, G. (2013): Diversity and levels of endemism of the Bromeliaceae of Costa Rica – an updated checklist. Phytokeys 29: 17-62.

Zizka, G., Schneider, J.V., Schulte, K., Novoa, P. (2013): Taxonomic revision of the Chilean Puya species (Puyoideae, Bromeliaceae), with special notes on the Puya alpestris-Puya berteroniana species complex. Brittonia. Doi: 10.1007/s12228-012-9290-9

Wagner, N., Silvestro, D., Brie, D., Ibisch, P., Zizka, G., Weising, K., Schulte, K. (2013): Spatiotemporal evolution of Fosterella (Bromeliaceae) in the Central Andean biodiversity hotspot. Journal of Biogeography. 40(5): 869-880.

Karan, M., Evans, D.S., Reilly, D., Schulte, K., Wright, C., Innes, D., Holton, T.A., Nikles, D.G., Dickinson, G.R. (2012): Rapid microsatellite marker development for African mahogany (Khaya senegalensis, Meliaceae) using next-generation sequencing and assessment of its intra-specific genetic diversity. Molecular Ecology Ressources: 12: 344-353. doi: 10.1111/j.1755-0998.2011.03080.x

Schulte, K., Naduvilezhath, L., Nierbauer, K. U., Silvestro, D., Michalak, I., Metzler, D., Zizka, G., Printzen, C. (2012): E-volution, der E-Learning Kurs zur phylogenetischen Analyse. [E-volution, the e-learning course for phylogenetic analysis]. Online e-learning course, β version. Goethe University Frankfurt, M.

Zizka, G., Schmidt, M., Caceres, D., Schulte, K. (2012): Das Beispiel von Ananas und Co.: Entstehung und Erhaltung von Biodiversität in den (Sub)Tropen [The example of Ananas and Co.: Origin and Conservation of Biodiversity in the (sub)tropics]. In: Beck, E. (Ed): Die Vielfalt des Lebens. Wie hoch, wie komplex, warum? Wiley-VCH, Weinheim. ISBN: 352733212X.

Cáceres, D., Schulte, K., Schmidt, M., Zizka, G. (2011): A synopsis of the Bromeliaceae of Panama, including new records for the country. Willdeno wia 41: 357-369.

Schneider, J.V., Schulte, K., Aguilar, J.F., Huertas, M.L. (2011): Molecular evidence for hybridization and introgression in the neotropical coastal desert-endemic Palaua (Malveae, Malvaceae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 60: 373-384.

Givnish, T. J., Barfuss, M.H.J., Van Ee, B., Riina, R., Schulte, K., Horres, R., Gonsiska, P.A., Jabaily, R.S., Crayn, D.M., Smith, J.A.C., Winter, K., Brown, G.K., Evans, T.M., Holst, B.K., Luther, H., Till, W., Zizka, G., Berry, P.E., Sytsma, K.J. (2011) Phylogeny, adaptive radiation, and historical biogeography in Bromeliaceae: insights from an eight-locus plastid phylogeny. American Journal of Botany. 98(5): 872-895.

Schulte, K., Silvestro, D., Kiehlmann, E., Vesely, S., Novoa, P., Zizka, G. (2010): Detection of recent hybridization between sympatric Chilean Puya species (Bromeliaceae) using AFLP markers and reconstruction of complex relationships. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 57: 1105-1119.

Schulte, K., Barfuss, M. H. J. & G. Zizka (2009): Molecular phylogeny of Bromelioideae (Bromeliaceae) based on nuclear and plastid DNA loci reveals the evolution of the tank habit within the subfamily. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 51: 327–339.

Zizka, G. Schmidt, M., Schulte, K., Novoa, P., Pinto, R., K. König, K (2009): Chilean Bromeliaceae - diversity, distribution and evaluation of conservation status. Biodiversity and Conservation 18: 2449-2471.

Rex, M., Schulte, K., Zizka, G., Peters, J., Ibisch, P.L., Weising, K. (2009): Phylogenetic analysis of Fosterella L.B. Sm. (Pitcairinoideae, Bromeliaceae) based on four chloroplast DNA regions. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 51: 472-485.

Schulte, K. & G. Zizka (2008): Multi locus plastid phylogeny of Bromelioideae (Bromeliaceae) gives new insights into the taxonomic utility of petal appendages and pollen characters. Candollea 63(2): 209-225.

Horres, R., Schulte, K., Weising, K. & Zizka, G. (2007): Systematics of Bromelioideae (Bromeliaceae) – molecular and anatomical studies. Aliso 23: 171-187.

Rex, M., Patzolt, K., Schulte, K., Zizka, G., Vásquez, R., Ibisch, P.L. & Weising, K. (2007): AFLP Analysis of genetic relationships in the genus Fosterella L.B. Smith (Pitcairnioideae, Bromeliaceae). Genome 50 (1): 90-105.

Ibisch, P.L., Peters, J., Rex, M., Schulte, K., Osinaga, A. & R. Vasquez (2006): Bromelien Boliviens (V): Fosterella gracilis (Rusby) L.B. Smith. Bromelie 2: 40-45.

Schulte, K., Horres, R. & Zizka, G. (2005): Molecular phylogeny of Bromelioideae and its implications on biogeography and the evolution of CAM in the family (Poales, Bromeliaceae). Senckenbergiana Biologica 85 (1): 113-125.

e-learning courses

Here you can find links to our e-learning courses in molecular phylogenetics and scientific drawing (in German language).

Schulte, K., Naduvilezhath, L., Nierbauer, K. U., Silvestro, D., Michalak, I., Metzler, D., Zizka, G., Printzen, C. (2012): E-volution, der E-Learning Kurs zur phylogenetischen Analyse. [E-volution, the e-learning course for phylogenetic analysis]. Online e-learning course, β version. Goethe University Frankfurt, M:

Chapter 1. Willkommen bei E-volution

Chapter 2. Erste Runde: Stammbaumkunde

Chapter 4. Distanzanalysen - schnell und einfach

Chapter 6. Parsimonie I: eine Einführung

Chapter 7. Parsimonie II: Bäume

Chapter 8. Parsimonie III: Vollständige Suchverfahren

Chapter 9. Parsimonie IV: Heuristische Suchverfahren

Chapter 10. Parsimonie in der Praxis I

Chapter 11. Parsimonie in der Praxis II

Chapter 12. Dangerzone: Von tiefen Tälern und falschen Schwestern

Chapter 13. Likelihood und mathematische Modelle – eine Einführung

Chapter 14. Substitutionsmodelle

Brunken, U., Schulte, K., Zizka, G. (2009): Wissenschaftliches Zeichnen - eine Einführung für Studierende der Biologie [Scientific drawing – an introduction for biology students]. Online e-learning course. Goethe University Frankfurt, M.