Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria Scientist Wins Eureka Prize

Senior Research Scientist at the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, Dr Noushka Reiter, has won the prestigious 2023 Eureka Prize for Excellence in Botanical Science.

The prize is part of the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes, Australia’s most comprehensive national science awards.

“It is an honour to win this prestigious award and it is heartening that this recognises a program focused on the conservation of our most threatened flora,” said Dr Reiter.

Dr Reiter’s work at Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria is primarily in the field of applied plant conservation, where she leads the Orchid Conservation Program, which is supported by amazing and passionate volunteers. Despite being some of our best-known and most charismatic plants, many Australian orchids are threatened with extinction. Orchid conservation is particularly challenging given their exacting needs such as specific fungal symbionts for germination, a favourable climate for flowering, particular insect species for pollination and precise habitat requirements.

To overcome these challenges Noushka has led applied research on orchid ecology, using knowledge of fungal associations, pollinators and habitat to conserve species and establish new populations in the wild.

“Humans are the reason so many of our unique plant species are facing extinction, and I believe we have an obligation to future generations to reverse this trend,” said Dr Reiter.

Dr Reiter’s research is internationally significant in plant conservation; the conservation program she leads is the world’s most successful at increasing wild populations of threatened orchid species via reintroduction. Dr Reiter has undertaken 38 reintroductions, which has led to population increases in the wild of 50-260% for 14 endangered orchid species. This outstanding success is underpinned by the creation of one of Australia’s most significant ex situ collections of threatened plants, with 212 species and over 20,000 individuals. Dr Reiter works with volunteers and community groups in all aspects of the program, ensuring community commitment to the long-term conservation of the focal species.

“I am thrilled to extend my warmest congratulations to Dr. Noushka Reiter on her exceptional achievement in being awarded the 2023 Eureka Prize for Excellence in Botanical Science, says Fiona McLaughlin, Acting Director & Chief Executive at Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. “Dr. Reiter's remarkable dedication to rare and endangered orchids has not only advanced the field of botanical science, but also serves as blueprint for global plant conservation efforts. This award is a testament to Dr Reiter’s expertise and highlights the collaborative and curious spirit that drives so much of our groundbreaking scientific research at Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. Congratulations, Dr. Reiter on this prestigious and well-deserved honour."

Key achievements from Dr Reiter’s research include:

  • Identifying the fungal associations required for germination of 98 threatened species and identifying the pollinators and their presence at introduction sites.
  • Pioneering new methods for studying pollinators, which revealed novel pollination mechanisms for certain species, including pollination by sexually attracted fungus gnats, thynnine wasps, and pollination by particular species of native bees and wasps that are lured with trace amounts of sugar.
  • Optimising symbiotic propagation methods for 90 threatened orchid species, so they can be propagated for large-scale reintroductions.
  • While conserving threatened flora Dr Reiter has discovered new species of orchids and fungi, and rediscovered a species of orchid that was previously presumed extinct.

Winners of the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes were announced at a black-tie Award Ceremony hosted at the Australian Museum, on Wednesday 23 August 2023.

For further information, visit our Orchid Conservation page.