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Leslie Watson – curriculum vitae

13 September 2016


Born 3 May 1938, Leek, Staffordshire, England. Schooling: Leek Boys’ High School, 1949–1956.


B.Sc. Botany Honours IIa, Manchester University, England, 1959.

M.Sc. Manchester University, England, 1960. (‘A taxonomic revision of the genus Andersonia R.Br’, from work conducted at The Herbarium, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.)

D.Sc. Australian National University 1990 (‘Methodology and practice of taxonomy, with special reference to grasses and legumes’.)



DSIR Research Scholar, University of Manchester. Having registered for a Master’s thesis (enabling me to work at Kew while being funded as a Manchester ‘internal’ student), the combined regulations of the University and the DSIR permitted funding for only two years to pursue a Ph.D., for which material already submitted for a Master’s degree was inadmissable. I never submitted a Ph.D. thesis because, having found employment involving supervising Ph.D. students, I had neither time nor inclination (not to mention the potential for embarrassment).


Temporary Assistant Lecturer (commencing at 850 pounds per annum) to Assistant Lecturer, then Lecturer, Botany Department, University of Southampton, England. Organized and taught basic systematic botany courses at all undergraduate levels, dealing with all groups except fungi, bacteria and viruses; instituted and conducted an Honours course in Plant Taxonomy, and provided undergraduate service courses (e.g. ‘poisonous plants’, ‘light microscopy’); with A. Myers, ran a two-year Adult Education evening course in Botany to first year Honours standard, which preceded foundation of the Open University; Local Secretary (Botany) for the British Association, Southampton (1964); lectured to Southampton General Practitioners’ Societies on ‘poisonous plants’; etc. Principal supervisor of four Ph.D. students and joint supervisor of two others, all successful. Responsible for the Department's two botanic gardens (one on campus, the other comprising the grounds of Chilworth Manor, near Southampton), and initiated a teaching herbarium with worldwide accessions. The terms of my original appointment in the Botany Department having been ‘to contribute some courses in systematic botany and to oversee development of a botanic garden’, it was pleasing after my departure to note the Department’s adverts for ‘a taxonomist’.


Fellow and subsequently Senior Fellow, Research School of Biological Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra. Head of the School's Taxonomy Laboratory, subsequently the Taxonomy Unit. Supervised technical staff, junior academics (including internally and externally funded Postdoctoral and Research Fellows), and Ph.D. students (9 successful theses, no re-writes or failures). Examined Ph.D. and Master's theses from other universities, refereed research applications for Australian and U.S. funding bodies, refereed papers for publication in Australian and international journals, etc. Served on a variety of University and Research School committees. From 1982–1993, convened and chaired the RSBS ‘Studentship Review Committee’, which was responsible for monitoring progress of all the School's higher degree students; represented RSBS on the University's Graduate Degrees Committee, and on the ANU committee charged with annual ranking of Commonwealth Scholarship (Ph.D. and Master’s) applicants.

From the late 1980s on, became increasingly disenchanted with the lowering of Australian academic standards. This resulted from (1), increasing reliance on external funds, tied to patents with unacceptable limits on publication (e.g., ANU theses in Genetics with appendices that could not be divulged even to the examiners!) ; and (2), the Australian universities commencing to attract and award postgraduate degrees to students whose only qualification was ability to pay the recently introduced fees (including overseas candidates with whom it was impossible to communicate effectively). In addition, politically inspired interference at the ANU in the name of ‘accountability’ meant constantly wasting time preparing for reviews by international ‘experts’, with demands for detailed planning re my Unit’s next five years’ work (impossible in the context of genuine research). Anyway, in 1993 and before running into inevitable trouble, I took a never-to-be repeated financial inducement to increase our Director’s degrees of freedom (e.g., to improve the School’s ‘gender ratio’), and retired to Albany in Western Australia.


Visiting Fellow, Research School of Biological Sciences, Australian National University.


Consultant for the Western Australian Herbarium (Department of Conservation and Land Management), re development of a Delta automated identificatory and information retrieval package for the genera of W.A. Angiosperms. This (directly developed via extension of our ‘Families of flowering plants’ package) was first posted on the Internet in 2008. See


With Mike Dallwitz, continued maintaining our interactive ‘World grass genera’ and ‘Angiosperm families’ packages on the Delta Web site, and commenced preparing and maintaining copiously illustrated, interactive data sets on ‘British flora and fauna’. The latter were intended to exemplify the practicability of preparing and inexpensively publishing efficient keys complete with detailed descriptions, all easily edited and updated, and in addition they incorporate high resoution scans which make classic 19th Century illustrations freely available for modern applications, complete with laboriously updated nomenclature. I believe these interactive packages compare more than favorably with the taxpayer-funded British Field Studies Council’s hard copy AIDGAP guides, which pretend that reliable identifications can be achieved using printed keys in the absence of adequate confirmatory descriptive information and illustrations.

Principal taxonomic research interests

1. As an undergraduate botanist, I came to believe that taxonomic classifications should be viewed as scientific hypotheses, with searches for corroborative ‘external evidence’ mandatory as the taxonomists’ only equivalent of other scientists testing theirs by experiment. This inevitably led me to collaborative endeavours with academics in other disciplines, aimed at taxonomically informed interference in research of general biological (including agricultural, pharmaceutical, medical) interest, with special reference to recommending efficient sampling for experimental work. See publications on phytochemistry (essential oils), plant physiology (especially photosynthetic pathways), nutritionally essential amino acids, plant pathology (viruses, rusts and smuts), hay-fever.

2. Developing new classificatory and identificatory techniques of general utility, and testing them by application to major groups of organisms (e.g., grasses, sedges, legumes, Labiatae; angiosperm families; fungi; plant viruses); hence, in collaboraton with W.T Williams and M.J. Dallwitz, automation of taxonomic procedures, including computer generation and continuous updating of classifications, hard copy floras, and providing (superior) interactive alternatives for pursuing identifications, accessing descriptions and retrieving information for general interest and research.

3. Having contributed to early development of Mike Dallwitz’s superb Delta system for preparing and maintaining superior, automated taxonomic treatments, from around 1984 I devoted increasing time to practical applications of it; and subsequent to retirement, I have devoted myself exclusively to advertizing the virtues of this approach to taxonomy, though with little apparent success.

Ph.D. research students, theses


H. Al-Rais. 1971. Isolation and properties of oxalate crystals from plants.

A. Badawi. 1970. A taxonomic study of the Polypodiaceae sensu lato.

D.G. Drury. 1966. A taxonomic study of the Compositae, with special reference to Senecio.

F. Didhevar. 1970. Translocation in relation to the vascular anatomy in Wheat.

A.I.H. El-Gazzar. 1969. A taxonomic study of Labiatae and related genera.

D.J. Young. 1969. Application of numerical methods to the taxonomy of Spermatophyta.


V. Amarasinghe. 1988. Comparative ultrastructure, function and taxonomic significance of microhairs in grasses.

J.J. Bruhl. 1990. Taxonomic relationships and photosynthetic pathways in Cyperaceae.

P.W. Hattersley. 1976. Specification and functional significance of the leaf anatomy of C4 plants.

T.D. Macfarlane. 1979. A taxonomic study of the pooid grasses.

C.J. Pettigrew. 1974. Taxonomy of the non-papilionate legumes, with special reference to Acacia.

H.D.V. Prendergast. 1987. Structural, biochemical and geographical relationships in Australian C4 grasses.

A. Van den Borre. 1994. Taxonomy of the Chloridoideae, with special reference to the genus Eragrostis.

H.H. Yeoh. 1980. Systematic studies of plant proteins and amino acids, with special reference to grasses and ribulose-1, 5-biphosphate carboxylase.


I warmly acknowledge the students, technical staff, research assistants and professional colleagues with whom it has been my good fortune to associate, especially at Southampton University and in Canberra at the Australian National University and the CSIRO.


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