Stephen Hopper

Hon DSc W.Aust., Hon DSc Sussex, Professor

  • The University of Western Australia (M701), 35 Stirling Highway,

    6009 Perth


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Personal profile


I am a conservation biologist, trained and widely published in in evolution, ecology and taxonomy. My research and teaching interests are broad, with specialist expertise in eucalypts, the plant family Haemodoraceae (containing kangaroo paws), orchids, plants of granite outcrops,rare plants and pollination by vertebrates.

I have worked in the Western Australian Government, at UWA, and been Director of two world class botanic gardens, while maintaining an active field research program right up to the present day. I have broad interests in biodiversity and in devising ways for people to live sustainably with biodiversity on old, climatically-buffered infertile landscapes.

I was born on the north coast of New South Wales in 1951, and moved west as a teenager, attending John Curtin Senior High School in Fremantle before enrolling as a science undergraduate at UWA in 1969.

I graduated from UWA with a BSc (Hons 1st class) in botany and zoology in 1973 and a PhD on speciation in kangaroo paws (Anigozanthos: Haemodoraceae) in 1978. My PhD supervisor was the late Associate Professor Sid James, an inspirational teacher and original thinker.

I was employed as Western Australia’s first Flora Conservation Research Officer in 1977, and promoted to Senior Principal Research Scientist and Officer in Charge of the Western Australian Wildlife Research Centre, Department of Conservation and Land Management from 1988-1992. In 1990 I was Fulbright Senior Scholar at the University of Georgia (USA) and Miller Visiting Research Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, working on granite outcrop plant life, which continues as a research interest.

I joined Kings Park and Botanic Garden as the Director in 1992, and from 1999 to 2004 served as Chief Executive Officer of the Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority (which manages Kings Park and Botanic Garden and Bold Park), leading the delivery of improvements to programmes and infrastructure to world-class standards. At the same time I held Adjunct Professorships at UWA (Botany Department) and Curtin University of Technology (School of Biology).

While Foundation Professor of Plant Conservation Biology at The University of Western Australia from 2004-2006, I developed new theory on the evolution and conservation of biodiversity on the world’s oldest landscapes (OCBIL theory), and led the establishment of new degrees in conservation biology.

I joined the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in London, a World Heritage site and global plant science powerhouse of 800 staff, in October 2006, and led the organisation through celebrations of its 250th anniversary in 2009. I was honoured to be the first non-British Director (CEO and Chief Scientist) to hold that august post. I led the development and implementation of a forward 10 year Breathing Planet Program for Kew and its global partners. This collaborative Program aimed to make an urgent and necessary step change in the application of science-based plant diversity solutions towards sustainable living and a reasonable quality of life in the face of accelerating climate change and the loss of biodiversity. The Millennium Seed Bank Project was a key part of this program.

In October 2012, I stepped down as Director (CEO & Chief Scientist) of Kew to become Winthrop Professor of Biodiversity at the University of Western Australia, based in Albany at UWA's Centre of Excellence in Natural Resource Management, with a joint appointment at the School of Plant Biology.

Roles and responsibilities

My primary role is field-based research, with some teaching, as well as senior level contributions to public discussion and policy on biodiversity conservation.

My work at UWA aims to establish an internationally recognised biodiversity research program focussing on the evolution, ecology, conservation and indigenous knowledge systems of temperate global biodiversity hotspots.

Future research

I aim to bring to UWA an internationally competitive, highly collaborative terrestrial biodiversity research program, basing the program at UWA’s Albany campus to complement strengths in aquatic biodiversity research there and boost regional academic and training opportunities in the centre of one of the world’s global biodiversity hotspots. My program extends a strong research interface with Western Australian land-based industries, and Aboriginal, government and community activities, locally and internationally.

With one of the world's richest temperate floras, the southwest features prominently in international efforts to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity, as do Western Australia's deserts and tropical north. At the same time, major land-based economic development is underway in WA. There is a vital strategic need to marry high quality biodiversity data and research with development projects to enable sustainability, to ensure international obligations are met and to achieve best practice in environmental management. The program, outlined in depth in Hopper (2009 Plant & Soil) and Hopper et al. (2021 Biological Journal of the Linnean Society,  focuses on OCBILs (old, climatically buffered, infertile landscapes), prevalent in WA and in half of the world's Global Biodiversity Hotspots. The program informs world class sustainable development through six integrated research themes: (1) understanding rarity, endemism and local dispersal on OCBILS; (2) the Semiarid Cradle hypothesis tested with Haemodoraceae and eucalypts; (3) the James Effect tested in eucalypts on OCBILs; (4) accentuated persistence of old herbaceous lineages in the southwest; (5) biological specialization on OCBIL granite outcrops; (6) conservation, ethnobotany and land management on OCBILs.

Funding overview

Most of my career has been in the government sector, attracting substantial investment from philanthropists and business. For example, 12 years as Director of Kings Park and Botanic Garden saw revenues increase four-fold from $3m pa in 1992 to $12m by 2004. At Kew Gardens, revenues increased slightly over six years (2006-2012) at a time of severe government cuts. In the 18 months before I left, Kew had secured pledges of 56 m pounds towards a 100m target in a major fund-raising Breathing Planet campaign.

I have also attracted signifcant Australian Commonwealth funds from, e.g., the Australian Research Council, and Australian Biological Resources Study. I have one current ARC Discovery Indigenous grant - IN200100039 $1,040.065 (2020-2024): Healing Land Healing People: Novel Nyungar Perspectives; co-investigators Darryl Kickett (Curtin U); Prof Anna Haebich (Curtin U); Dr Tiffany Shellam (Deakin U); Dr Carol Dowling (Curtin U).

In the past I  was awarded an ARC Discovery Outstanding Researcher Award for three years (2014-2016).

Two other substantial current grants include:

  • Lotterywest $830,025 (2020-2024). Walking together: applying Noongar traditional ecological knowledge to modern natural resource management. co-investigators South Coast Natural Resource Management; Gnowangerup Aboriginal Corporation; Knapp family; Bush Heritage Australia.
  • Ian Potter Foundation PEAT | Protecting peatland ecosystems and addressing threats in Southwestern Australia , $1,356,773 (2022-2027) co-investigators led by Dr Micki Mitchell (UWA) and Professor Pierre Horwitz (Edith Cowan Uni), with others from those two institutions, plus DBCA and the Walpole Nornalup National Park Association; Noongar Elders Mrs Lynette Knapp and Dr Wayne Webb.

Previous positions

Director (CEO & Chief Scientist), Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London (2006-2012)

Foundation Professor of Plant Conservation Biology, The University of Western Australia (2004-2006)

Chief Executive Officer, Botanic Gardens & Parks Authority (1999 – 2004)

Director, Kings Park and Botanic Garden (1992 – 1999)

Current projects

Currently, I am working 0.6 FTE at UWA Albany exploring south coast landscapes and lifeways, collaborating with Noongar elders, writing up work on the molecular phylogenetics of kangaroo paws and their allies,and preparing various books in draft on Haemodoraceae, the Southwest Australian flora, eucalypts, rock plants of the world, cross-cultural knowledge of Cape Arid National Park and OCBIL theory.

Industrial relevance

My career has been focused on working with business, government, academic and non-government sectors to secure better biodiversity conservation and an improving quality of life.

Teaching overview

I deliver four lectures to first year UWA plant and animal biology students, one in BIOL3360 Saving Endangered Species, and four in ENVT5310 Biodiversity on  Country. I supervise Honours students (1 in 2021) and other postgraduates undertaking research for MSc (2) and PhD (3) degrees. I also deliver several public lectures each year.


Granite outcrop plants of the world - biogeography, evolution and conservation

Haemodoraceae - phylogenetics, biology and conservation

Old, climatically-buffered, infertile landscapes (OCBILs)– evolution, ecology and conservation of biodiversity

Systematics, evolution and conservation of Australian orchids

Systematics and conservation of Western Australian eucalypts

Collaborative cross-cultural knowledge systems of biodiversity - Noongar and western science


English and very basic Noongar

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 15 - Life on Land

Research expertise keywords

  • Old climatically buffered infertile landscapes
  • Evolution
  • Conservation biology
  • Botanic gardens
  • Biodiversity
  • Taxonomy
  • Molecular phylogeny
  • Pollination ecology
  • Granite outcrop plant life
  • Eucalypts
  • Orchids
  • Kangaroo paws
  • Native plants
  • Ethnobotany
  • Aboriginal science knowledge systems
  • Sustainability
  • Haemodoraceae


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