Nudibranchs in Antarctica
Meet Dr Nerida Wilson, one of several new recruits who are boosting the Museum's research capability. Nerida specialises in sea slugs and sea snails.
Describing herself as a broadly based biologist, Nerida’s special interest is nudibranchs (sea slugs). ‘I fell in love with nudibranchs long ago and they’re the reason I studied science. Of course I’ve since realised that other animals are interesting too.
‘At university, I was interested in taxonomy but encouraged to do something “more academic” by various professors, by which they meant looking at [biochemical] cellular processes and structures. So I did, and in hindsight it was good to gain the broader experience, but at the time I was irritated that taxonomy [systematics] was seen as somehow too specialised.’
Nerida is working to understand the evolutionary (phylogenetic) relationships of nudibranchs. In particular, she is studying a large species complex found in Antarctica. ‘The species look similar in different locations, yet there is only limited gene flow between them’, she said. ’It’s a classic case of cryptic radiation.’
When asked about the practical function of such work, she bristles slightly. ‘To me, science helps people connect with the living world in unpredictable ways. I like to pursue new knowledge, and I don’t accept that every outcome should be known before you begin.
‘It’s like evolution – you don’t have to “believe” in it; you listen to the facts and what they’re telling you.’