Signing off (Polychaetes Conference 2013 )
The first delegates arrived to pick up their satchels in the Museum foyer to hang their posters, and to greet old friends. The meeting started on Monday 5th August and was opened by Dr Brian Lassig , who welcomed delegates to the Museum and wished us all an exciting and informative week. He also encouraged polychaete systematists to spend time in our collections.
Brian thanked our sponsors (ABRS, AM Foundation, CSIRO, FRDC, Ian Potter Foundation, Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation, Museum and Art Gallery of Northern Territory, and Museum Victoria) who had enabled this conference to happen. The talks of the 11th IPC were held in the Australian Museum theatrette and each conference day started with a lecture by one of our four plenary speakers who addressed major issues in polychaete biology. The first plenary speaker of the conference was Prof. Damhnait McHugh (USA) who gave a lecture entitled “Our current understanding of annelid evolutionary relationships”. Talks on polychaete phylogeny followed.
At the end of the first day, on the 4th floor of R&C building, we had an icebreaker opened by our director Frank Howarth and Catherine Livingstone, President of the Australian Museum Trust. Some trustees of the Australian Museum were also present as well as David Shannon, the Chair of the Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation.
On Tuesday August 6 the conference started with Prof Pei-Yuan Qian (Hong Kong) presenting his plenary lecture “Molecular mechanisms of larval attachment and metamorphosis of Hydroides elegans molecular mechanisms of larval attachment and metamorphosis”. Conference delegates presented results of their studies on polychaete reproduction and development. In the evening after the talks we had an informal poster session with wine and canapés.
On Wednesday August 7 we had a free day. Delegates travelled from the museum by coach to Royal National Park where they walked through the park or along the coastal track before l converging at Gari Surf Club for an Australian barbeque and liquid refreshments. Robyn Stutchbury and Noel Tait, good friends of Pats, undertook to do all the catering which was great. We were so lucky with the weather - a beautiful day - as the following day it was cold and wet.
The talks resumed on Thursday August 8 starting with Dr Jim Gehling giving a keynote address “When the worm turned: the quest for Ediacaran bilaterians”). Jim summarised recent research findings into the question of which ancestors of modern protostomes might be represented among the Ediacara fossil fauna of the Flinders Ranges, South Australia. The day continued with talks on polychaete palaeontology, ecology and research techniques. In the evening Members of the Australian Museum were hosting a worm night where people asked questions of researchers, like why does one spend a lifetime working on worms. The emphasis was on informality and conveying to the Members the tremendous diversity and usefulness of worms! The AM members related stories back as to how interesting they found this session.
August 9, the final day of the conference started with Prof Günther Purschke (Germany) presenting his plenary talk “Systematics, Evolution and Phylogeny of Annelida – a morphological perspective a morphological perspective on annelid systematic and evolution)”. Contributing talks on polychaete morphology followed. At the end of the meeting Dr Andrew Mackie presented his bid to host the next Polychaete Conference in Cardiff, Wales, and was unanimously supported by the delegates.
At night we caught the ferry from Circular Quay to Chowder Bay where the Conference dinner was held at the venue “Sergeant’s Mess”, which looks straight down the harbour towards the Heads. A slide show of photos from previous conferences was running throughout the evening. Five student poster prizes sponsored by Matt Edmunds of Australian Ecology were presented during the dinner. By the end the evening nearly everyone hit the dance floor. When the party was over, we walked back down to the wharf and returned to Circular Quay where people were saying (often teary) good byes to old and newly acquired friends.
During and after the conference, 17 conference delegates from Australia, Brazil, China, India, Malaysia, Russia, South Africa and USA examined specimens in the AM polychaete collection and 5 more people from UK, USA, NZ, Russia, and Germany toured the collection.
In fact, we had a wonderful week with many old friendships being resumed and many new collaborations being made. For some of the younger delegates, including those from developing countries, it was their first such international meeting and it made a lasting impression on them. Hopefully, many of them will be able to continue working on polychaetes and we will see them again in Cardiff in 3 years time.