The Australian Museum Marine Invertebrates collection contains over half a million samples making it one of the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. It is also particularly diverse with representatives from over 20 major groups of animals including corals, jellyfish, anemones, sponges, sea stars, sea urchins, crabs, prawns, assorted worms, sea squirts and various relatives of these. This abundance and diversity, coupled with the small size and delicate nature of many specimens, means that maintenance and development of this collection is particularly labour-intensive. The ability to classify a wide variety of different organisms in mixed samples and to document them so that they can be utilised in research is critical. Fortunately, we have a wonderful group of volunteers to assist with these tasks. All are valued for their contributions but four who started in 1994 have each continued for 25 years into 2019, a truly remarkable involvement!

The class of 1994 includes Maureen Haydon, Margot O’Donoghue, Greg Towner and Wendy Walker.

Maureen, Greg and Wendy are part of the ‘rough sorters’ team (not to be confused with rough sorts). They identify and split samples of mixed specimens, that have been preserved in the field and brought back to the museum, into the various groups and sub-groups in which they are scientifically classified. The specimens can then be put into the collection at a level where they are useful for scientists revising taxonomic knowledge of particular organisms, or looking at aspects such as distribution, ecology, evolution or pest status.

This core trio of sorters has also shared the knowledge they have gained by training other volunteers. Together it is estimated they have assisted in splitting up over 4,500 field samples resulting in over 22,000 registered specimen lots within the museum collections, including fish and molluscs as well as other invertebrates. Among these samples are specimens that have been used in the description of approximately 100 new species! Wendy even has a species named after her in recognition of her contribution, the amphipod crustacean Pseudelasmopus walkerae Hughes, 2015. Greg has been similarly honoured as the collector of a species of amphipod described by Australian Museum scientists, Tongorchestia towneri Lowry & Bopiah, 2013.

Pseudelasmopus walkerae

Pseudelasmopus walkerae, Hughes, 2015 named in recognition of the contribution of Marine Invertebrates volunteer Wendy Walker. Length of the specimen is 3mm.

Image: Illustration by Lauren Hughes
© Magnolia Press

Margot’s role in documenting the collection is just as important as the initial sorting of specimens. The associated information that comes with the specimens establishes the provenance of where, when and how they were obtained, and the associated studies published about them. This data feeds into all the applied aspects that make museum specimen biodiversity libraries useful for scientific analysis, for example, recognition of geographic hotspots for particular species that are important to conserve, or tracking of changes over time to determine environmental impacts. Registration of specimens in the collection, using a unique tracking number that is placed with the individuals on an archival tag and recorded in a catalogue (originally on hard copy but now on a computer database), links them to this information. Margot’s involvement with this aspect of collection management has been particularly valuable, whether it be checking specimens to ensure the correct data has been recorded, standardising records, entering new data, or various clerical tasks involving scanning and photocopying texts. Her attention to detail and patience has considerably enhanced the collection and its utility.

Marine Invertebrates volunteers

Marine Invertebrates volunteer 1994-2019 Margot O’Donoghue hard at work compiling data on the computer 2019.

Image: Stephen Keable
© Australian Museum

We thank all our volunteers, past and present, for their fantastic support, and the volunteer co-ordinators who have done such a great job in matching us up, but particularly acknowledge Maureen, Margot, Greg and Wendy who between them have contributed a century of service.