Australasian Fishes is the AM's latest foray into community driven citizen science and has already had an unprecedented impact.
Australians, as a community, tend to spend much of their time near water. The characteristics of our geography, paired with our recreational need to be on, in, or near the water means that our interactions with the life beneath our waves are a hot topic of conversation and one that evokes considerable passion in people.
Just how much passion though, has become evident to us here at the Australian Museum over the past six months. The Australasian Fishes Project, developed by the AM’s Ichthyology (fish) Collection Manager, Mark McGrouther, allows the public to upload images of fishes that they have observed while fishing, diving, snorkelling or swimming and also allow them to comment on and identify other members' images.
Not only does this iNaturalist-driven resource put identification of species back in to the hands of the public, it also paints a large-scale picture of the distribution of species in our region. Don’t worry though, should there be any discrepancy with what species a fish might be, an expert (see acknowledgments below) is usually available to step in and confirm it!
Currently, Australasian Fishes is celebrating its first anniversary with over 580 users uploading close to 17,000 observations of more than 1620 species –These impressive numbers are quickly growing! Observations range from sharks to eels to seahorses, and everything in between. This project has been so successful that numerous participants have been on the coal face of science without even realising it.
Such observations include many distribution extensions and a number new records from Sydney Harbour. John Turnbull, has documented the first records of three species, the Clown Toby (Canthigaster callisterna), Whitespotted Dragonet (Orbonymus rameus) and Mossback Velvetfish (Paraploactis trachyderma) from Sydney Harbour. Caitlin Woods, Emma Henry and Campbell Wilson uploaded observations of a Blackfin Snake Eel (Ophichthus altipennis) and Lesser Queenfish (Scomberoides lysans), both of which are new records for Lord Howe Island.
Australasian Fishes is not only a resource for recreationists but also for marine researchers, who are able to use this data to expand current thinking about distribution and biodiversity. Yoshino Fukui recently visited the Australian Museum and examined specimens of wrasses as part of her PhD research. Yoshino, who is based at The Kagoshima University Museum, is working on the genus Iniistius, the razorfishes. Yoshino stated, "Iniistius jacksonensis was described on the basis of a single young specimen. It has only been recorded from Australia. I think this species might be cryptic, hence my interest. What I need is to get more specimens and photographs. So far, I have not been able to obtain underwater photographs of this species. I thought some of the Australasian Fishes photographers might be able to help me.” In this instance participants have been asked to go through their archives of photos and upload any razorfishes that they might have – a highly resourceful way of advertising this researchers’ plight and utilising the Australasian Fishes community to further the research of this species.
The potential application of the information gained from Australasian Fishes is very wide reaching and we look forward to discovering more innovative ways to engage the public and utilise this data for science. Are you interested in becoming involved? Visit Australasian Fishes: http://www.inaturalist.org/projects/australasian-fishes
Alexandra Nuttall, AMRI & External Partnerships Coordinator
Mark McGrouther, Ichthyology Collection Manager, AMRI
Australasian Fishes is a collaborative project led by the Australian Museum. Partner institutions and sponsors include the CSIRO, the Australian Museum Lizard Island Research Station, Department of Environment, Auckland Museum, Institute for Applied Ecology, Marine Explorer, Northern Territory Museum, Queensland Museum, South East Trawl Fishing Industry Association, South Australian Museum, Solitary Island Underwater Research Group, University of Sydney, Underwater Research Group of New South Wales (Dive Club) and the Western Australian Museum.