The Australian Museum has a long history of presenting lectures and seminars on a variety of scientific and cultural topics. That tradition continues with the Australian Museum Research Institute Seminar Series, a platform for AMRI scientists, associates and collaborators to present recent research and findings to their peers.

Since 2020, many of these presentations have been delivered online due to the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic. Below you can find some of these recordings.

Speciation and extinction: the land snails of Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island

Presented by Dr Isabel Hyman

Land Snail Systematist, Malacology, Australian Museum.

Recorded Tuesday 20 April 2022

Lord Howe and Norfolk Islands have remarkably rich, narrowly endemic land snail faunas, with a combined ~130 unique species. They provide a perfect opportunity to address paradigms in evolutionary biology, biogeography and conservation. In-situ speciation has played a significant role in creating the rich diversity of the island fauna. The patterns of diversity indicate initial rapid diversification after colonisation, as seen in many other island groups. Speciation appears to be driven by a variety of factors across different lineages, including niche differentiation, geographic separation and sexual selection. These unique species have suffered impacts from land clearing, the introduction of exotic pests and climate change. However, several species thought to be extinct have been found alive in recent AM surveys, and two Critically Endangered species from Norfolk Island are now the subject of an ex-situ breeding program, as part of a multi-institutional collaboration with Taronga Zoo, Parks Australia and the Norfolk Island Regional Council.

Exchanging nature at the Australian Museum, 1860-1899

Presented by Vanessa Finney

Head of World Cultures, Archives and Library, Australian Museum.

and Professor Simon Ville

Senior Professor of Economic and Business History, University of Wollongong.

Recorded Tuesday 30 March 2022

Australia's cash-strapped early museums had to get creative in order to build, trade and grow their natural history collections. Amassing large local collections was relatively easy through field collecting and donations. But these ambitious museums wanted international specimens too. Working against the constraints of distance, finances, and visibility, their most successful tool for international collecting was specimen exchange. Australia's sought-after animals could be traded for international specimens in a worldwide, museum-led market. In the absence of money, trading specimens involved a complex and changing mix of the specimens themselves alongside friendships, scientific networks and connections, scientific value, reputation and knowledge.

As part of a larger project quantifying and mapping the trade of natural history specimens in the nineteenth century, our presentation looks at the surprising extent and patterns of the exchange of animal specimens in and out of the Australian Museum's natural history collections in the last part of the nineteenth century.

Chasing the Taxidermist’s Tail: Using chemistry to reconstruct specimen collection data in natural history museums

Presented by Celia Cramer

PhD Candidate, University of Sydney

Recorded Tuesday 14 December 2021

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, millions of animal skins were collected, traded, and incorporated into collections around the world. Each skin was prepared and preserved using numerous chemicals to prevent its decay. Today, natural history specimens are an important resource for research into environmental change and biodiversity studies. Yet many of the oldest specimens have been separated from their collection records, leaving them without some or all of their data on identification, field-collection, preservation, trade, storage, maintenance and exhibition.

This seminar offers a glimpse into research that applies non-destructive spectroscopic techniques to zoological specimens to reveal information about their histories as animals, research specimens and museum objects. These revelations assist museums to complete specimen data, and help researchers of natural history, ecology and the environment to select the most useful specimens, and equip museum conservators with specific information to care for specimens and extend their useful lives.

2021 AMRI Online Student Forum

Each year, we hold the AMRI Student Forum. The forum was held online this year, using the Microsoft Teams platform. The forum includes presentations by Honours, Masters and PhD students who are supervised by AMRI staff or associated with AMRI, and it is a wonderful opportunity to learn about what the students are working on.

For more information, please find below the abstracts for each speaker who presented on the 22nd of November.

Putting things the right way round: identification of upside-down jellyfish Cassiopea (Cnidaria: Scyphozoa) in Lake Macquarie, NSW, Australia

Presented by Claire Rowe

PhD Candidate, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney; and 2020/21 AMF/AMRI Postgraduate Award recipient, Marine Invertebrates, Australian Museum.

Recorded Wednesday 20 October 2021

Cassiopea are unusual jellyfish, notable for their habit of lying “upside-down” – this means they lie ventral-side up on the benthos with their oral (feeding) arms facing upwards. Cassiopea are model examples of invasive species that have been historically confused because of taxonomic ambiguity. They can have significant economic and environmental consequences as jellyfish blooms are known to impact fisheries, tourism and trophic structures. Historically, these jellyfish have had a northern tropical distribution, but in 2017 they were recorded in Lake Macquarie, New South Wales. Claire’s PhD focuses on the population dynamics of these jellyfish within temperate Lake Macquarie, including identifying which species is occurring through morphological and genetic comparisons to other populations. This presentation outlines fieldwork in southern Queensland to collect Cassiopea from the type locality of one of the possible matching species. It will also explore the taxonomic ambiguity of Cassiopea, and results to date regarding the identification of Cassiopea within Lake Macquarie and possible vectors for its translocation there.

Species identification of Australian Museum black corals

Presented by Jeremy Horowitz

James Cook University, Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies; Museum of Tropical Queensland; and 2020/21 AMF/AMRI Visiting Collections Fellow, Marine Invertebrates, Australian Museum.

Recorded Wednesday 20 October 2021

Black corals are among the least understood Anthozoans because of challenges associated with collecting deep-sea specimens and limited taxonomic effort. New molecular tools have ignited a resurgence in efforts to fill this knowledge gap, utilising museum specimens to update systematics and knowledge about regional biodiversity and species distributions. In 2020, Jeremy visited the Australian Museum to assist in the curation of the Australian Museum black coral collection. Out of over 200 black corals examined, 185 specimens had family, genus, or species name updates. Additionally, two holotype specimens were examined and are now subject to re-descriptions using technology that was not present when the species were originally described. The Australian black coral collection is now subject to Ultraconserved element sequencing to match morphological identifications with molecular relationships, to describe the diversity of black corals in Australia, and to formally revise the Order.

The Ophiuroid Project: a global evolution and biogeography of a class of marine animals

Presented by Dr Tim O'Hara

Senior Curator, Museums Victoria

Recorded Wednesday 29 September 2021

Dr Tim O’Hara’s dream is to create an ecological and historical biogeography of the global oceans for one entire class of animals: the Ophiuroidea (brittle-stars). For this, Tim has collated occurrence data from museum databases and literature from across the planet and embarked on a program to sequence 400+ genes from as many different species as possible to create a robust tree of life for the group. To date, Tim and his team have sequenced almost 1400 samples for around 1000 species. Along depth gradients, ophiuroids form distinct faunal groups. The genetic divergence between shallow (0-200 m) and deep sea is profound and often ancient. Latitudinally, ophiuroids are separated into broad bands (tropical, temperate and polar in both hemispheres) that reflect the cooling of the earth over the last 50 my. Longitudinally, the story is one of barriers and fluxes over time, as tectonic realignments open and close oceanic seaways. The fauna of the deep sea is well adapted to life in a challenging environment.​​​​​​​

The diverse, distinctive and charismatic seahorse genus Hippocampus

Presented by Graham Short

Research Associate, Ichthyology and 2020-21 AMF/AMRI Visiting Collection Fellowship recipient, Australian Museum Research Institute; Research Associate, Ichthyology California Academia of Sciences, San Francisco; and, Research Associate, Ichthyology, Burke Museum, Seattle.

Recorded Wednesday 11 August 2021

Seahorses (genus Hippocampus) belong to the family Syngnathidae and are arguably one of the most distinctive and charismatic fish in existence. Members of this family, also comprising the pipefish, pygmy pipehorses, and seadragons, are uniquely characterised by a tubular snout ending in a fused jaw that enables suction feeding, male brood pouch and pregnancy, prehensile tail, and cryptic morphology and behaviour. A total of 46 species of seahorses have been described, including 14 in the last 20 years, and range in size from as small as a lentil to as large as a banana. The largest seahorse species is Hippocampus abdominalis, which can reach more than 35 cm and lives in the temperate waters off Southern Australia and New Zealand. In contrast, the smallest seahorse, the pygmy seahorse H. satomiae from Indonesia, is only 12 mm in length. The eight species of Indo-Pacific pygmy seahorses share many external morphological features with the larger (non-pygmy) seahorses but they differ dramatically in size, the number of gills, and location of egg brooding on the body in males. Despite the notable morphological differences between the two groups of seahorses, taxonomic publications have yet to comprehensively classify them. As a 2021/21 AMF/AMRI Visiting Collection Fellow, Graham's research used computed tomography (CT) imaging to study and compare the skeletal features of non-pygmy and pygmy seahorses. Graham documented some surprising morphological differences that strongly support placing members of Hippocampus into many distinct genera.

AMRI scientists at the forefront of deep-sea exploration: RV Investigator voyages past, present and future

Presented by Dr Elena Kupriyanova

Senior Research Scientist, Marine Invertebrates, Australian Museum Research Institute

Recorded Tuesday 29 June 2021

Although the abyssal zone of the ocean (below 2000 metres) is the largest habitat on the planet, it remains the most unexplored environment due to the difficulty of working at such great depths and its remoteness. In Australia, the abyssal plain (3000 to 6000 m) covers ~2.8 million km2, or 30% of Australia’s marine territory. The deeper areas of Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone have been unsampled for fauna compared with the intertidal and shallow sublittoral waters. This is mainly because until 2015 Australia lacked the capacity to consistently collect biological material from the depths below 3000 m. A new era for deep-sea biological exploration in Australia began with the launch of the CSIRO research vessel (RV) Investigator , the first Australian research vessel equipped to routinely perform biological sampling to depths of 5000 metres. AMRI scientists have participated in RV Investigator research voyages from the very beginning of this new era. Dr Kupriyanova talks about the history of AMRI's participation in such voyages and the plans for the upcoming expedition voyage to seamounts of Australia’s Indian Ocean Territories.

This research has been supported by a grant on sea time on RV Investigator from the CSIRO Marine National Facility. Please note, the Indian Ocean Territories voyage was temporarily suspended after completing the survey of the Christmas Island region. The second part of the voyage to survey the region around Cocos (Keeling) Islands is being rescheduled. Learn more

The delayed rise of flowering plants

Presented by Dr Hervé Sauquet

Senior Research Scientist, The Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust, Sydney

Recorded Wednesday 19 May 2021

The rise of angiosperms was a major revolution in Earth’s history, yet many aspects of their diversification remain unresolved. Extant and fossil data are both critical to understand angiosperm macroevolution and intersect particularly in calibration of molecular dating analyses and in phylogenetic assessments of fossil taxa, but this integration remains often limited and both sources of data are typically under-utilized. Here, Dr Hervé Sauquet presents results from a new molecular dating study of angiosperms as a whole, calibrated with the most comprehensive set of fossil age constraints to date (238 calibrations). They found substantial time lags (37-56 Myr) between the origin of families (stem age) and the diversification leading to extant species (crown ages), raising new questions about the tempo of angiosperm diversification. Dr Sauquet will then introduce the first results from ongoing work aiming at including 100 fossil flowers as tips in angiosperm phylogenetic analyses by recording their traits in their expanding eFLOWER dataset.

Biodiversity of small cryptic fishes in the Coral Sea

Presented by Dr Chris Goatley

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of New England; Research Associate, Ichthyology, Australian Museum Research Institute; and, 2020-21 AMF/AMRI Visiting Research Fellow.

Recorded Wednesday 14 April 2021

Dr Chris Goatley is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of New England in Armidale. He was recently appointed as an AMRI Research Associate-Ichthyology and received a 2020-21 AMF/AMRI Visiting Research Fellowship. His research focuses on the biodiversity and functional ecology of small cryptobenthic reef fishes, which are highly abundant on coral reefs around the world, yet often overlooked. In this seminar, Chris presents preliminary data from a recent research trip, during which he and other AMRI staff collected these cryptobenthic fishes from reefs spanning the length of the Coral Sea. He discusses the patterns of cryptobenthic fish biodiversity, new species records and potential new species discoveries made on these remote Australian reefs.

Gerard Krefft, Wilhelm Blandowski and the library that travelled

Presented by Vanessa Finney

Manager, World Cultures, Archives & Library, Australian Museum.

Recorded Monday 07 December 2020

On his 1857 natural history expedition to the Murray River, German naturalist Wilhelm Blandowski did not just take the usual load of guns, boxes, barrels and preserving spirits. He also took an unusual library of around 250 books. The library has since travelled on to Germany where it is held in the collections of the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin. The library's contents and the story of its travels are a great tool for thinking about the role of books, reading and writing in nineteenth century natural history and field collecting.

The 1857 expedition was also the training ground for AM Curator/Director Gerard Krefft. That makes the library important for Krefft's story; filling in more details on his background, his education, his intellectual and scientific influences and the hands-on, practical approach to natural history he brought to his work at the Australian Museum from 1860 to 1874. His mutterings and grumblings about Blandowski tell us something about his coming troubles at the AM, too.

Invertebrate conservation in the North East Forests of New South Wales

Presented by Professor Shawn Laffan

School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales; Australian Museum, collaborator.

Recorded Wednesday 14 October 2020

Invertebrate taxa such as bugs, beetles and snails, are an important but often overlooked part of the ecosystem, despite the fact that they make up 75% of terrestrial species. The bushfires of 2019/2020 resulted in 10 million burnt hectares, mostly in the forests of the Great Dividing Range of NSW - hundreds of invertebrate species were impacted. Fortunately, much of this area has been previously surveyed for invertebrates by UNSW and the Australian Museum, including a seminal survey of the North East Forests in 1993.

UNSW and the Australian Museum are now embarking on a project to develop a spatial, taxonomic and ecological information system to re-assess invertebrates in these areas, using the 1993 baseline data to determine the effect of the 2019/2020 mega-fires on these rarely studied species. This is funded by the Australian Government’s Wildlife and Habitat Bushfire Recovery program. Project outcomes will include nomination of threatened invertebrate species, as well as selection of sites for active restoration projects. We will also link with local and indigenous communities, and partner with a citizen science project to train local communities to help monitor these species.

Fairy Wrasses and Fairy Tales

Presented by Yi-Kai Tea

University of Sydney, School of Life and Environmental Sciences; 2019-20 AMF/AMRI Postgraduate Award recipient, Ichthyology Australian Museum Research Institute.

Recorded Wednesday 14 September 2020

The fairy wrasses (genus Cirrhilabrus) are among the most captivating and successful of the extant wrasse lineages (Teleostei: Labridae), with their 61 species accounting for nearly 10% of the family. Understanding the reasons for this success has however been hindered by the poor phylogenetic resolution of the genus. Although species complexes within the genus have been diagnosed on the basis of coloration patterns and synapomorphies, previous attempts to resolve the evolutionary relationships using molecular and morphological data have largely been unsuccessful. Join Yi-Kai Tea, recipient of the 2019-20 AMF/AMRI Postgraduate Award recipient, in this month’s online seminar where he will be discussing his recent research: Phylogenomic Analysis of Ultraconserved Elements Reveals the Recent Evolutionary Radiation of the Wrasse Genus Cirrhilabrus. In this recent study, Yi-Kai Tea, with Xin Xu, Joseph D. DiBattista, Nathan Lo, Peter F. Cowman, and Simon Ho, used a phylogenomic approach comprising 991 ultraconserved elements (UCEs) and mitochondrial COI to uncover the evolutionary history and patterns of temporal and spatial diversification of the fairy wrasses. Overall, this study demonstrates the resolving power of UCEs across shallow timescales, in a phylogenetically recalcitrant taxonomic group characterized by few robust morphological characters and where previous molecular studies have been unsuccessful.

Using DNA to understand connections between animals and plants: the giant panda and bamboo

Presented by Dr Linda E Neaves

Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University; and Research Associate, The Australian Museum.

Recorded Wednesday 12 August 2020

Giant pandas mainly eat bamboo. However, beneath this simplistic statement lies a complex issue: bamboo species are difficult to tell apart (even using standard genetic methods) and over 60 species have been reported in panda habitat and may be consumed, depending on availability and individual preferences. In addition, pandas occasionally eat food other than bamboo. In a project led by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in collaboration with the Australian Museum, Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Sichuan University, and Royal Zoological Society Scotland, DNA-based methods were used to investigate the diet of giant panda. A detailed picture of diet was obtained through a combination of broad-brush meta-barcodes to establish what was being eaten in addition to bamboo, and tailor-made SNP assays to discriminate among bamboo species in panda diet. Application of these SNP assays to the bamboos throughout panda habitat revealed unexpected diversity across bamboos associated with panda as well as insights into their taxonomy. Together, these methods and information help to refine our understanding of panda habitat, how this may change in the future and how it can best be restored.

Discovering the biological diversity of Tasmania's underwater mountains and associated worms

Presented by Dr Laetitia Gunton

Chadwick Biodiversity Fellow at the Australian Museum Research Institute.

Recorded Wednesday 13 May 2020

In December 2018, scientists from the Australian Museum Research Institute joined a team of researchers from around Australasia on the ‘Seamount Corals Survey 2018,’ led by CSIRO and Parks Australia on board the Marine National Facility's RV ‘Investigator’. It was a month-long research voyage to map and explore deep-sea cold-water corals and their associated marine life on seamounts south of Tasmania. Also on board the ship was a team of journalists and camera crew documenting the scientific research and life on a scientific research expedition. Dr Gunton will screen a series of short documentary films produced by the journalists during the voyage. Dr Gunton will also discuss how the diverse array of deep-sea biological samples collected during the expedition are being used by researchers at the Australian Museum to better understand these fascinating deep-sea environments.