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DISPLAYING POSTS TAGGED: alfred russel wallace (4)

Exploration of Sulawesi, Indonesia

Author
by Bonnie & Rashika
Publish date
11 November 2013
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Bonnie Gambhir is a Computer Science student with interests in scientific exploration. Rashika Premchandralal is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Biotechnology. Both are studying at the University of Melbourne.

This is the second post of an MV Blog mini-series celebrating the past, present and future of exploration on planet Earth and commemorating the adventures of Alfred Russel Wallace who died 100 years ago.

Wallace's exploration of the islands of Indonesia contributed to the theory of evolution by natural selection, as well as the field biogeography–the study of the distribution of species over space and time. Wallace famously divided the world’s animals into zoogeographic regions, with his travels through modern day Indonesia providing important clues about the transitions of more Asian-like species to those of Australian origin.

"The island of Sulawesi is a place where many Asian lineages get their easternmost distribution and many Australian lineages get their westernmost distribution, and Sulawesi represents a mixture of the flora and fauna of these two great continents," says Dr Kevin Rowe.

Skull of Babirusa MV specimen R8050: skull of Babirusa, Babyrousa celebensis, an ancient lineage of pigs on Sulawesi. Pigs are not native to the Australian continent and Sulawesi represents their easternmost distribution.
Image: Karen Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

mount of Bear Cuscus MV specimen C27221: mount of Bear Cuscus, Ailurops ursinus. An ancient relative of the Ringtail Possum, the Bear Cuscus is endemic to Sulawesi and represents the westernmost distribution of Australian marsupials that never reached the Asian continent.
Image: Karen Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
  

Since Wallace’s time, further scientific exploration in Wallacea has contributed immensely to our understanding of the distribution and evolution of species.

Researchers at Museum Victoria are continuing this exploration on the island of Sulawesi; Dr Kevin Rowe and Dr Karen Rowe have made several expeditions in recent years, leading to the description of new mammal species and new knowledge of the evolutionary relationships between Indonesian and Australian birds.

When Wallace visited Sulawesi, he recorded only five species of rodents. Today, we recognise almost fifty. Described in 2012 by Kevin and colleagues, one recently- discovered species from Sulawesi challenges the definition of rodent. The unique rat, Paucidentomys vermidax, (meaning “few-toothed worm-devouring mouse”) is the only rodent, among more than 2,200 species, with pointed upper incisors and no molars.

Dr Kevin Rowe with Paucidentomys vermidax Dr Kevin Rowe with Paucidentomys vermidax, a nearly toothless rodent, on the day of its discovery in the rainforests of Sulawesi.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The honeyeater family Meliphagidae is one of the most diverse groups of Australian birds. Most of the nearly 170 species are found in Australia, New Guinea and adjacent Pacific Islands. A few species are native to Wallacea where the family reaches the westernmost limits of its distribution. Through her fieldwork on Sulawesi, Karen is studying the endemic genus Myza and their relationship to all other honeyeaters.

Lesser Sulawesi Honeyeater Lesser Sulawesi Honeyeater, Myza celebensis, found in the forests of Mount Dako, Sulawesi in 2013.
Image: Karen Rowe
Source: Mustum Victoria
 

Expeditions to Sulawesi by MV researchers and their Indonesian and US colleagues have produced several new records of species that have not been recorded since the 1970s. Many of these species were previously known from a single locality and are listed as 'data deficient' by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Hence the recent exploration of Sulawesi is helping to improve understanding of the habitat requirements and distributions of these little-known species.

Local knowledge and assistance is as much a part of modern exploration as it was in Wallace’s time. Our final post in this series will explore how international cooperation has contributed to the success of Museum Victoria’s research in the region.

Links:

MV Blog posts about Sulawesi field research

The Age of Exploration continues

Author
by Chenae Neilson
Publish date
6 November 2013
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Chenae Neilson is a Master of Science in Human Geography student at the University of Melbourne. This is the first post of an MV Blog mini-series celebrating the past, present and future of exploration on planet Earth and commemorating the adventures of Alfred Russel Wallace who died 100 years ago today.

Over the last 250 years, the taxonomic classification of life on Earth has described approximately 1.2 million species that share the planet with us, Homo sapiens. However, every year, we discover thousands of new species. Often these are organisms that have been concealed from scientific observation within impassable forests or the dark of the ocean abyss. A 2011 estimate suggests there are over eight million species on Earth, which means we have described fewer than 15 per cent of them. This stems, in part, because we have explored only five per cent of the world’s oceans, and scientists have yet to survey many terrestrial environments.

This celebration of exploration marks the centenary of the death of explorer, naturalist, and evolutionary biologist Alfred Russel Wallace who died on 7 November 1913. To commemorate Wallace we return to the region of his most famous exploration.

Alfred Russel Wallace, circa 1895. Alfred Russel Wallace, circa 1895.
Image: London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company
Source: Wikimedia Commons

"Nature has taken every precaution that these, her choicest treasures, may not lose value by being too easily obtained."
Alfred Russel Wallace

 

From 1854 to 1862, Wallace traveled across the Indonesian archipelago from the Sunda shelf in the west through the island of Sulawesi and to the Bird's Head of New Guinea in the east. On this journey he noted a distinct transition from more Asian fauna to more Australian fauna – the line demarking this dramatic transition became known as the 'Wallace's Line'. The broader region between Asia and Australia, including the island of Sulawesi, is termed Wallacea, which hosts an endemic combination of Asian and Australian lineages. Wallace’s exploration of Sulawesi made a significant contribution to the species catalogue in this region and also became the backbone of evidence for his own theory of evolution by natural selection. Wallace’s adventures in Wallacea were later chronicled in his book, The Malay Archipelago, written in 1869.

Map of Sunda and Sahul Map of Wallacea, featuring the island of Sulawesi and the biogeographic lines defining breaks between Asian fauna within Sunda and Australasia.
Image: Maximilian Dörrbecker
Source: Used under CC BY-SA 3.0 from Wikimedia Commons.
 

Despite the countless scientific findings made during the Age of Exploration in the 1800s, exploration still remains important today, particularly in a world where natural environments are under threat.

Wallace's trail of exploration has been retraced many times by contemporary scientists, amateur naturalists, and television personalities. Exploration may mean something different to each. For the scientist, these areas are revealing new species and answering questions about the evolutionary history of the region. To the naturalist, the 'discovery' of animals found nowhere else on earth and the chance to walk in the footsteps of an influential figure may be the very definition of exploration. Regardless of our definition of exploration, areas like Wallacea hold many new possibilities.

Over 100 years later, two research scientists at Museum Victoria, Dr Kevin Rowe and Dr Karen Rowe, have been following in the footsteps of Wallace. Some of their recent findings will be the subject of the next blog in our mini-series.

Woman in rainforest in Indonesia Karen Rowe hiking into a remote field camp on Mount Dako, Sulawesi where scientists from MV, Indonesia and the United States inventoried mammals and birds for the first time in 2013.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria

Bill Bailey, birdwatcher

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
13 September 2012
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UK comedian, musician and birdwatcher Bill Bailey is in Melbourne this week as part of his Qualmpeddler tour of Australia and New Zealand. Yesterday he, and fellow comedian and ornithology buff Jeff Green, visited collection stores and exhibitions at Melbourne Museum.

Bill and Jeff in collection store Bill Bailey and Jeff Green in the Ornithology collection store at Melbourne Museum.
Image: Ben Healley
Source: Museum Victoria
 

It’s all thanks to a timely radio broadcast: PhD student Darren Hastie heard an interview in which Bill talked about being a fan of Alfred Russel Wallace, co-originator (with Charles Darwin) of the theory of evolution by natural selection. Learning this, collection manager Rolf Schmidt sent a message to Bill via his website to tell him that Museum Victoria holds a number of specimens collected by AR Wallace, and to invite him to come and see them.

Bill is not just a fan of Wallace; he is the patron of the Wallace Fund which works to give the great naturalist due credit for his contributions to our understanding of evolution. Bill has spent five years researching Wallace’s life and work, which will culminate in a BBC documentary in 2013. Next year marks a century since Wallace’s death and, if all goes to plan, will also see a portrait and statue of Wallace erected in the Natural History Museum in London to equal its famous marble statue of Darwin.

Bill Bailey in collection store Bill Bailey opening the cabinet filled with bird specimens collected by AR Wallace, saying, “This is why I love museums. You think, what’s in here? Then OH MY GOD…”
Image: Ben Healley
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Having recently returned from filming the Wallace documentary in Indonesia, Bill swapped tales with ornithologist and collection manager Wayne Longmore about the bizarre fauna found in Sulawesi, Indonesia, due to what is now called the Wallace Line. To the west of the line, Asiatic species predominate, while to the east, Australian lineages appear. Sulawesi is right in the thick of it and its animals are an amazing assortment of both origins. For eight years, Wallace travelled through Malaysia and Indonesia collecting birds, insects and more, and it was his astute observations of the patterns of species distribution that spawned the science of biogeography, and helped him develop his theory of evolution.

Poor Wallace, however, has been obscured by time and the greater profile of Darwin. Said Bill, “Wallace was an extraordinary field naturalist, probably one of the greatest. And he hasn’t got the recognition he deserves. He needs to be mentioned in the same breath as Darwin, or at very least get equal billing.” Darwin had been working on his theory of natural selection for many years but it wasn’t until 1858, when Wallace sent him his own fully-articulated theory, that Darwin was prompted to stop thinking and get down to the business of publishing. The two presented their theory together at a meeting of the Linnaean Society. As Bill said, “at the time it known as the Darwin-Wallace theory, but when it was revived in the 30s, Wallace’s name was gone.” Jeff in turn suggested that the Australian city of Darwin switch its name to Darwin-Wallace for 2013 for the centenary.

After viewing the Wallace specimens in the ornithology store, Bill and Jeff visited the Science and Life Gallery where the Darwin to DNA exhibition has Wallace-collected skins and mounts on display, complete with his original hand-written tags. Next Rolf took them to down to the palaeontology collections and labs. Rolf reports, “Bill was quite interested in the size and scope of our collection, as well as the stories around the objects (like the Janjucetus skull). He was also rather excited when I let him have a hold of our Darwin barnacle holotype.”

Visiting the palaeontology collections L-R: Darren Hastie (PhD student and fellow AR Wallace fan), Rolf Schmidt, Jeff Green (kneeling), Bill Bailey and Dave Pickering amid the Palaeontology collection.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Bill’s fascination with Wallace is infectious - and he certainly loves museums. He says he always tries to visit the natural history museums of the cities where he performs. We’re very glad he dropped in to visit us, and will watch with interest as the Wallace100 plans unfold.

Links:

The Wallace Fund

Stories from the filming of the Wallace documentary on the Wallace100 blog (via Natural History Museum)

MV Blog: Wonderful Wallacea

MV Blog: Happy birthday A.R. Wallace

Happy birthday A.R. Wallace

Author
by Ursula
Publish date
8 January 2012
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Ursula Smith works in the natural sciences collections at Museum Victoria. Though a palaeontologist by training she finds all the collections fascinating and swings between excitement at all the cool stuff in them and despair at the lack of time to look at it all.

Today is the birthday of Alfred Russel Wallace, who was born on 8 January, 1823. While he isn't terribly well known today, at the end of the 19th century he was one of England's best-known naturalists – which is saying something considering that he was a contemporary of people such as Charles Darwin and Joseph Hooker. In fact, Wallace’s famous letter to Darwin prompted the latter to write On the Origin of Species after a joint presentation of their work to the Linnean Society. This post, however, is about another of Wallace’s important contributions to biology.

Photograph of Alfred Russel Wallace, taken in Singapore, 1862. Photograph of Alfred Russel Wallace, taken in Singapore, 1862.
Source: In the public domain, sourced from Wikimedia Commons.
 

After trying his hands at a few trades, Wallace became a field collector – a career that combined his desire to travel with his passion for natural history. After four years collecting along the Amazon River (and an eventful return voyage to England in which he spent 26 days in a lifeboat after his ship caught fire and sank!), Wallace set off for the Malay Archipelago – what is now Malaysia and Indonesia – and spent nearly eight years collecting shells, insects, reptiles mammals and birds for sale in England. The book he published about this trip, The Malay Archipelago, the land of the orang-utan and the bird of paradise; a narrative of travel, with studies of man and nature, was one of the best selling travel books of the nineteenth century.

Museum Victoria has around 200 bird specimens collected by Wallace on this trip that were sold to John Gould and then donated to the museum. Birds are very important in Wallace's story - not only was he looking specifically for the highly sought after birds of paradise on his trip so he could sell them to collectors in England, but his observations about the distribution of birds amongst the islands he visited were highly important in allowing him to develop the theory we today call biogeography – the science of where animals live and why.

Shelf of bird mounts A shelf of bird mounts collected by AR Wallace in the Museum Victoria collection.
Image: Ursula Smith
Source: Museum Victoria
 

In June of 1859 Wallace made an unscheduled trip between the islands of Bali and Lombok when he couldn't find a direct boat from Singapore to Makassar (at the south end of the island of Sulawesi, then called Celebes). He noticed that even though the islands are within sight of each other and very similar in size, elevation and climate, the bird species on Lombok were very different from those he'd seen on Bali. Wallace came to the conclusion that the two islands belonged to distinct Zoological provinces. He wrote in The Malay Archipelago:

I may mention that during a few days' stay in the island of Bali I found birds of the genera Copsychus, Megalaima, Tiga, Plocus, and Sturnopastor, all characteristic of the Indian region and abundant in Malacca, Java, and Borneo; while on crossing over to Lombock, during three months collecting there, not one of them was ever seen; neither have they occurred in Celebes nor any of the more eastern islands I have visited. Taking this in connexion with the fact of Cacatua, Tropidorhynchus, and Megepodius having their western limit in Lombock, we may consider it established that the Strait of Lombock (only 15 miles wide) marks the limits and abruptly separates two of the great Zoological regions of the globe.

In a paper about the distribution of birds in 1868 T.H. Huxley labelled this boundary that Wallace had described between the Asian and Australian biological regions as 'Wallace's Line', the name by which we still know it today. Since then we've discovered that there are other boundaries passing through the archipelago that are relevant to groups other than birds, but Wallace's Line remains the best known and the area is still an important location for research today.

Bird collected by Wallace Bird specimen, an adult female Eclectus Parrot, in the MV collection that was collected by AR Wallace.
Image: Ursula Smith
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Links:

Meet Me at the Museum: Birds of Paradise

Capturing Paradise: Alfred Russel Wallace's Red Bird of Paradise

Ornithology Collection

Entomology Collection

Wallace's books available as free ebooks from Project Gutenberg

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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.

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