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DISPLAYING POSTS TAGGED: bioscan (3)

Alpine School interviews at Alps Bioscan

Author
by Priscilla
Publish date
7 January 2014
Comments
Comments (2)

Priscilla is a Program Coordinator for Life Sciences and works on education programs at Melbourne Museum.

In 1914 and 1915, scientists and field naturalists explored the Alpine region of Victoria. Nearly one hundred years later, we sent our museum's ornithologists, herpetologists, mammalogists, entomologists, palaeontologists, and others out into the field to explore, discover, and record the wildlife – alive and fossilised. This recent expedition in November last year, called the Alpine Bioscan, was a collaboration between Museum Victoria and Parks Victoria to perform a major wildlife census in the eastern region of Victoria’s Alpine National Park, with 100 experts taking part.

black and white photo of men on horses Men and horses during the survey of the Alpine area in 1914 and 1915.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

People with malasie trap Today’s scientists: Mel Mackenzie, MV’s Marine Invertebrate Collection Manager, and Parks Victoria staff inspecting a Malaise trap in the Alps. Malaise traps catch flying insects.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We’ll never know exactly the thoughts and experiences of those early researchers in the black and white photographs – but to ensure that doesn’t happen again, we invited eight students from the Alpine School to become Bioscan Ambassadors. Their role was to interview our scientists, record it and share it. The response from the students was overwhelming; all 45 students in the school wanted to participate. The lucky eight had their names pulled from a hat.

So, on the afternoon of November 28th, I went with MV historian Rebecca Carland to the Alpine School to work with the students and their teacher Nicola. The students learned from Bec how to interview a scientist, what makes a good question, and how to plan and record an oral history to make an interview clip. When they learned that their clips may become a permanent part of the museum’s collection, two students nearly cried with happiness.

eight students at table The eight Bioscan Ambassadors, workshopping their ideas for interviewing the scientists.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

On day two of the project, the students and the scientists met at Omeo Memorial Hall. The students' training put them in good stead for the realities of filming in the field – dealing with difficulties like not being able to film outside due to the rain, bad acoustics, and even unflattering lighting. But, like pros – they pushed on, filming and questioning scientists through the challenges.

Four people around a computer Students editing their clip with assistance from Bec Carland, MV historian and Roger Fenwick, Manager Regional Operations, Parks Victoria.
Image: Heath Warwick
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The result was four great video interviews of Museum Victoria scientists which are now on the Making History channel on Vimeo. In another century, when people look back at the photographs of today’s scientists in the field and wonder who these people were, the students’ films will show them.

This project was supported by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development’s Strategic Partnership Program.

Links:

Interview with Mel Mackenzie

Interview with Mark Norman

Interview with Rolf Schmidt

Interview with Ken Walker

Burrowing bees

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
18 December 2013
Comments
Comments (2)

No biologist worth their salt will stumble across a burrow in the ground without having a good stickybeak. And museum biologists are definitely worth their salt*.

So when the Alpine National Park Bioscan team found several hundred small burrows in one spot, they couldn't just wonder if they were made by crayfish or perhaps mole crickets. This hypothesis needed testing. Colin from Live Exhibits got to digging.

hut in the Alps Burrows in the foreground and Davies Plain Hut in the background.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

He stuck a blade of grass down the burrow and used a spoon to carefully dig around it. About 30 or 40 cm down he found, not a cray or cricket, but a little bee. It was no coincidence; a second excavation turned up another bee in the next burrow.

Colin digging holes Colin digging up burrows with a spoon.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The bees belong to the subfamily Halictinae, which happens to be the speciality of museum entomologist and bioscan participant Dr Ken Walker. He collects most of his study specimens as they are out foraging and rarely sees the burrows. And he'd never seen burrows in such high density –about 400 in one small grassy area.

Ken explained that the bees belonging to the genus Lasioglossum and subgenus Parasphecodes. "Lasioglossum is one of the largest genera in Australia, doing most of the work of pollinating." These burrows are where the female bees brood the next generation.

Halictine bee The halictine bee responsible for the burrows.
Image: David Paul
Source: Museum Victoria
 

"They're a semi-social bee," said Ken. "In a single nest there can be six to ten females, which are all queens. They all lay their own eggs, and they all help excavate that main tunnel but each one of them then makes a lateral tunnel by themselves. At the end they build a group of cells each lined with saliva, and they put in a pollen ball mixed with a little bit of nectar, and they lay an egg and close the whole thing up."

But that's not the end of the story, because the bee larva isn't alone in the cell. Looking closely, Ken spotted a number of large mites on the backs of the bees. The mites are harmless to the bee since they're a non-feeding, migratory (or hypopial) life stage, waiting patiently for the bee to finish stocking the brood cell with pollen.

Halictine bee with mite The red arrow shows the location of a hitch-hiking mite on this bee.
Image: Ken Walker
Source: Museum Victoria

Mite on a bee Detail of a mite on the back of a bee.
Image: Ken Walker
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Said Ken, "just before the bee closes up the cell, she turns around and brushes one or two mites off, which then develop to the feeding and sexual stages." The mites act like little housekeepers, eating any mould or fungus that attacks the pollen ball and thus keeping it fresh for the developing bee. When the new adult bee is ready to emerge, the mites' own young clamber aboard and travel on to the next burrow. "It's a wonderful relationship there."

Halictine bee Dorsal view of the burrowing semi-social bee.
Image: David Paul
Source: Museum Victoria
 

So there you have it – nosy biologists reveal an underground community of fascinating little animals, and Parks Victoria rangers have an interesting reason to recommend that tents be pitched away from the field of muddy burrows.

*Humans contain about 0.4% salt by weight. So a 70kg museum biologist, say, contains about 280g salt**. That much table salt costs about a dollar from a supermarket. If instead we say they're worth their weight in gold, according to today's price, and the Dynamic Earth scale, that puts our 70kg biologist at $3,112,900. The real value is probably somewhere in the middle.

**Except marine biologists. They're a bit saltier.

Links:

ABC Bush Telegraph: Hive of activity reveals all in alpine bioscan

The Age: Critter census reaps bonanza for researchers

MV Blog: Alpine Bioscan

Smoky mice in the Grampians

Author
by Phoebe Burns
Publish date
31 May 2013
Comments
Comments (3)

Phoebe is a University of Melbourne Masters student supervised by Dr. Kevin Rowe at MV. She is studying post-fire distribution and ecology of the Smoky Mouse in the Grampians National Park

Smoky Mouse Smoky Mouse, Pseudomys fumeus. Grampians, November 2012.
Image: David Paul
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The Smoky Mouse (Pseudomys fumeus) is an elusive and endangered rodent native to southeast Australia. Historically, the Grampians in western Victoria have been home to healthy populations of the mouse, though years can pass without observations of the species. During the November 2012 Museum Victoria Bioscan, we found a large population of Smoky Mice in the Victoria Range in the west of the Grampians; an amazing find as the mouse had not been detected in such high numbers since the 1980s!

In February 2013 a wildfire burnt through 35,000 hectares of the Grampians, including 80 per cent of the Victoria Range and the locations we surveyed in November. While such a large fire raised concerns about the survival of the Smoky Mouse population, we’re using the opportunity to understand how the species responds to fire. So far things are looking promising: earlier this month we found evidence of rodent activity in a small sheltered patch in the middle of a burnt gully and the vegetation is regenerating well. Excitingly, Parks Victoria staff have detected Smoky Mice on cameras in the southern end of the Victoria Range.

Fire has shaped the communities of plants and animals that live in the Grampians, but we still have so much to learn about the role it plays in the lives of our native rodents. Regular burns are essential to the reproduction of some plant species, which in turn provide habitat for our animal species. The Smoky Mouse relies on specific plant communities to provide food and shelter; fire is necessary to ‘reset’ these plant communities to prevent them growing to a point where they are no longer suitable for the mouse. However, fire is best delivered in a patchy mosaic, allowing animals to live in unburnt areas while adjacent burnt areas regenerate and the plant community returns to a suitable state. Wide-scale fires like the one in February are not ideal, and we’re eager to learn what impact it may have on the native fauna.

We’re hopeful that the Smoky Mouse is living in unburnt patches throughout and around the burnt areas. Over time the Smoky Mouse will recolonise the recently burnt areas and we’ll be able to map the movement of the species across the landscape using genetic techniques. In the short term, I will be hiking around the Grampians monitoring the progress of the Smoky Mouse over the next year. I hope to learn where the mouse is persisting and how the species responds to fire in order to help plan management techniques to ensure the conservation of the species for generations to come.

  Smoky Mouse Smoky Mouse, Pseudomys fumeus. Grampians, November 2012.
Image: David Paul
Source: Museum Victoria

Links:

YouTube video: Moth hunting at the Grampians

MV Blog: Gallery of the Grampians survey

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