Research

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Research

Museum staff, researchers, students and community members use the state collections to conduct research - from life at the bottom of the ocean to the history of our state and its people.

MV at sea

Author
by Tim O'Hara
Publish date
4 May 2015
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Dr Tim O'Hara is Senior Curator of Marine Invertebrates.

It is 3am, the night is jet black, the boat heaves with the swell, and a bunch of scientists and crew dressed in full wet-weather gear are silently standing, waiting on the back deck. There is always a sense of excitement as new samples are hauled in. What bizarre deep-sea creatures will be brought up? Perhaps this time we will see the enigmatic mushroom-shaped Dendrogramma, an animal (apparently) that has confounded all efforts at classification since its first collection by Museum Victoria in 1986. Or maybe the massive sea-lice that can devour a dead whale? Or just seafloor life in incredible abundance?

Large blue and white Investigator vessel The Marine National Facility research vessel Investigator at the CSIRO wharf in Hobart.
Image: Tim O'Hara
Source: Museum Victoria

Ship's crew using machinery on deck Deploying the Smith McIntyre grab.
Image: Tim O'Hara
Source: Museum Victoria
 

On Easter Tuesday, four science staff and students from Museum Victoria (Di Bray, Mel Mackenzie and Skip Woolley and I) joined scientists around Australia on a trial voyage of Australia’s brand new research vessel, the Investigator. The idea was to test out all the gear necessary for deep-sea exploration, from iron box-like dredges, used for over 200 years to collect samples, to the high tech cameras that bounce above the seabed, worked in real time from a joystick and a bank of computer monitors in the bowels of the ship, thousands of metres above. We went south of Hobart into the Southern Ocean, specifically to look at life on underwater sea mountains in the Huon one of the Commonwealth’s recently declared marine reserves.

People in the Investigator vessel lab The sorting lab: Skip, Di and Mel facing Karen Gowlett-Holmes of CSIRO.
Image: Tim O'Hara
Source: Museum Victoria

Big camera rig on ship deck The towed deep-sea camera.
Image: Tim O'Hara
Source: Museum Victoria
 

But I had another motive to joining this trip. Next year in November I will be chief scientist of a voyage from Brisbane to Hobart that will survey Australia’s abyssal sea-plain (4000 m below sea-level). So I really wanted to learn all I could about the capabilities of the vessel and think about best practice scientific procedures to ensure we get the most out of the expedition.

The Investigator, run by the Marine National Facility funded by the Commonwealth Government, is a large (94 m), elegant and efficient platform from which to do deep-sea research. Diesel electric engines keep the noise down and high tech stabilisers prevent much of the pitch, yaw and roll that can make life miserable on smaller boats.

People on ship deck The crew deploying gear off the stern deck.
Image: Tim O'Hara
Source: Museum Victoria

Ship crew deploying gear Preparing for the next catch: MV staff in canary yellow facing Mark Lewis of from CSIRO with Mark McGrouther of the Australian Museum looking on.
Image: Tim O'Hara
Source: Museum Victoria
 

My main memories of the trip: dark thundery night skies, albatrosses, friendly company and lots of carbs to eat. All too soon we steamed back to another sunny day in Hobart. We didn’t find Dendrogramma – maybe next time.

Invisible Farmer Project

Author
by Catherine Forge
Publish date
8 April 2015
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Catherine Forge is Curator of the Invisible Farmer Project at Museum Victoria. She grew up in regional Victoria (Gippsland), which is where she developed her love for cheese, the outdoors and rural Australian history.

Cartoon of statue of female farmer labelled 'The Unknown Farmer' Unknown Farmer Cartoon
Source: Sea Lake Women on Farms Gathering Proceedings, 1991
 

Women in Australia play a vital role in farming and agriculture, contributing at least 48 per cent of real farm income through their on and off-farm work. Sadly, however, women’s contributions to agriculture have continued to be ignored, unrecognised and rendered invisible. Farming women have been excluded from censuses and official documentation, stereotyped as ‘housewives’ or ‘domestics’ despite their significant contributions to the farm economy and blindsided by a popularist vision of Australian agriculture that idealises masculinity and posits rural Australia as a ‘male domain.’ As a 1992 Government Report argued, rural women have too often been relegated to the position of the ‘Invisible Farmer.’

Liza Dale-Hallett at lectern Liza Dale-Hallett delivering keynote address at the Yarra Ranges Women on Farms Gathering.
Image: Alison Griffiths-Hoelzer
Source: YRWOFG Committee
 

On 21 March 2015 Senior Curator Liza Dale-Hallett (Sustainable Futures) launched Museum Victoria’s Invisible Farmer Project during a keynote address, Making Women Count, at the Yarra Ranges Women on Farms Gathering. Presenting in a panel alongside Federal Member for Indi Cathy McGowan and Victorian Rural Woman of the Year Julie Aldous, Liza introduced the main aims of The Invisible Farmer Project:  

  • To interview some of the 24 remaining women who were part of the first cohort of female agricultural graduates from the University of Melbourne.
  • To work alongside other institutions such as the State Library of Victoria to establish strategic collecting processes to document the Rural Women’s Movement and to uncover the stories of rural women.
  • To identify, as a matter of urgency, those that were pivotal in shaping the Australian Rural Women’s Movement.

Highlighting the fact that the stories of farming women are often intangible and undocumented – existing instead in living memory – Liza articulated an ‘urgent plea to move beyond the unknown farmer and to catch this history before it is lost.’

audience in lecture theater Delegates at the Yarra Ranges Women on Farms Gathering, March 2015.
Image: Alison Griffiths-Hoelzer
Source: YRWOFG Committee
 

It is significant that the Invisible Farmer Project was launched at a Victorian Women on Farms Gathering. These Gatherings have been occurring annually throughout rural Victoria since 1990 and were one of the major seedbeds for the Rural Women’s Movement that occurred in Australia during the 1980s-1990s. Senior Curator Liza Dale-Hallett first attended a Gathering in 1993 and has since had a long association with them that has included the establishment of Museum Victoria’s Victorian Women on Farms Gathering Collection. This innovative and award-winning collection has paved the way for the institutional recognition and preservation of rural women’s stories. Liza hopes that the Invisible Farmer Project will go one step further by inviting cultural institutions to collaborate in recognising, collecting and preserving the history of the Australian Rural Women’s Movement, before it’s too late.

The Invisible Farmer Project is funded by the McCoy Seed Fund and involves a partnership with the University of Melbourne as well as involvement from other collecting institutions (e.g. State Library of Victoria). If you would like to hear more about the Invisible Farmer Project, please get in contact with Catherine Forge (Curator) via email: cforge@museum.vic.gov.au or phone: 03 8341 7729.  

Transcribing field diaries

Author
by Nicole K
Publish date
19 March 2015
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Comments (4)

Deep in Museum Victoria’s archives lie boxes of notebooks. Notebooks that contain a significant part of our museum’s history. They are the field diaries of our past curators and collection managers, produced on scientific expeditions to explore, research and discover the natural history of Australia (and beyond).

Field diaries from Museum Victoria's collection Field diaries from Museum Victoria's collection
Source: Museum Victoria
 

These field diaries are of great interest to both scientists and historians. They are filled with invaluable data, providing insights into past species’ abundance and distribution, as well as personal descriptions of the trials and wonders experienced on historic expeditions.

A photograph from Graham Brown's field diary: Mt Rufus, Tasmania (1949). A photograph from Graham Brown's field diary: Mt Rufus, Tasmania (1949).
Image: Graham Brown
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Despite the fascinating information contained within the diaries (and the interest in them), they are relatively inaccessible. They were handwritten, often in less-than-favourable conditions (picture a scientist, crouched in the bush, notebook balanced on knee).

Sketch from Allan McEvey's field journal of his expedition to Macquarie Island, 1957. Excerpt from Allan McEvey's field journal of his expedition to Macquarie Island, 1957.
Image: Allan McEvey
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We have therefore started a crowd-sourcing project to transcribe the field diaries in our collection. The pages of each diary are carefully digitised and then uploaded into DigiVol the Atlas of Living Australia’s volunteer transcription portal that was developed in collaboration with the Australian Museum. Once transcribed, the text in the diaries will be searchable. We can create lists of the species mentioned and use this information to better understand and conserve our precious biodiversity.

Our most recent transcription project is Allan McEvey's field diary of his expedition to Macquarie Island in 1957. Museum Victoria's Curator of Birds from 1955, McEvey had a passion for scientific illustration and his field diaries are filled with sketches of birds and other wildlife.

Sketches of Black-browed Albatross, <i>Diomedea melanophris</i>, from Allan McEvey's field journal of his expedition to Macquarie Island, 1957. Sketches of Black-browed Albatross, Diomedea melanophris, from Allan McEvey's field journal of his expedition to Macquarie Island, 1957.
Image: Allan McEvey
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The original diaries, along with their transcriptions, will eventually be available online via the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL), the world's largest online repository of biodiversity literature and archival materials.

The Australian component of BHL is managed by Museum Victoria and funded by the Atlas of Living Australia. The project has allowed us to digitise over 500 rare books, historic journals and archival field diaries. This represents over 12000 pages of Australia’s biological heritage that was previously hidden away in library archives.

Interested in becoming a transcription volunteer?

If you would like to help us unlock the observations in our historic field diaries, more information is available on the DigiVol website.

MV's new digital exhibits

Author
by Nicole K
Publish date
5 March 2015
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On Tuesday 3 March, Museum Victoria joined 25 Australian cultural institutions at Parliament House to launch the Australian component of the Google Cultural Institute.

Google Cultural Institute launch, 3 March 2015, Parliament House, Canberra Google Cultural Institute launch, 3 March 2015, Parliament House, Canberra
Image: Nicole Kearney
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The Google Cultural Institute is an online collection of millions of cultural treasures from over 670 museums, art galleries and archives around the world. Visitors can explore millions of artworks and artefacts in extraordinary detail, create their own galleries and share their favourite works.

Museum Victoria has been involved in the Google Art project since 2011 and was among the first institutions to partner with Google to create what is now the world's largest online museum.

Featured content on the Google Cultural Institute Featured content on the Google Cultural Institute
Source: Google
 

Tuesday's launch welcomed 14 new Australian contributors, including the Australian War Memorial, the National Portrait Gallery and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image. Over 2000 of Australia's finest cultural works are now accessible online.

Among these treasures are 226 highlights from Museum Victoria's collection. These include Aboriginal bark paintings, photographs depicting early Victorian history, and scientific illustrations that trace the development of scientific art.

In order to tell the fascinating stories behind these collection items, we have created three digital exhibitions within the Google Cultural Institute:

The Art of Science: from Rumphius to Gould (1700-1850)

The Art of Science exhibit The Art of Science exhibit
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Scientific Art in Victoria (1850-1900)

Scientific Art in Victoria exhibit Scientific Art in Victoria exhibit
Source: Museum Victoria
 

A.J. Campbell (1880-1930)

A.J. Campbell exhibit A.J. Campbell exhibit
Source: Museum Victoria
 

These exhibits include stunning photographs and illustrations, curator-narrated videos and in-depth information.

Many of these illustrations come from rare books preserved in our library and, in many cases, accompany the first published descriptions of our unique Australian fauna. The books are available online in their entirety in the Biodiversity Heritage Library, a project funded in Australia by the Atlas of Living Australia.

Spawning sea anenomes

Author
by Michela Mitchell
Publish date
5 November 2014
Comments
Comments (1)

Michela is the first resident taxonomist of Actiniaria (sea anemones) in Australia. This title doesn't come with a ceremonial sash, but it should.

The Field Naturalists Marine Research Group members Joan Hales and Janet Davies sent me this gorgeous photo of the Victorian sea anemone, Oulactis sp., spawning last week.

Spawing sea anemone Female Oulactis sp. spawning with tiny pink eggs on the oral disc.
Image: Joan Hales
Source: Joan Hales
 

Sea anemones are closely related to corals and so, like corals, they spawn under the right conditions and environmental cues, usually in spring and summer. This can be associated with cycles of the moon. This particular anemone reproduces by broadcast spawning; females and males release eggs and sperm into the water column, where the tides and currents brings spermatoza into contact with the eggs for fertilisation.

This method is not for all species of anemones, however. Some have cunningly evolved various methods of reproduction (sexual and asexual) so they can stick around as long as they need to. Some species can even change the way they reproduce: they can clone themselves, they can split in half (fission), or leave a small fragment of their pedal disc (laceration) behind and a whole new anemone can grow. They can even be male and female together (hermaphroditic). They leave nothing to chance ensuring their survival on Earth – so far 600 million years and counting!

Beetle back from the dead

Author
by Ken Walker
Publish date
15 October 2014
Comments
Comments (2)

Ken is our Senior Curator of Entomology.

On Monday last week, live images of an attractive Australian lady beetle popped up on the BowerBird citizen science website photographed west of Portland, Victoria. The photographer recorded seeing more than 50 beetle specimens in a small swampy area.

beetle Micraspis flavovittata ladybird beetle photographed in October 2014.
Image: Reiner Richter
Source: CC BY 3.0 AU
 

There is a wonderful CSIRO lady beetle website with a gallery of images for all known extant Australian species, however we were unable to match the photo to any in this gallery. So we sent the BowerBird images to the Canberra scientist who created the website. His initial reaction was to doubt the veracity of the locality data as he claimed this was not an Australian species. I reconfirmed the Australian locality with the photographer so we began to wonder if this was an invasive species.

The images were then forwarded to the world lady beetle expert at the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London. We received news on Friday night from Roger at the NHM that this is a species "back from the dead". A species not seen or recorded for more than a 50 year period is considered to be extinct. There are only 4 known specimens of this species in collections (2 at the NHM and 2 at Museum Victoria) - the last specimen was collected in 1940!

Micraspis flavovittata Micraspis flavovittata beetle
Image: Reiner Richter
Source: CC BY 3.0 AU
 

This is indeed an Australian species, Micraspis flavovittata (Crotch, 1874). I remember we once had an exhibition at the museum called Extinction is forever…. and so it is, until someone finds it again! The only known localities of this species were Narbethong and Kallista so the Portland location is well west of these previous records.

Many people contend that the best citizen science projects are those in collaboration with professional scientists. Personally, I love the serendipity of citizen science discovery alone.

Links:

BowerBird

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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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