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.

The New Holland mouse

Author
by Phoebe Burns
Publish date
31 July 2015
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The New Holland mouse (Pseudomys novaehollandiae) is one of Victoria’s threatened native rodents. The charismatic little species has only been recorded in three areas across the state in the past 15 years (the blue dots in the map below), whereas historically it was recorded in ten, including metropolitan Melbourne (the red dots in the map below). That’s why I embarked upon a PhD to determine the status of NHMs across Victoria and help protect this species from further decline.

New Holland mouse detection sites New Holland mouse detection sites across Victoria. Red dots indicate sites in areas where the species has not been detected in at least 15 years, blue dots indicate areas with more recent detections. Dates show the range of years during which New Holland mice were known at each site.

One of the greatest challenges for studying the status and conservation of New Holland mice (and many native Australian rodents) is that they can be very difficult to find; you can’t just see them with your binoculars or hear them calling in the bush. Many native rodents, including NHMs, go through natural periods where they persist in such low numbers that traditional survey efforts fail to detect them. New Holland mice are also particularly fickle about their habitat preferences and may only persist locally for a few years before moving on, making their populations even more difficult to track.

New Holland mouse captured and released New Holland mouse captured and released using live trapping.
Image: Phoebe Burns

That’s why I’ve been trialling the use of cameras to detect the New Holland mouse. Traditional live trapping can be a great method for detecting a species in an area, and it’s critical if I want to know about health and reproduction, estimate abundance, or get DNA samples. However, sometimes when a species is at low densities, it takes a huge amount of effort to be reasonably confident that the species isn’t there, which in a world of limited time and funding drastically reduces the area you can survey. This is a real challenge when your species moves in the landscape.

This is where cameras can come in handy – you set them once and, rather than having to come back every morning and afternoon to check each trap, you can just leave them in place for weeks at a time. The animals are attracted to a tasty lure (I like to use peanut butter, oats, golden syrup and vanilla essence), and while they investigate, the camera senses the heat and motion and snaps a photo.

New Holland mouse Camera trap image of a New Holland mouse clinging to a bait station.
Image: Phoebe Burns

Cameras allow you to survey much wider areas, for longer periods of time with a fraction of the effort of live trapping – at least until you have to sift through all the images and identify the animals. Once I know that NHMs are present in an area from the camera trapping, I can target those areas for live trapping to collect the rest of my data. My challenge, and the reason I did a camera trial, rather than just jumping straight into using cameras as a survey method, was identifying New Holland mice in the images.

New Holland mouse and house mouse Camera trap image of a New Holland mouse climbing on a bait station with a house mouse standing up against the base.
Image: Phoebe Burns

Rodents tend to look very similar on camera, particularly if the images are in black and white. It doesn’t help that New Holland mice are about the same size as the non-native house mice (Mus musculus); they can be hard for some people to tell apart when they are holding them in their hand. Since the house mouse has infiltrated all known New Holland mouse habitat in Victoria, I needed to tell them apart from less than perfect images in colour and in black and white.

New Holland mice and house mice Infrared camera trap images of New Holland mice (left) and house mice (right) investigating bait stations.
Image: Phoebe Burns
 

Tens of thousands of images later, I can happily say that New Holland mice and house mice are distinguishable from one another in both colour and black and white images. In the colour images the species can be distinguished by differences in colouration, but in black and white the distinction is all in the shape of the two rodents. New Holland mice have a much sturdier build, a thickset neck and a snubby nose, whereas house mice are much more slender, with a pointed nose. It's not unlike the difference between rugby and footy players.

Now that I’ve got the IDs sorted, I’ll be using cameras (and live traps) to survey across Victoria and see where the New Holland mouse is persisting, so that we can do our best to halt the species’ further decline.

You can follow my PhD progress and fieldwork on Twitter and at my website to stay up to date with the status of New Holland mice as I search for them throughout Victoria.

Additionally, you can try your hand at identifying New Holland mice in my New Holland mouse quiz.

Welcome to the family, Pluto

Author
by Tanya Hill
Publish date
16 July 2015
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image of planets Welcome to the family. Ben Gross/twitter, CC BY-SA

What an amazing time for space exploration. The picture of the solar system from my childhood is now complete, as seen in this great family portrait produced by Ben Gross, a research fellow at the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and distributed via twitter.

I love this image because it shows each world in close-up, using some of the latest pictures from space exploration. As we celebrate seeing Pluto for the first time, it’s remarkable to think that this completes a 50 year task.

It has been NASA that has provided the first close-up views of all these worlds. Here’s the rundown:

  • Mercury: Mariner 10 (1973)
  • Venus: Mariner 2 (1962)
  • Mars: Mariner 4 (1965)
  • Jupiter: Pioneer 10 (1973)
  • Saturn: Pioneer 11 (1979)
  • Uranus: Voyager 2 (1985)
  • Neptune: Voyager 2 (1989) and
  • Pluto: New Horizons (2015)

But science never stays still. When New Horizons left Earth in January 2006, Pluto was a planet. Later that year an important reassessment was made of the Solar System and Pluto became the first of the dwarf planets.

The ‘Not-Planets’

The Planetary Society’s Senior Editor, Emily Lakdawalla, has teamed together the ‘Not-Planets’. These are the close-up views, shown to scale, that have been captured of the largest moons, asteroids and dwarf planets.

image of non-planets in the solar system Montage by Emily Lakdawalla. The Moon: Gari Arrillaga. Other data: NASA/JPL/JHUAPL/SwRI/UCLA/MPS/IDA. Processing by Ted Stryk, Gordan Ugarkovic, Emily Lakdawalla, and Jason Perry.

It clearly shows that there are many diverse and interesting worlds to explore beyond the eight planets of our solar system.

New Horizons is the first spacecraft to start exploring the Kuiper Belt, an icy realm of objects orbiting 5 billion kilometres or more beyond the sun. It’s the chance to observe a dwarf planet, something distinct from the terrestrial planets and the gas giants.

It was in 1992 that astronomers discovered Pluto was not alone. The first Kuiper Belt Object, designated 1992 QB1, is a 100-kilometre sized object that orbits well beyond Pluto.

Now more than 1,000 objects have been detected in this realm, and the belt likely contains many more. Most are small compared to Pluto, but there are some stand-outs such as Quaoar, and the dwarf planets Eris, Makemake and Haumea.

Don’t forget to phone home

The suspense of the mission has certainly been high. To maximise the amount of data that New Horizons could collect, the spacecraft did not communicate with Earth for the duration of the flyby. As described by Mission Operations Manager Alice Bowman, it was the moment when you let your child free.

The team had prepared New Horizons, told it what work needed to be done and in that radio silence they had to trust that all would go to plan.

Just before 11am today (AEST), New Horizons checked in – showing it to be the perfect child to the relief of its many anxious “parents”. It was only a brief phone home, but in that short time the scientists confirmed that all telemetry was spot-on, the spacecraft followed the path that had been set for it and there were no error messages recorded on any of the systems.

No data was transferred in that brief connection, but it was established that the main computer system, which records all the data collected by the spacecraft, showed the expected number of segments had been used. In other words, data had been collected.

We will soon see Pluto and Charon in even higher resolution. Their geology will be mapped, the surface compositions and temperatures will be measured, atmospheres will be probed and new discoveries will be made.

A love note from Pluto

It’s also been wonderful to see the public become so enthralled with the latest image from Pluto. Humans are incredibly good at spotting patterns and it seems that Pluto wears his heart on his sleeve for us.

 

I’m also equally intrigued to discover that the smooth part of Pluto’s heart is made of carbon monoxide ice. This was already known from ground-based observations, except never before seen in such detail. It’s reassuring to have a good match between the old and new data.

But look again … is it a heart or something entirely different stealing the show?

 

 

Tanya Hill is Honorary Fellow of the University of Melbourne and Senior Curator (Astronomy) at Museum Victoria.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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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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.

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