Research

DISPLAYING POSTS FILED UNDER: Research (140)

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.

Transcribing field diaries

Author
by Nicole K
Publish date
19 March 2015
Comments
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
Comments
Comments (0)

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

Fin win was no whale fail

Author
by Colin
Publish date
3 October 2014
Comments
Comments (0)

You may call me crazy for putting my hand up again for the chance to end up knee-deep in a decomposing whale. This time, the whale that washed up on Levy’s Beach near Warrnambool in Western Victoria was a Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus). Fin Whales are the second largest species of whale and can reach up to about 25m long and weigh more than 50 tons! They feed mostly on krill and can consume between one and two tonnes per day during the summer months when ocean productivity is high.

Fin Whale washed up a beach The Fin Whale washed up on the beach.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria

Upon hearing of the news of the wash up, Museum Victoria put together a team to retrieve it, along with the Australian Marine Mammal Conservation Foundation (AMMCF) and Melbourne Zoo. The Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI), Parks Victoria and the Cultural Heritage Officer were of great assistance in organising planning, logistics, contractors, public engagement and working near the significant cultural heritage sites in the area.

Bentley Bird on the beach MV's Assistant Vertebrate Collections Manager Bentley Bird ‘gloves up’ ready for tissue sampling.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria

Kate Charlton-Robb with the Fin Whale Australian Marine Mammal Conservation Foundation’s founding director Kate Charlton-Robb collects a tissue sample for future research.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria

Whale on beach A wave crashes over the whale’s starboard side. Strong wave action like this posed a significant risk and required the delicate skills of two excavators to move it higher up the beach.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria

Measuring a whale We took morphometric measurements prior to dissection which will add to what we currently know about the biology of the species.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria

Sarah Frith with dead whale Melbourne Zoo veterinarian Sarah Frith takes a stab at removing the eye.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Excavator working with whale on beach Tools of the trade: The excavator was invaluable when it came to removing the blubber layer and heavy lifting
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria

Tools used to dissect whale More tools of the trade: hooks, knives and flensing tools are essential for the removal of blubber (flensing) and flesh from the skeleton.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Brendan Taylor working on the whale Preparator Brendan Taylor gets to work removing flesh and blubber.
Image: Rob Zugaro
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Burying whale bones By day two the carcass no longer resembled a whale. The bones were taken to a private location and buried to allow for bacteria and other flesh eating organisms to clean the skeleton. The cleaned bones will be retrieved in 12-18 months and added to the museum’s collection.
Image: Rob Zugaro
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The support provided by the Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI), Parks Victoria, the local Indigenous representatives and the enthusiastic farmer who allowed for the storage of bones on his property, was second to none. Without their resources and assistance, the recovery could have not taken place.

Links:

Australian Marine Mammal Conservation Foundation

Cryptozoology – imagination, science or folklore?

Author
by Wayne
Publish date
4 September 2014
Comments
Comments (3)

Where I grew up as a child, in Victoria's Wimmera-Mallee, there were persistent tales of strange animal sightings that fell outside the realm of science. Stories of Pumas, Cougars (which are actually the same thing) or other "Big Cats" living in the Grampians, for example, often seeped into school ground conversations. As a proto-scientist at this stage of my life (reared on Attenborough, How-and-Why books and old issues of National Geographic) I had developed a degree of scepticism to such stories – I knew to keep my 'bulldust detector' switched on but also kept my mouth shut - after all, everybody loves a good campfire story.

Jaguar A Jaguar Panthera onca. Just one of the numerous species of big cats probably not found in the Grampians.
Image: Benamin Healley
Source: Museum Victoria
 
My teenaged mind would sometimes wander - so what if, just supposing for a moment, there really were large felines prowling the forests near Wartook in the Grampians, just an hours drive away? On nearly every occasion, the story-teller swore that their tale was true – to cast doubt on the validity was regarded as an insult to the story-teller's family, as inevitably they were retelling something a family member had seen. Hence, keeping the mouth shut was a wise option– it was a small town, after all.

In later years, I had need to move a little over a hundred kilometres to the west and found that a similar local story existed near Mt Arapiles – the stalking ground of the infamous "Ozenkadnook Tiger". By this stage of my life, my bulldust detector was more finely calibrated, and it pinged incessantly in my head when I heard stories on this animal – but was it really a myth? Everyone who spoke of it swore it was true....but empirical scientific evidence – in the form of clear photographs, verified footprints, samples of fur or other remains - were uniformly thin on the ground, so to speak (although a photograph of an indistinct animal did make its way to the front of the local newspaper in the 1960s, and is analysed in some detail here)

Thylacine A Thylacine Thylacinus cyanocephalus. Might this be a relative of the Ozenkadnook Tiger? Probably not.
Image: Heath Warwick
Source: Museum Victoria

As it transpires, almost every region of rural Australia has their own tales of strange animals, complete with oral accounts, familial anecdotes and rich folkloric traditions, from bunyips to big cats to presumed late-surviving megafauna. Whilst great fun, these stories are the realm of cryptozoology – a mix of folklore, imagination and pseudoscience – defined as the study of animals whose existence has not been proven. As I'm now a fully-realised scientist, my attitude to cryptozoology is uniform – whether it's Nessie, Bigfoot or the Ozenkadnook Tiger, hard evidence is the cornerstone of the scientific process – without empirical evidence, this is sadly pseudoscience.

So, whilst my bulldust detector remains active and fully charged, nobody would be happier than I to be presented with definitive, empirical evidence of these animals. Sightings, family stories and other anecdotal evidence are simply not enough. In the spirit of true science, we remain unmoved until provided with empirical evidence.

In the meantime, sightings and the like can be lodged via the Australian Rare Fauna Research Association. But not us!

About this blog

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

Categories