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DISPLAYING POSTS FROM: Nov 2011 (17)

In-Flight flights of fancy

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
30 November 2011
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Seated around an enormous pile of industrial offcuts and repurposed bits and pieces, MV staff launched themselves In-Flight last Friday in a special after-hours aeroplane construction session.

Staff seated around table, making planes. Staff working on their planes. Completed planes are suspended above them.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
 

In-Flight is one of three parts of Another Country, a project at the Immigration Museum by Filipino-born, Brisbane-based artists Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan, that comprises displays, workshops and art installations. The series examines what it's like to leave your country and make a new home elsewhere.

"We make art-making as fun as possible. In-Flight asks people to create their own little aeroplanes. Of course, when you talk about aeroplanes it's about going from point A to point B. But at the same time there are a lot of other things that go into it – it becomes an object of memory, it could also become an object of fear. So one way to demystify this object is for us to get people to come and make their own little aeroplanes."

"It's good to have non-artists create things. If you get them involved not just as a passive observer but as an active participant, then that's the best way to get interested in art."

-Alfredo Aquilizan, interviewed on 3RRR FM

 

Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan Artists Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan who created In-Flight as part of their Another Country series.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
 

It's rare for grown-ups to have a chance to play like this, especially at work. Recycled rubber bands, icy pole sticks, bits of plastic and cardboard tubes became wonderful model aircraft to join the installation of planes suspended above the work table. Some staff rejected any pretence of aerodynamic qualities while others painstakingly replicated real aeroplanes, complete with engines, landing gear and propellers.

MV staff and the planes they made at In-Flight MV staff with the planes they made for In-Flight.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
 

You can make a plane, to take home or to join the In-Flight installation, at the Immigration Museum until 31 January 2012.

Links:

MV Staff In-Flight flickr set

Bush Blitz at Neds Corner

Author
by Mark Norman
Publish date
30 November 2011
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Mark is Head of Sciences at Museum Victoria. He's reporting back from Neds Corner in this series of blog posts.

Researchers from the museum's Sciences and Live Exhibits departments have gathered in the far north-west corner of Victoria to survey the wildlife of Neds Corner Station on the state's desert fringe. The Neds Corner survey is part of the Bush Blitz program, a biodiversity discovery partnership between the Australian Government, BHP Billiton and Earthwatch Australia. It aims to document the plants and animals across Australia's National Reserve System. The 30,000 hectare reserve is managed by the Trust for Nature, an independent not-for-profit organisation that purchases and permanently protects properties to conserve nature.

Saltbush Saltbush at Ned's Corner
Image: Mark Norman
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The survey encompasses animals, plants and fungi, so the museum team has joined scientists from the National Herbarium of Victoria, the Queensland Museum and the University of New South Wales. They have also been joined by five staff from BHP's Environmental Division around Australia, who will be aiding the researchers in the field and lab.

Ned's Corner Bush Blitz team The Ned's Corner Bush Blitz team.
Source: Museum Victoria

The aim is to survey across the many arid fringe habitats found in the Neds Corner reserve including saltbush plains, mallee scrub, clay pans, sandy rises and amongst the River Red Gums and Black Box eucalypts that line the adjacent Murray River.

Ned's Corner habitats Habitats at Ned's Corner. Above: River Red Gum forest. Below: Black Box eucalypts.
Image: Mark Norman
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The survey runs from 21 November to 2 December and the museum team are using extensive visual and acoustic surveys, pitfall trap lines, small mammal traps, baited cage traps, bat sonic listening devices and moth light stations to census the wildlife.

two types of traps Two types of traps in use at Ned's Corner. Above: small mammal trap Below: pitfall trap
Image: Mark Norman
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Bush Blitz is a biodiversity partnership discovery program between the Australian Government, BHP Billiton and Earthwatch Australia, that aims to document the plants and animals across Australia's National Reserve System. Museum Victoria also participated in Bush Blitz at Lake Condah in March 2011.

Links:

Parks Australia blog

Bush Blitz

Two more science Masters

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
28 November 2011
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Following on from the student hand-in trifecta post, here are two more Masters projects recently completed by students working in the museum’s Natural Sciences Department. Both students performed genetic analysis on local lizard species.

Pete Smissen examined the geographic movement of the Lace Monitor (Varanus varius) over time. About 25,000-20,000 years ago, Australia experienced its Last Glacial Maximum, when the climate was colder and drier than it is currently.

Fieldwork with Lace Monitors Pete's fieldwork with Lace Monitors. Left: Weighing an animal in the field. Right: A Lace Monitor basking in a sunny tree.
Image: Peter Smissen
Source: Peter Smissen
 

Analysing mitochondrial DNA (which is only passed down maternal lines), Pete found that there are three genetically distinct groups of Lace Monitors in Australia that have been evolving independently since the time of the Last Glacial Maximum. This suggests that the species persisted through these cold times in small refugia then dispersed broadly as temperatures increased. When he looked at fast-evolving nuclear DNA, (which is inherited from both parents), he found similar population clusters across Australia, but little genetic structure in a smaller geographic area in Gippsland. This lack of structure is a different pattern to that found in many other species, but is consistent with Lace Monitors being large, mobile, generalist animals.

Luisa Teasdale examined the variable colouration found in male Tawny Dragons (Ctenophorus decresii). Some males have vibrant orange patches on their throats while others are quite drab.

Four distinct colour morphs in Tawny Dragons The four distinct throat colour morphs in Tawny Dragons.
Image: Luisa Teasdale
Source: Luisa Teasdale
 

By analysing digital photographs for colour and pattern combined with genetic tecniques, she found evidence that there are four distinctly different morphs that seem to be genetically clustered. This suggests that even though there is one interbreeding population, the lizards breed preferentially with their own morph. Her work poses some interesting questions about how the four morphs differ in other respects, such as behaviour or life history, and what keeps them separate even within the same population.

Congratulations to Luisa and Pete for completing their fascinating projects!

Links:

Information for prospective students

Lizards of Victoria infosheet series

Mountain life beneath the sea

Author
by David Staples
Publish date
25 November 2011
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David helps manage MV's Marine Invertebrates collections. He has specialist knowledge of the pycnogonids, or sea spiders.

So, what am I doing here seemingly in the middle of nowhere, 2000km south-east of Capetown and 1500km south of Madagascar?

I have joined an expedition aboard the 95m British Royal Research Ship ‘James Cook’ with a team of scientists exploring seamounts and hydrothermal vents along the South West Indian Ridge (SWIR). Seamounts are mountains under the sea, while hydrothermal vents are fissures in the Earth’s surface from which water heated by volcanic activity issues.

The Royal Research Ship ‘James Cook’ in calm seas. The Royal Research Ship ‘James Cook’ in calm seas.
Image: David Staples
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The SWIR is the tectonic plate boundary that bisects the ocean between Antarctica and Africa and links the Mid-Atlantic ridge and Central Indian Ridge systems. The Central Indian Ridge runs below Australia (as the South Eastern Indian Ridge) and it is speculated that these ridges and the currents they generate may be migration pathways for seamount and vent fauna between the Atlantic, Indian and ultimately the Pacific Oceans.

Map of research cruise route The proposed route for the research cruise exploring the South West Indian Ridge south of South Africa and Madagascar.
Source: IUCN
 

The main focus of this expedition is to investigate the benthic assemblages on these seamounts using a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV). The ROV being used is the German ‘Kiel 6000’ which comes with a crew of eight technicians. As its name suggests, this ROV is capable of reaching depths of 6000m.

Remotely Operated Vehicle Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) ‘Kiel 6000’, built by Schilling Robotics, Germany and owned and operated by GEOMAR.
Image: David Staples
Source: Museum Victoria
 

On board are oceanographers, geophysicists and biologists all contributing their expertise. We are presently above the Coral Seamount, the top of which comes to within about 300m of the surface; much shallower than the 750m of ocean typical of the seamounts south of Tasmania. While at greater depths some aspects of the fauna are common to both regions, the abundant and diverse fauna found on the upper reaches of this seamount are quite different. It is rare to be able to study fauna at these shallower depths.

In 1999 two moorings, each carrying packets of whale bones and mango wood logs, were experimentally deployed on this seamount and on the Atlantis Bank in expectation that the bones would be colonised by as yet undescribed specialist organisms, such as polychaetes and bivalves. We located the Coral Seamount mooring on our third dive and part of today’s program has been to collect the bones and wood for later analysis. Collections and data from this region are of great interest internationally but closer to home they provide valuable information for the museum’s own scientists for their research projects.

For those interested in keeping abreast of events, Aurélie Spadone (representing the International Union for the Conservation of Nature) is keeping a blog of the expedition.

Octopus on dry land

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
24 November 2011
Comments
Comments (1)

A YouTube video, Octopus Walks on Land at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is doing the rounds at the moment and generating a bit of online discussion about this fascinating behaviour.

Dr Julian Finn filmed a similar event in Broome a few years back where a small, unnamed octopus (Abdopus sp.) crawled between rock pools at low tide. He says that it's not uncommon for intertidal octopuses to roam between pools in hunt of prey such as crabs or fish. They may also flee their tide pool to escape the attention of bigger, hungrier octopuses! In this video, he explains more about these terrestrial adventures.

 

Watch this video with a transcript

Like all cephalopods, octopuses breathe through gills and won't survive for long out of water. Julian has only seen octopuses crawl over dry land where the chance of them being trapped out of water is minimal. In captivity, it's not unknown for octopuses to turn up in strange places after breaking out of their tanks – including one that was found in a staircase!

Links:

MV Blog: Blue-ringed octopus project

MV News: Argonaut buoyancy

MV News: Tool use in Veined Octopus

Crayfish climbing trees

Author
by Blair
Publish date
22 November 2011
Comments
Comments (5)

Roll over Drop Bears, there's a new, real threat in the trees of Wilsons Promontory - freshwater crayfish!

I reckon the best story from the recent Prom Bioscan for Parks Victoria is the discovery of freshwater crayfish climbing trees. Forget that a huge whale washed ashore nearby, forget the species found that had never been recorded from the area, and ignore all the hype around helicopters, it should be all about these partly arboreal crustaceans that are only known from the Prom.

Engaeus australis at Wilsons Prom. Freshwater crayfish Engaeus australis at Wilsons Prom.
Image: Adnan Moussalli
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Our freshwater ecologist Dr Richard Marchant was among the researchers to see the Engaeus crayfish on tree trunks and branches. He's worked around streams and rivers throughout Victoria for over 25 years and this is the first time he's seen this.

"It's a mystery why this mainly burrow-dwelling species would be in the trees when their food is on the ground. Clearly there's something new here that we didn't know about this Prom population. Unfortunately on this trip there wasn't time to find out more." said Richard.

"It has been only recently appreciated that from an evolutionary point of view insects are just 'flying crustaceans'. While tree-climbing crayfish suggest a hankering for an aerial existence among crustaceans there is no evidence that this is how they took to the skies and evolved wings!" said Dr. Gary Poore, another of the museum's crayfish experts, when he heard of the finding.

When I heard the story, my thoughts went immediately to the mythical Drop Bear - a furry clawed beast the size of a dog that, legend has it, lives in trees in Australia and drops down on people as they walk below. At only a finger-length long, perhaps 8cm or so, these little crustaceans wouldn't do much damage if they did drop on someone, but you still might be at risk of a nip from their tiny claws on your shoulder if they did.

Normally sticklers for poking around in rivers and digging burrows with mini mountains of mud as entrances, the aquatic Engaeus crayfish were seen in a remote area of the Prom off limits to the public, so rest assured – hikers and campers this summer will be safe.

Engaeus australis at Wilsons Prom. Freshwater crayfish Engaeus australis at Wilsons Prom.
Image: Adnan Moussalli
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The species in the trees was Engaeus australis and is only known to occur at Wilsons Prom. A few other Engaeus species also live at the Prom, but they also occur elsewhere in Victoria. Engaeus crayfish are related to yabbies (genus Cherax) and the larger Murray River and Spiny crayfishes (genus Euastacus). There are 22 Engaeus species that occur in several parts of Victoria, and about 10 other species of crayfish, together making Victoria one of the world's most diverse areas for freshwater crayfish.

Links:

Infosheet: Land crayfish

Engaeus australis on the IUCN Redlist

Australian Museum: Drop Bear

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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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