Polychaete worms

Phyllodocid polychaete
An undescribed species of predatory polychaete, family Phyllodocidae.
Image: Robin Wilson
Source: Museum Victoria

Polychaeta are segmented worms – they are mostly marine, and are so numerous and diverse that they are ecologically dominant in many marine habitats. Polychaete research at Museum Victoria is led by Dr Robin Wilson. His primary research interests are:

Identification guides

Any ecologist involved with detailed study of marine environments will inevitably encounter polychaetes and will need to identify them. Since there are more than 1200 species known in Australia, that is not a trivial problem. So a primary goal has been the provision of identification guides for ecologists and other marine biologists, using interactive keys and the internet to make taxonomic information available as widely as possible. This work resulted in the publication in 2003 of Polychaetes: an interactive identification guide on CD, allowing the identification of all known Australian Polychaete species. However this is becoming of date, with many new species and taxonomic revisions having occurred in the past decade so Dr Wilson and his co-authors are revising this information for online. The polychaete fauna of Port Phillip Bay is also now documented, with the most commonly-encountered species now online as part of the Port Phillip Bay Taxonomic Toolkit.

Ultimately the aim is to have the entire polychaete fauna of our region available online via the Encyclopaedia of Life and the museum's own collections online Identification guides for polychaete species that have been accidentally introduced through shipping are online at the PaDIL (Pests and Diseases Image Library) web site.

New species

Wherever we go in Australian marine environments, we encounter animals never before described. Publishing descriptions of these new species is an ongoing task. Recent new species descriptions have been published in the families Eulepethidae, Nereididae, Polygordiidae and Spionidae. Current projects will result in further new species of Nereididae, Phyllodocidae and Polynoidae.

Bioregional analysis

Polychaetes are so abundant and widespread that they can provide large databases required for bioregional analysis – studies comparing patterns of diversity around the Australian coast. Dr Wilson is now collaborating with colleagues to generate new bioregional analyses for Australia.

Evolutionary relationships

Research into evolutionary relationships will allow us to reach a better understanding of the origin of Australia's marine life. This is the goal of studies now being undertaken by Dr Wilson on three Polychaete families: Nereididae (with Dr Chris Glasby of the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory and Dr Torkild Bakken of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology), and Polynoidae (with Dr Kristian Fauchald of the Smithsonian Institution).

Page updated 14 February 2013

Image Gallery

Polynoid marine worm