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Posts Tagged ‘University of Melbourne School of Biosciences’

Thursday, January 14th, 2016

Twenty new freshwater fish species uncovered in the Kimberley

Researchers have discovered a record 20 new fish species while conducting fieldwork in the remote Kimberley, unveiling it as Australia’s most biodiverse region for freshwater fish.

University of Melbourne sciences

University of Melbourne researchers conducting fieldwork in the Kimberley (Photo credit: University of Melbourne)

It is the single greatest addition to the country’s freshwater fish inventory since records began and boosts the total number of known species in Australia by almost 10 per cent.

The research team included Associate Professor Tim Dempster, Professor Stephen Swearer, James Shelley, Matthew Le Feuvre (University of Melbourne), Dr Martin Gomon (Museum Victoria) and Dr Michael Hammer (NT Museum).

Team leader Dr Tim Dempster, from the University of Melbourne School of Biosciences, says the discovery highlights the hidden wealth of biodiversity within the Kimberley.

“The freshwater ecosystems of the Kimberley are among the poorest known and least researched areas of Australia,” Dr Dempster said.

“If we can double the number of known fish species unique to the Kimberley in just three years, it can only mean the entire biodiversity of life in Kimberley rivers is underestimated.

“Certainly, it is a treasure trove for freshwater fish, and the amazing thing is that we weren’t even looking for it.”

Dr Dempster’s researchers were in the Kimberley to study the extinction risks for the region’s existing freshwater fish, results of which have just been published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography.

Lead author of the paper, Matthew Le Feuvre, said, “Many of the 18 known and 20 newly discovered species unique to the Kimberley share similar characteristics with fish species elsewhere in Australia that are conservation listed as vulnerable, threatened or endangered.

“However, currently no fish species in the Kimberley are conservation-listed, despite their potential vulnerability.”

The new species were discovered during nine months of fieldwork across 17 Kimberley rivers between 2012 and 2014.

Twelve of the 20 species were discovered within a three-week period in 2013 by James Shelley and Matthew Le Feuvre when they accessed some of the most remote rivers in Australia by helicopter.

Sampling was challenging, with Mr Shelley attacked by a freshwater crocodile while snorkeling in the Glenelg river on the Kimberley plateau.

The new species fall within three categories:

  1. Terapontidae (grunters) 16 new species
  2. Eleotridae (gudgeons) three new species
  3. Atherinidae (hardy heads) one new species

One of the new species—a 25cm-long grunter found in the remote and spectacular Prince Regent River—is set to be named after writer and novelist Tim Winton.

“It’s in recognition of his contribution to Australia’s cultural life, his love of fish which shines through in many of his novels, and his staunch advocacy for conservation in the Kimberley,” Mr Shelley said.

Mr Winton said it was “surprisingly gratifying” to have his name attached to a new species of fish.

“The Kimberley is a treasure that clearly requires more study and greater protection and groundbreaking discoveries like these underline just how much there is still to learn about this special region,” Mr Winton said.

All the remaining new species will receive a common name reflecting the aboriginal name for the area it was collected from or words describing its features, as well as a Latin scientific name.

The research team hopes the discovery strengthens conservation efforts in the Kimberley.

“Fish are just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “This discovery has major implications for conservation, particularly in light of the Federal Government’s moves to modify water resources in northern Australia.

“A lot of these new fish species are unique to just one catchment, so they’re particularly vulnerable if there is a change to their limited habitat.”

The University of Melbourne and Dr Dempster are in the process of creating a conservation fund that would aim to protect Australia’s 220-plus freshwater fish and other marine fauna.

It is hoped the fund will be formally established later this month.

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Would you like more information about science degrees at the University of Melbourne? Contact OzTREKK Admissions Officer Shannon Tilston for more information at shannon@oztrekk.com or call toll free in Canada at 1-866-698-7355.

Friday, November 6th, 2015

University of Melbourne environmental scientist receives award

Dr Jane Elith has been awarded the 2015 Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year, one of the six awards in the annual Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science.

University of Melbourne Environmental Sciences

Dr Elith (Photo credit: University of Melbourne)

Dr Elith is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow at the University of Melbourne School of Biosciences and a member of the Centre of Excellence for Bioscecurity Risk Analysis (CEBRA).

The award recognises her contributions to environmental management worldwide including the development and assessment of methods for tracking and predicting invasive species that attack Australian crops and natural environments.

These species distribution models have been used by governments, land and catchment managers and conservationists around the world to help map the spread of cane toads, and compare the implications of development options in the Tiwi Islands for threatened plants and animals that have largely disappeared from the mainland.

Dr Elith says the field is is a niche that fits her well.

“I’ve ended up in an area which links my interest in nature and my liking for data and models,” she added.

“The Atlas of Living Australia database has 50 million species records. But we know that there are issues with that data. It wasn’t collected for modelling. Most of the records are close to roads and towns, for instance, or clustered in the favourite national parks of field biologists. The models need to deal with those sorts of biases.”

Dr Elith collaborates with the world’s foremost statisticians, computer scientists and ecologists to puzzle out how to extract useful information from data and combine and relate it to measurements and estimates of characteristics of the environment.

She then passes on what she has learned to environmental managers and decision makers in the form of guides and tools to using different techniques of modelling species distribution, and the suitability and drawbacks of each one.

Dr Elith explains she uses statistical models to describe the patterns of species we see, where and how frequently they occur in the environments they encounter.

Her guides are some of the most highly referenced environmental publications in the world. In nearly two-thirds of papers that cite her work, at least one of the scientists is from a government land management agency or private environmental consulting company.

Recognized as one of the most influential environmental scientists in the world, in the field of environment and ecology she is the 11th most cited author worldwide over the past 10 years, and is the only Australian woman on the highly cited list, according to the information company Thomson Reuters.

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Are you interested in environmental sciences? Find out more about studying at the University of Melbourne! Contact OzTREKK Australian Environmental Sciences Admissions Officer Rachel Brady at rachel@oztrekk.com.