Mark McGrouther, Australian Museum Collection Manager and Fish Biologist, talks about how his work and how it relates to Biodiversity.
Hi. My name is Mark –Mark McGrouther.
I’m the fish collection manager here at the Australian Museum. I’m gonna tell you a little bit about what biodiversity means to me. Perhaps I should start by saying the fish fauna of Australia is massive. There’s over 4,400 species in the country. In fact, Sydney Harbour alone has nearly 600 species recorded from it, and when you compare that to the 350 species that occur in north-western Europe, including the UK, you can see that we actually live around a marine gem – Sydney Harbour.
Our role here at the Australian Museum is to document that biodiversity, and to do that, one of the primary tools is our research collection. We have a massive collection – over 1.6 million specimens of fishes. When you compare that to other fish collections around the world, it’s a medium-sized collection.
Some of them are just massive. What we do with those specimens is we do research on them, but not just us here, ’cause there aren’t enough people in Australia to do the research.
We lend specimens to scientists all over the world who will do research on the biology or taxonomy or systematics – whatever – of that particular group. Where do the specimens come from? They come from a whole range of different places. Sometimes from students from universities, sometimes from fisheries, DPI, and quite often from the general public.
You know, people might say, “Well, I’ve been fishing in the harbour here for 20 years “and I pulled up a green fish I’ve never seen before. Tell me what it is.”
But in addition to that, about once a year, the ‘fishos’, as I call them – the people in the fish department here at the Museum – we’ll go on a trip somewhere. Where we go we decide by looking at our database beforehand. All the specimens in the collection, I might add, are databased.
We’ll query the database and we’ll find out there are gaps in particular areas and we’ll go to those areas and collect specimens to try to increase
our knowledge of the region. In fact, a month or so ago, we went down to Ulladulla, down the south coast of NSW,and we collected specimens there. We haven’t worked those up yet, but once we do, we’ll probably find out there may be new species, or at least new distributional records.
I should actually tell you about probably the most impressive trip we did as far as new records and new species go, and that was back in 1982. John Paxton, a colleague of mine, and I went out on this whaler – a CSIRO vessel. We spent three weeks at sea off the North West Shelf of Western Australia.
We came back from that trip with 18 black poly drums full of specimens, and in the 20… What is it? ..27 years or something since that trip, there have been numerous new species described on those specimens that we brought back from that trip.
So, like I said this trip to Ulladulla – it mightn’t be quite as dramatic as that trip up to the North West Shelf, but we’re bound to get new species
records, perhaps new species as well.
And I think, perhaps in closing, I should say that’s one of the really exciting things about working here. You feel that what you’re doing – your job – is actually contributing to increasing understanding about biodiversity.
Last Updated: 8 December 2011
Mark McGrouther with Bull Shark jaws View full size
Photographer: R. Pearce © R. Pearce
Gummy Shark with mutant colouration View full size
Photographer: Torsten Blackwood © ImageForum Torsten Blackwood - AFP
1 William Street
NSW 2010 Australia