As environmental awareness grows, the demands on taxonomists in museums is increasing. Recognising exotic species, mapping the distribution of species and communities, planning for parks, monitoring for change and climate change all require that biodiversity can be identified and measured. Throughout Australia, the aging cohort of experienced taxonomists is not being replaced and has now reached a critically low level.
Detailed knowledge for many of Australia's animal groups will soon be lost unless understudy researchers can gain essential mentoring and education from the few remaining active taxonomists. The Ian Potter Biodiversity Fellowships support the spread and continuation of this knowledge.
To address this situation, Museum Victoria's Research Committee has recognised the need to develop a robust program to mentor ECRs in biodiversity research. Museum Victoria's research scientists are already playing a mentoring role to early career researchers from Australia and around the world.
This 3-year fellowship is an opportunity for an early career researcher (ECR) to enjoy strong mentoring within the Museum's Science Department working alongside Museum scientists, postdoctoral fellows and visiting researchers within modern facilities including a DNA and Molecular Research laboratory.
Dr Adnan Moussalli was appointed to the first Biodiversity Fellowship in 2007. Adnan's project examined the molecular systematics and phylogeography of the cuttlefish family Sepiidae resulting in a comprehensive revision of the systematics (taxonomy) and biogeography of the family. Through the experience gained from being a Biodiversity Fellow, in 2011, Adnan was appointed as Senior Curator of Terrestrial Invertebrates at Museum Victoria.
In 2012, Dr Karen Rowe was appointed to the second Ian Potter Biodiversity Fellowship. Karen's project used historical museum specimen records to determine how recent changes in climate, land use and other human impacts affected the diversity and distribution of Victoria's birds. The second part of this project involved contemporary surveys of birds at targeted sites within Victoria. These surveys were conducted as part of a series of Bioscan's in collaboration between Museum Victoria and Parks Victoria.
This latest Fellow will investigate a Victorian and/or Australian faunal group in a new area of research facilitated by the completion of the Museum's Ian Potter Australian Wildlife Biobank, particularly in areas of conservation biology, threatened species recovery and/or natural product chemistry.
The fellowship program is beneficial for Museum Victoria, the individual Fellows and the broader community. Due to the success of Dr Moussalli's Fellowship, a permanent position was created at Museum Victoria so his research could continue. Dr Moussalli was also awarded grants from the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility and the Australian Biological Resources Study.
The Museum holds a unique position in combining research and public engagement that has a direct and lasting effect on the community. Through the Ian Potter Biodiversity Fellowship, Museum Victoria has grown in our ability to look past the expiry of a given Fellowship to better utilise the research undertaken by the Fellows and the skills and experience that the Fellowship provides to them for future projects. This ongoing work benefits both the Museum and the wider community, and would not be possible without the research experience that an Ian Potter Biodiversity Fellow at Museum Victoria receives.
Written by Dermot Henry, Acting Head of Sciences, and Sian Jackson-Findlay, Business and Grants Manager, Museum Victoria
The Foundation has just awarded another $300,000 over three years (2016–2018) in support of a third Fellowship program at Museum Victoria bringing our support for this fellowship program to a total of $600,000 over nine years. The Foundation has had a longstanding and strong relationship with Museum Victoria and the fellowships have proven to be very valuable for the Museum, the Fellows and as a contribution to biodiversity research.
Given the success of these fellowships at Melbourne Museum the Foundation has amended our Science objectives to encourage support for more fellowship programs such as this.
Nicole Bortone, Science Program Manager