Plugging the gaps in polychaete knowledge

Unidentified Polychaete of the Serpulidae family.
Image: Gary Cranitch


 By Angus Livingston
 Monday 25 May  2009:
SOME areas of the Australian coastline have been extensively studied for years, resulting in vast amounts of data available on the marine life within them.
Not so Ningaloo.
Without a permanent research station, of which there are a number along the length of the Great Barrier Reef, expeditions to the area take a considerable amount of time and organisation.
That's why Pat Hutchings, Maria Capa, Robin Wilson and Lynda Avery jumped at the chance to be part of the CReefs trip to Ningaloo.
All four work with polychaetes, which have not been studied in any great detail in this part of Australia.
Pat, a Senior Principal Research Scientist at the Australian Museum in Sydney, said it was easier to go to places like Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef, which already had labs and equipment ready.
"You can't just arrive at a place like Ningaloo and expect to find compressors and makeshift labs," she said. "It's a tremendous opportunity to come out here."
This trip will help fill the holes in knowledge about the fauna of this area, even though there are far too many species to be identified and catalogued by the four scientists.
Pat is focused on Terebellidae, and has been collecting up and down the Western Australian coast for the past couple of decades, from the Kimberleys, to Rottnest Island.
"There was a big gap in the middle [at Ningaloo]," she said.
Robin Wilson, the Senior Curator of Marine Invertebrates at Museum Victoria, is also keen to fill in the gaps in this area.
"I'm trying to assemble an Australia-wide dataset, which can inform management decisions," he said.
"Australia is surprisingly poorly supplied with such datasets at the moment."
The four scientists have collected hundreds of samples, but they will only focus on their own special families. The rest of the samples will be sorted to family and made available to researchers from around the world who want to study them.
Pat and Maria have recently been awarded an ABRS/CReefs grant to study polychaetes, which will allow them to continue their work for the next three years.