Study into Australia’s oldest invertebrates

A new partnership between Museums Victoria and Monash University will enable the first research into newly-discovered arthropods, including insects, arachnids and hexapods, up to 54 million years old.

The project will use the first significant find of amber ever in Australia to examine arthropods that were alive when Australia was still part of Gondwanaland. Plants, animals and microorganisms were caught in amber, which is solidified sticky tree resin, and became fossilised in a form which allowed them to be perfectly preserved as when they died, despite being millions of years old. Some even retain traces of colour.

The project opens up a new window of research opportunities for Australia in amber palaeontology, which has previously been concentrated in the Northern Hemisphere, especially Eastern Europe and many other countries.

“It’s absolutely astonishing. You look down a microscope and you can see everything. So much better than looking at a fossil, although these are technically fossilised,” said Museums Victoria entomologist Dr Ken Walker.

Dr Walker and Dr Rolf Schmidt from MV will work with Monash University Associate Professor Jeffrey Stilwell and his team, using large pieces of amber found by Professor Stilwell in Victoria and Tasmania.

The amber project is one of four new co-operative research projects between Museums Victoria and Monash University, through the Robert Blackwood Partnership. The Partnership provides seed funding for projects that are likely to be developed into an Australian Research Council Linkage Project or will attract follow-on funding from another source and will be sustainable beyond the life of the project.

Other projects are:

  • A study which combines health-based, arts-based and museum-learning approaches to look at how Museums Victoria resources, objects and experiences can be used for health and wellbeing
  • A project which combines MV’s curatorial expertise with Monash Ancient Cultures capabilities to prepare object biographies with digital data sets
  • A study of genomics and ecological diversity in extreme carnivorous rodents in Sulawesi and the Philippines

Museums Victoria CEO Lynley Marshall announced the first round winners, who will access a total of $75,000 in funding provided by the Faculties of Arts, Education and Sciences at Monash University.

“I am delighted with the quality, diversity and innovation of our first round of grants under this Partnership. There are really exciting initiatives which could have important research implications and intriguing opportunities for exhibitions at Museums Victoria.

“We are very pleased with the strength of the proposals at the commencement of our exciting research partnership with Monash University, and look forward to some wonderful outcomes for research and programs at the Museum.”

Source: Museums Victoria

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