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  • Ichthyology at the Australian Museum: Collections, Databases and the Web

    Mark A. McGrouther

    Fish Section, Australian Museum

    6 College Street, Sydney, NSW 2010, Australia

    (e-mail: mark.mcgrouther@austmus.gov.au)

    Abstract The Australian Museum was established in 1827. Since 1864 there has been an almost unbroken sequence of ten fish Curators/Researchers. Today the Fish Section is staffed by one full-

    time Ichthyologist, two retired Research Fellows, a Collection Manager and several technical staff.

    The Australian Museum Fish Collection (AMS) is part of a larger national collection made up of

    seven major collections and several smaller collections. Statistics are presented that compare the

    major collections. In December 2004 the AMS collection contained over 1.6 million specimens

    (168,800 lots) comprising 635,000 adult fishes (136,000 lots) and approximately 1,000,000 larvae

    (32,800 lots). The type collection contained 2,271 type species (11,302 specimens in 4,726 lots).

    In the mid 1970s digitisation of collection data began. In 1998 a Compaq Proliant server was pur-

    chased to store the databases and to serve data to the Web. Data have remained on this server until the

    present time, but will shortly be moved to a SUN server. The Australian Museum used KE Titan data-

    base software from 1987 until 1995 when data were moved to KE Texpress. The fish databases are

    currently in the process of being upgraded to KE EMu software. The Australian Museum Fish Web-

    site first went online in 1995 and now contains approximately 3000 pages (8000 files). It gives users

    access to over 850 species fact sheets primarily on Australian fishes and other content areas including

    online access to fish collection data and maps. In the twelve months between November 2004 and

    October 2005, the site received nearly 7 million page views (2.5 million visits). The benefits and

    drawbacks of developing and maintaining a website are briefly discussed. Three recent projects that

    have involved the AMS Fish Section are discussed, along with the future plans for collection develop-

    ment, databases and the website.

    Key words: Australian Museum, fish collection, databases, Web, website.


    The Australian Museum was established in 1827. Since 1860 when Gerard Krefft was ap- pointed as Sub-Curator (Director in 1864), there have been ten fish Curators/Researchers. The first two Curators, Krefft and Edward Ramsay were employed as Directors of the Australian Mu- seum, and both worked on other animal groups in addition to fishes. Despite his interest in rep- tiles, mammals and fossils, Krefft cemented his reputation as an ichthyologist with the descrip- tion in 1870 of the Queensland Lungfish, Neoceratodus forsteri. Ramsay’s primary area of research was ornithology although he co-authored fish papers with James Ogilby. His major con- tribution to Australian ichthyology was negotiating the purchase of a portion of Military Surgeon Francis Day’s important fish collection from southern Asia, and thereby significantly increased the AMS type specimen holdings. Dates of tenure for the ten fish Curators/Researchers are

    Proceedings of the 7th and 8th Symposia on Collection Building and Natural History Studies in Asia and the Pacific Rim, edited by Y. Tomida et al., National Science Museum Monographs, (34): 103–116, 2006.

  • shown in Table 1. Today the Fish Section includes four permanent staff (one of whom is employed half time),

    one person on grant funds awarded to Leis, two retired Research Fellows, one long-term visiting researcher, and four volunteers. Sadly, the number of staff in the Section has decreased over the last decade with the retirement of two Research Scientists and the loss of two non-permanent Technical Officer positions in 2004 (Kerryn Parkinson and John Pogonoski). A listing of current staff is shown in Table 2. More detailed information on Australian Museum Fish Section staff is available at http://www.amonline.net.au/fishes/about/research/staff.htm.

    The Australian Museum Fish Collection

    In December 2004 the Australian Museum Fish Collection contained 635,000 adult speci- mens (136,000 lots) and approximately 1,000,000 larval specimens (32,800 lots). The type col- lection contains 2,271 type species (11,302 specimens in 4,726 lots). Most specimens are pre- served in 70% ethyl alcohol. The majority of ‘adult’ specimens are stored in glass screw top jars, although there are specimens stored in over 650 drums and 58 tanks. Larval specimens are stored in screw cap vials in large jars filled with 70% ethyl alcohol.

    Supplementary collections include 1282 lots of otoliths, 1241 cleared & stained lots, 630 lots

    104 M. A. McGrouther

    Table 1. Australian Museum ichthyologists and years of tenure at the Australian Museum.

    Staff member Years of tenure at AM

    Johann Ludwig Gerard Krefft (1830–1881) 1860–1879 Edward Pierson Ramsay (1842–1916) 1874–1894 James Douglas Ogilby (1853–1925) 1884–1890 Edgar Ravenswood Waite (1866–1928) 1892–1906 Allan Riverstone McCulloch (1885–1925) 1898–1925 Gilbert Percy Whitley (1903–1975) 1922–1964 Dr Frank Hamilton Talbot (1930–) 1965–1975 Dr John Richard Paxton (1938–) 1968–1998 Dr Douglass Fielding Hoese (1942–) 1971–2004 Dr Jeffrey Martin Leis (1949–) 1979–

    Table 2. Current staff of the Australian Museum Fish Section.

    Position name Permanent employee Name

    Research Scientist (1) Yes Dr Jeffrey Leis Collection Manager (1) Yes Mr Mark McGrouther

    Technical Officers (2) Yes (full time) Dr Thomas Trnski Yes (half time) Ms Sally Reader

    Research Fellows (2) No (retired 2004) Dr Douglass Hoese No (retired 1998) Dr John Paxton

    Visiting researcher (1) No (2 years at AM) Dr Hiroyuki Motomura Technical Officer on grant funds

    No Ms Amanda Hay awarded to Leis (1)

    Ms Lawrie Davis

    Volunteers (4) No Ms Barbara Harvey Mr Rowan Kleindeinst Mr Peter Swieca

  • of skeletal material, 499 skins and stuffed specimens. Over 1035 specimen lots have been x-rayed on 811 x-ray plates.

    The oldest fish in the collection (IB. 6315) is a dry orangeband surgeonfish, Acanthurus oli- vaceus, which was collected in 1858 by J. MacGillivray in Aneityum, Vanuatu (Fig. 1).

    Strengths of the collection include fishes from New South Wales and the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland. The collection also has strong representation of fishes from temperate rocky reefs, mesopelagic waters and from the upper slope waters down to 1000 m depth. Additional collec- tion strengths reflect the research interests of Paxton (Myctophidae and other deepsea taxa), Hoese (gobiods), Leis (larvae) and visiting Collection Fellow, Motomura (Scorpaenidae).

    Other collection highlights include three specimens of Goblin shark, Mitsukurina owstoni, from Australia; four Stout infantfish, Schindleria brevipinguis, the ‘media-hungry’ smallest fish in the world (http://www.amonline.net.au/fishes/fishfacts/fish/sbrevip.htm); thirty Queensland Lungfish, Neoceratodus forsteri; and one Coelacanth, Latimeria chalumnae.

    There has been a strong loan program for many years. Recently it has become increasingly difficult to maintain the high number of loans due to reduced staffing resources. A summary of specimen transactions for the last ten years is shown in Table 3.

    Ichthyology at the Australian Museum 105

    Fig. 1. The oldest specimen in the Australian Museum fish collection, an orangeband surgeonfish, Acanthurus olivaceus (AMS IB.6315), collected in 1858.

    Table 3. Summary of outgoing specimen transactions 1995–2004. Recent loan figures contain transactions that include no specimens. These ‘loans’ usually document the allocation of new AMS registration numbers supplied to researchers who wish to assign them to manuscript type specimens.

    Outgoing Outgoing

    Outgoing Outgoing Total

    loans exchanges

    transfers specimen outgoing

    and gifts returns transactions

    2004 60 22 1 19 102 2003 74 22 5 16 117 2002 62 28 7 2 99 2001 69 30 2 11 112 2000 75 11 3 7 96 1999 103 20 2 5 130 1998 71 5 6 9 91 1997 98 12 8 20 138 1996 101 17 8 12 138 1995 67 10 9 22 108

  • Australian Fish Collections

    The Australian Museum Fish Collection (AMS) is part of a larger national collection made up of seven major collections and several smaller collections in other cities around the country. The major collections house nearly 3 million specimens. Table 4 shows summary statistics of the collection holdings for the major Australian fish collections in 1992/3 (from Paxton & Mc- Grouther, 1997) and 2004. Summary statistics for the type specimen holdings of AMS and other major Australian fish collections are shown in Table 5.

    Eight full-time taxonomists work at these institutions. This figure has dropped from ten in

    106 M. A. McGrouther

    Table 5. Summary of fish type specimens in Australian collections in 1992/3 (from Paxton & McGrouther, 1997) and 2004.

    Type Type %

    Type Type %

    Collection specimens/lots specimens/lots increase

    species: species: increase

    (1992/3) (2004) (1992/3) (2004)

    AMS 8,633/3,711 11,302/4,726 30%/27% �1500 2271 51% WAM 6,559/1,545 7,420/1,845 13%/19% 432 632 46% NTM 1,093/188 2055/395 88%/110% 69 �400 580% NMV 392/174 837/471 114%/171% 69 202 193% CSIRO @/230 621/463 –/101% 123 136 11% QM #/476 #/644 –/35% 365 307 ‘�15%’ SAMA 249/? ?/175 — 125 — — TOTALS 16,926/2,613 4,447/8719 49%/77% 2683 3948 144%

    AMS�Australian Muse