Amber's cover image
Amber

Amber BEAVIS

Year of Award: 2010 Award State: Australian Capital Territory Science > Biology
The Australian Biological Resources Study Churchill Fellowship to undertake training in integrative taxonomy as it applies to the Araneae - USA, UK, Sweden

Something more: shiny black spiders and new solutions

Taxonomy, the classification of plants and animals, underpins all biological research. Evolutionary geneticist, Amber Beavis, claims that ‘You can’t study any animal or plant unless you know what you are working on, and can clearly communicate to others exactly which shiny black spider you’re interested in.’

The taxonomic workforce is declining rapidly. Established taxonomists retire and young scientists do not see it as a ‘sexy’ topic. Amber’s Churchill Fellowship (ACT, 2010) enabled her to undertake taxonomic research with leaders in the field, allowing her to travel to museums in the United Kingdom, Sweden and the United States. She discovered a huge variation in practices and protocols implemented by different museums.

‘What struck me most,’ Amber writes in her report ‘is the incredible good will and collegiality extended by my hosts, which characterised all my visits to museums and the Sven Lovén Marine Centre’ (in Sweden).

Amber observes facts such as databases being crucial to the smooth running of museums, yet there is no standardisation of them. She realises that ‘there is a huge market for an affordable and user-friendly museum database.’ She writes: ‘Next generation sequencing is not the intimidating beast that many scientists fear,’ predicting that it will be a major component of museum research in the near future.

The telling detail of her travels stays in the reader’s mind. To visit London’s Natural History Museum, Amber walked across Hyde Park and Kensington Park every morning, past ‘nesting white swans, naturalised lawns of daffodils, and Englishmen who delighted in swimming in the Serpentine on a foggy morning when the temperature didn’t reach 6 degrees C.’

In the Sven Lovén Centre in Fiskebäckskil the scientists showed her and the team crustaceans caught in the fjord. ‘After learning how the shrimp looked, we learned how they tasted – all in the name of science, of course.’ And in Hawaii, Amber saw turtles swimming in the waves and was amazed to see a diverse range of corals and tropical fish in Hawaii’s main harbour, discovering that ‘this port is one of the cleanest in the world.’

Amber concluded her Churchill Fellowship trip, ‘happy and exhausted … as my plane landed in Canberra I could only marvel at how I had left home a scientist, but returned a taxonomist (albeit unseasoned). Now would begin my next big adventure: to take my new skills and actually describe first one new species, and then many more.’

(an excerpt from "Inspiring Australians" 2015)

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