The Australian Biological Resources Study Churchill Fellowship to undertake a re-evaluation of F.L Castelnau's type-specimens of Australian fishes in the Museum National D'Histoire Naturelle - France
Lessons learned and recommendations
- The is no substitute for visiting museums to search for and examine the specimens in their collections. This was highlighted particularly at the MNHN, which has the largest collection of Castelnau’s Australian fish specimens, including many important type-specimens. My examination of these specimens, together with the original species descriptions, catalogue entries and archival material, and comparison with original unpublished fish paintings by Castelnau in the Melbourne Museum, has greatly clarified the taxonomic status of many species, and has also resulted in the re-identification of others. I would encourage and recommend other researchers to take the time to examine Australian collections, and particularly type-specimens, in museums in Europe and elsewhere. There are still many surprises and discoveries to be made!
- The researching of historical and archival documents in various libraries and archives yielded important information on Castelnau and helped to unravel problems with his collections and descriptions of fishes. As my old high school history teacher taught me, to understand and interpret history one must understand the ‘temper of the times’. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of appreciating the historical context of taxonomic work and recommend that researchers fully embrace all the information that museums, libraries and archives have to offer.
- The opportunity to undertake related work in London and Belgium, which came about after approval of my initial Churchill Fellowship program, greatly benefitted the project overall. Building flexibility into my itinerary and extending my visit in Europe beyond my six-week Fellowship permitted me to take up additional opportunities as they arose. I would recommend future Churchill Fellowship applicants consider allowing enough time and flexibility in their itineraries to be able to follow up any leads or opportunities that might crop up during their program.
- The opportunity to totally immerse myself in Castelnau’s collections in Paris, together with access to some of the best libraries and archives in Europe, was an intense and invaluable experience that enabled me to complete an enormous amount of work in a relatively short time frame, that would otherwise not have been possible. This was one of the great values of having a Churchill Fellowship to undertake this work.
Keywords: Ichthyologist, specimens, Type-specimens, taxonomy, Castelnau, archival records