19 Oct 2018

Zoe Richards


Australian coral reefs are important to our national identity. Against a background of escalating climate and anthropogenic changes, the health of coral reefs is dependent on the survival of reef-building corals. However, corals are ancient and complicated animals and it is not always easy to understand what constitutes a coral species, and this makes it difficult to protect them.

Dr Zoe Richards, a Shelley local, has received the Australian Biological Resources Study Churchill Fellowship enabling her to study original type coral specimens in tandem with new genetic data, to develop a framework to benefit threatened species conservation initiatives in Australia.                                

Dr Richards is amongst 112 people from across the country to receive the prestigious Churchill Fellowship, worth some $3.1 million collectively.

Dr Richards will travel to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, USA, and to various expert organisations in Japan, including the National Institute of Advance Industrial Science and Technology, Tokyo, to learn the necessary skills to advance coral biosystematics using a total evidence approach. 

The Churchill Fellowships were established in 1965 to honour the memory of Sir Winston Churchill, and to fulfil his wish for people from all walks of life to travel the world to gain new knowledge and insights. 

Since its inception, the Churchill Trust has enabled more than 4,300 Australians in identifying projects where overseas investigation will allow them to return home inspired with the practical knowledge and experience needed to advance their projects and embed new opportunities in Australia.

Dr Richards, a marine biologist specialising in hard coral diversity and conservation, has always been inspired by nature and wilderness areas. 

“When I learnt to scuba dive as a teenager, I quickly realised marine ecosystems are the ultimate playground for exploration and discovery, and it was at that point that I knew I wanted a career in marine research,” said Dr Richards.

“The Fellowship provides a much-welcomed energy boost for my area of interest and this opportunity inspires me to continue to develop my research group and share my experiences and findings.  

“During my time at the Smithsonian Institute, I will obtain new photographs and measurements of coral type material which is too large and precious to be internationally loaned. 

“In Japan, Dr Akira Iguichi will tutor me in genomic analyses, using the latest modelling approaches. 

“I am looking forward to collecting new coral specimens from the islands of Okinawa and Ishigaki, and collaborating with Dr James Reimer from the Molecular Invertebrate Systematics and Ecology Laboratory at the University of Ryukyus. 

“I intend to bring back to Australia a clearer understanding about the relationship between coral species, and knowledge about the best practice approach to inferring species boundaries in staghorn corals.” 

“This is a prime opportunity for Dr Richards to bring international expertise in nature conservation back to Australia,” said Adam Davey, CEO of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. 

“The Churchill Fellowship very much supports this type of focussed investigation. It is a celebration of expertise, innovation, expanding knowledge and creating new and better ways of addressing issues that matter in Australia, including threatened species conservation.”

The Australian Biological Resources Study is proud to support Dr Richards’ research through this Churchill Fellowship,” ABRS General Manager Anthony Whalen said.

“Research of this nature helps build a greater understanding of the species found within Australia and its ocean environments, which in turn helps guide conservation planning.”

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