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Shaw’s Cowfish, Aracana aurita at Tinderbox, Tasmania. © B Deagle

Australia manages the third largest marine jurisdiction of any country.

Our marine waters cover a greater area than our land. They extend from tropical to polar regions and are linked to three of the world’s largest ocean basins (the Indian, Southern and Pacific Oceans), which can exceed 5,000 metres in depth.

Australian seas contain both high species richness and high proportions of endemic species, so an understanding of diversity patterns in neighbouring waters is crucial to interpreting our own biodiversity.

Ongoing discovery

With an average of more than one new fish species being described every month from Australian waters and with large areas of our marine domain unexplored and habitats unsampled, there are many species of fish and other marine organisms yet to be discovered.

Understanding Australia’s fish fauna: the past, present and future

Bluestriped snapper, Lutjanus kasmira Ribbon Reefs, Great Barrier Reef. © W White

We are leading research to understand what species of Australian fishes occur in different locations, and why they occur there (this is called biogeography) – from both a current and historic perspective.

Historical processes, such as continental drift and isolation, as well as recent events, processes and biological limitations contribute to where species occur today.

The geographic ranges of some species appear to have reduced due to human induced impacts such as fishing, while other species have undergone recent range changes following increasing water temperatures as a result of climate change.

Data from research collections can help understand where species occurred prior to recent environmental change, and assist with measuring levels of change and human impact.

Threatened, endangered and protected species

Globally, many fish species are facing elevated threats from human activities such as increasing fishing pressure, habitat loss, pollution and climate change. Our research discovers and documents species’ occurrences, distributions and habitats, which contribute to the management and protection of the marine environment.

The ANFC contributes towards a number of conservation efforts to help protect and conserve threatened species including the habitat restoration and breeding programs for the endemic and critically endangered red and spotted handfishes and performing assessments and evaluations of regionally threatened shark species as part of the Shark Action Plan [pdf · 4mb].

Digital tools for data capture and research

Advancements in digital technology has provided the ANFC with a variety of tools to assist in the observation, data collection and research of fish biodiversity, including:

  • A Digital X-ray system which allows detailed examination of skeletal structures of a fish without dissecting and therefore avoiding damage to valuable specimens. We have over 12,500 x-ray images of fish.
  • Segmentation of CT scan imagery to contribute towards the Chondrichthyan Tree Of Life project and assist with species identification.
  • Contribution to a number of digital open access platforms/websites to assist in the identification and documentation of fish biodiversity, including Codes for Australian Aquatic Biota (CAAB), Barcode of Life Data System (BOLD), Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) and fishIDER
  • A digital image database containing over 73,000 images and associated metadata with views of pinned specimens, microscopic features, SEM views and live colouration images of fish specimens to allow comparison of different features.
  • A specimen database containing data relating to the preserved specimens and genetic samples, these records are publicly available via the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA).

Interested in helping us further this research?

We seek research collaborators with complementary skills so we can work together for stronger results.

Contact us to collaborate

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