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Keeping the Lid on the Can of Worms

By: Dr Elena Kupriyanova, Category: Science, Date: 04 Dec 2013

Announcing our Invasive Polychaete Identifier: an Australian web application. Will it help us to ward off potential invaders?

Spirobranchus tetraceros

Eunice Wong © Australian Museum

Bringing a new animal to a continent where the native animals evolved in isolation for millions of years can be a recipe for disaster. The introduction of cute rabbits leading to plagues of the critters all over the continent is the most famous Australian example.

Thankfully, we learned our lesson and introductions of alien species are generally not intentional nowadays, although we do know that some hunters illegally introduce foxes, deer, and pigs into new areas. However, any ship entering an Australian port could be carrying alien hitchhikers – either as adults attached to her hull or as larvae swimming in the ballast water and these include many species of seaworms as well as snails and starfish.

While most new arrivals never get established in Australia, a few become serious pests, such as some marine worms that can block intake pipes, cause mud blisters on oysters, or change the communities on the seafloor. The trouble is that eradicating pests is virtually impossible once they have established and the only hope of preventing the trouble is to recognise aliens when they arrive. However, telling native Australians from overseas stowaways is not easy when marine worms are concerned.

That is why last year, when the 11th International Polychaete Conference was still in the distant future, we planned a pre-conference workshop on the identification of potential invasive marine worms. We immediately realized the lack of materials that could be used as hand-outs for the workshop participants. In fact, what we lacked in Australia was an identification tool that would not only allow us to put a name on a worm, but actually provide us with a means of distinguishing a native from a non-native worm.

Because a picture is worth a thousand words, the final product had to be fully illustrated. Eunice Wong meticulously photographed hundreds of worms producing beautiful images (yes, dead worms can be photogenic - as proven by Eunice who actually shares her name with one particular fast and furious polychaete!).

It took us all about 10 months to produce the illustrations and the content in close collaboration with overseas colleagues and our wonderful web team. The guide was beta-tested by participants of the Invasive Polychaete Workshop (August 1-2, 2013), who made suggestions on how it can be improved.

The guide is now released. Well done everyone!

More information

Kupriyanova, E.K., Wong, E., & Hutchings, P.A. (eds) 2013. Invasive Polychaete Identifier - an Australian perspective. Version 1.1, 04 Dec 2013

Acknowledgement

The Australian Museum Foundation generously supported the development of this web based guide.

Tags invertebrates, research, pest species, Australian Museum Research Institute, marine, identification, biodiversity conservation,