Nudibranchs in Antarctica
Dr Nerida Wilson’s research encompasses many different marine invertebrates, but her lifelong interest is in nudibranchs (sea slugs).
Going from research in Adelaide to a postdoc in Auburn, Alabama working on Antarctic invertebrates, it seemed inevitable, alphabetically at least, that Nerida Wilson would return to Australia.
‘Yes’, she laughs, ‘but wherever I work, my research goes with me!’
Describing herself as a broadly based biologist, Nerida’s special interest is nudibranchs (sea slugs).
‘I fell in love with nudibranchs long ago and they’re the reason I studied science. Of course I’ve since realised that other animals are interesting too . . .
‘At university, I was interested in taxonomy but encouraged to do something “more academic” by various professors, by which they meant looking at [biochemical] cellular processes and structures.
'So I did, and in hindsight it was good to gain the broader experience, but at the time I was irritated that taxonomy [systematics] was seen as somehow too specialised.’
Nerida is working to understand the evolutionary (phylogenetic) relationships of nudibranchs. In particular, she is studying a large species complex found in Antarctica.
‘The species look similar in different locations, yet there is only limited gene flow between them’, she said. ’It’s a classic case of cryptic radiation.’
When asked about the practical function of such work, she bristles slightly.
‘To me, science helps people connect with the living world in unpredictable ways. I like to pursue new knowledge, and I don’t accept that every outcome should be known before you begin.’
‘It’s like evolution – you don’t have to ‘believe’ in it; you listen to the facts and what they’re telling you.’
Brendan Atkins , Publications Coordinator