At sea with Elena

Arriving from Yokohama, Japan’s second largest city, in November 2010, Dr Elena Kupriyanova is a recent recruit to the research arm of the Museum.

Dr Elena Kupriyanova

Dr Elena Kupriyanova
Photographer: Stuart Humphreys © Australian Museum

Elena Kupriyanova describes her new role as an ‘integrative systematist’.

‘It basically involves bringing together studies from different angles, such as taxonomy, molecular biology, ecology and biogeography, to work out the relationships between animals’, Elena said.

She specialises in the Serpulidae, a well-known and widely distributed family of marine tube worms that play key roles in marine ecosystems. ‘The serpulids include some fascinating and beautiful animals which live in small tubes made of calcium compounds.

‘They’re found in nearly all marine environments, from intertidal areas – where they withstand drying out by closing an operculum in their tube – right down to the ultra-abyssal depths of the oceans, where they’ve been recorded from trawls at more than 9700 metres!’

Black Sea, White Sea

Elena became interested in serpulids at Moscow State University where she studied in the 1980s. ‘Why study marine biology in landlocked Moscow? It goes back to my childhood summer holidays at Black Sea resorts and then work at the university’s White Sea field station at the Arctic Circle.

‘I began working on them for a term project which eventually became a thesis and then a whole chapter in a book about the polychaetes of the Arctic Ocean’, she said.

‘Going back even further, I knew by the age of seven that I was going to be a zoologist and declared as much to my parents, who weren’t really that surprised ...’

She went on to complete her doctorate on marine worms and has worked on them ever since.

Into the light

So what does the immediate future hold for Elena and the Museum? ‘In Sydney I will be discovering and describing new organisms from both old collections and fresh material. The existing collections from the darkness of the deep sea need to be brought to light, so to speak – many are just stored waiting to be described and shared.

‘The results from my work will be used to advance our knowledge of general biology and answer taxonomic questions about phylogeny and diversity. But mainly I’m curious to find out more about the diversity of the ocean.
It’s my Mount Everest – I do it because it’s there.’

Brendan Atkins

Brendan Atkins , Publications Coordinator
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