Scientist Member Profile - Amanda Hay

For many, museums were always places of wonder and mystery. I suspect many of us spent numerous hours wandering through museum wings, looking into display cases of rare artifacts with little white cards affixed. The cards provided limited information about the item, but for many in the project, provided the initial spark which started them on lifelong careers or hobbies in nature, history and museum science. This Bio Blurb is about one such person, Amanda Hay, of the Australian Museum. Amanda, who is familiar to all, took over as the Collection Manager of Ichthyology at the Australian Museum, after the retirement of Mark McGrouther.
Her interest in the natural world started from a very young age, evidenced by her school reports, from about the age of six years, which would typically read, “Amanda has a great interest in science and nature.” She recalls, “Growing up our family spent a lot of time swimming in the pool, or the ocean, playing at the beach, fishing and riding bikes in the bush. The marine environment really was a happy place full of curiosity, so I guess that progressed to wanting to do that for a job and I was lucky enough to meet ‘my people’ when I was studying at university. Then by happy accident, I met the fish people at the Museum and fell in love with Ichthyology. She says, “In my final year of University, I volunteered for a fish conference, it was here I meet the Fishos of the Australian Museum. They seemed like such a passionate and great team, I said I’d love to learn more and that lead to me volunteering and eventually gaining some casual work, which has ultimately and luckily lead to me being Collection Manager of Ichthyology.”
Her ‘people’, of course, were others with a passion for nature and a love of museums. She tells us that converting that love into an actual full-time job is a challenging process. For example, in the beginning of their museum careers, most future museum staff worked at their institution as volunteers. Unpaid, but still expected to assist in the conduct of museum research and activities. For the most resilient and persistent, sometimes there were casual, temporary, poorly paid jobs. The source of such soft money might have been limited research grants or the result of an unspent budget. The volunteers were sometimes paid, then went back to being volunteers. Frequently these opportunities to be paid came and went several times, with grant money unexpectedly arriving and drying up over time. Her ‘people’ were those who could endure the employment uncertainty, until eventually a full-time role would open at the museum, and often individuals from the volunteer cohort would be hired. Amanda knows of many people who could not tolerate the roller-coaster ride needed to eventually work in a museum, and as a result sought careers in other fields.
She tells us, "My early days of working at the Museum were with Jeff Leis and focused on larval fishes, their taxonomy and ecology with a little bit of collection management thrown in, including sorting and registering incoming specimens and helping out with fieldwork. Today, one of the most common parts of my (our) job at the Museum is identifying fishes. Mark McGrouther spent many years trying to get a website going to help the punters and us identify fishes, when he was introduced to iNaturalist it was a lightbulb moment. Having a resource where people can get their fishes identified via a community including experts and AI and add to our scientific knowledge was an easy sell to me.”
When asked what to her is the most difficult category of fish to identify, she responds, “There is a family of fish called Bythididae, common names include Cusks, Brotulas, Blindfishes. There are some species that occur on shallow rocky reefs, they are almost never observed underwater but sometimes collected in scientific research. They are identified by the male copulatory organ and head pores and head scale patterns. I have tried a few times and end up very frustrated, I usually ask someone who knows more than me when I come across these little frustrations.”
While busy with the management of a very important fish collection, Amanda finds time for her own research. She tells us, “My current area of research is the taxonomy of Weedfish, Clinidae, I love our endemic temperate reef fishes. However, I am quite opportunistic and am happy to assist my colleague Joey DiBattista with his eDNA research or any colleague who needs data from our collection. My early career was the taxonomy and ecology of larval fishes. Overall, I feel very much like a generalist in my job, I know a little bit about a lot of things, but importantly I know who to ask to get the most expert opinion. Like all of us there is a lot of admin in my role, but aside from that I correspond a lot with colleagues nationally and internationally requesting data and specimens to loan. Identifying fishes from public enquires, putting away specimens and registering specimens into the collection area also much of my routine.”
One of the more interesting aspects of Amanda’s relationship with the project is the incorporation of the data base in her own work. Having a database of over a quarter of a million observations of fish around Australia and New Zealand, has become a useful tool in both her research and her role of Collections Manager. Being at the Australian Museum, she frequently receives requests from various sources such as Fisheries, marine science institutions or the general public, to identify unusual or uncommon fish. While in the old days, people would bring their samples to the museum, today, they just send photos of the fish in question. As there is a great deal of variation in species, the project has become a useful visual reference to compare the photos submitted to her. Having a range of literally hundreds, of images of a single species is extremely helpful in ensuring the identification is ultimately correct. It provides secondary identification of fish which may have a wide variety of colours or shapes depending on stage of life or location.
In addition, due to iNaturalist’s geolocation and mapping function, she can check the known and observed ranges of the fish, which is also useful in her searchers. For example, a particular fish, observed at Lord Howe Island, can be verified and confirmed using the iNatrualist data base. It also works both ways, as her frequent use and review of the Australasian Fishes data, allows her to make corrections, when she notes errors in the project’s observations. Using the geolocation mapping, also highlights any irregularities, which results in further investigation as to whether the sighting is an actual range extension or simply an anomaly. It has become an excellent source for cross checking. Amanda tells us, “It is expanding our knowledge of species distributions, providing photos of species that have never been photographed before, assists scientist who are researching certain species, for us we have used it to publish a checklist of species for Sydney Harbour. It will be used in ways we haven’t even thought of yet. I find it inspiring to see some of the species and incredible images people post.”
The Federally funded project, Atlas of Living Australia, mines data from everywhere, including Australasian Fishes. Like iNaturalist, the Atlas’s data is available to everyone, and it’s a recording of data from various sources is a matter of public record. The Atlas requires the data to be accurate, and therefore routinely uses reliable sources such as museum records, and research collection data. It is quality controlled, and all observations must be identified to the species level. Australasian Fishes observations meet the test for reliability and accuracy and are mined by the Atlas along with other data sources from the Australian Museum, providing yet another set of eyes review our data. Eventually, the Museum’s contributions to the Atlas are reported, illustrating for example, how much data from the Australian Museum was downloaded by the Atlas. It is a metric the museum employs to measure its success in contributing to the knowledge of species in Australia and indicates the role the Museum plays in furthering knowledge of our fauna.
Amanda’s passion for fish and Australasian Fish is infectious. She summarizes by saying, “I love the project, I love iNaturalist! I use it to identify all sorts of fauna and flora. The project is adding to our understanding of the natural world. At the simplest level, for someone who loves natural history, it can identify something for you, it can give you an indication of where to might be lucky enough to see things that interest you, albeit a Sydney Pygmy Pipehorse, Fanbelly Leatherjacket or Bump-head Sunfish.”
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
PS. A new species of wrasse, Amanda's Flasher Wrasse, Paracheilinus amanda, was recently described by Dr Yi-Kai Tea (@kaithefishguy). The species was named after Amanda in recognition of her 25 years of experience in ichthyological collections and research.
Posted on November 09, 2023 02:27 AM by markmcg markmcg

Comments

Great write up...really interesting to read about Amanda's pathway.

Posted by lachlan_fetterplace 5 months ago

Thank you @lachlan_fetterplace. :) @harryrosenthal did a great job with this journal post.

Posted by markmcg 5 months ago

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