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All in the name of discovery.



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MEDIA RELEASE The Hon Peter Garrett MP Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts

PG /123 20 August 2008

ALL IN THE NAME OF DISCOVERY

The startling discovery of tiny, ancient animals living in underground freshwater reserves in arid Australia has netted a scientist from WA the first ever Eureka Prize for Outstanding Taxonomic Research.

Sponsored by the Australian Biological Resources Study (ABRS), the $10,000 prize is part of a suite presented annually by the Australian Museum that reward excellence in the field of Australian science.

Environment Minister Peter Garrett, who presented the prize, said the award was timely recognition for the scientists who discover, describe, classify and name Australian plants and animals.

“Australia’s flora and fauna is unique and among the most diverse of any country in the world,” Mr Garrett said.

“Yet only about one quarter of an estimated 680,000 Australian plant and animal species have been named and described, and almost half the continent has never been visited by scientists,” he said.

“Innovative taxonomic research, as is encouraged by this prize, is critical to tackling the huge task of discovering and identifying all of Australia’s plants and animals and conserving them into the future.”

Minister Garrett congratulated inaugural award-winner Dr Bill Humphreys, based at the Western Australian Museum, for his work in documenting a unique array of underground, freshwater animals and working with government and industry to enhance their conservation.

“Dr Humphreys’ research has identified Australia as a global hotspot for these kinds of animals, providing a window into Australia’s dramatic environmental history,” Minister Garrett said.

“His work is currently informing sound environmental management by conservation managers and natural resource users in iconic Australian areas such as the Kimberley and the Pilbara,” he said.

Dr Humphreys has discovered animals ranging from diving beetles to worms and see-through crustaceans that are relics of a time period before dinosaurs roamed what is now outback Australia.

Most of the animals live in ancient rivers that have been submerged in Australia’s sunburnt desert zones for around two million years.

Fast Facts on Taxonomy

- Taxonomy is the science of naming, describing, classifying and identifying plants and animals. - Taxonomy underpins all work to conserve Australia’s native species, and is vital to our natural resource industries. It is key to Australia’s quarantine regimes, helping to

identify invasive pests and diseases.

About Dr Bill Humphreys and his work

- Dr Bill Humphreys made one of the most important taxonomic discoveries of recent times by discovering Australia’s ‘stygofauna’ (tiny, invertebrate animals living in underground freshwater in arid Australia) and ‘troglobitic fauna’ (tiny invertebrate animals living underground in arid Australia). An ‘arid zone’ is a desert. - Dr Humphreys’ discoveries overturned previous perceptions that these regions were

without such animals, and subsequent work has placed Australia in the international spotlight. - The stygofauna Dr Humphreys has discovered include beetles, worms and crustaceans. Most live in ancient river systems that have been submerged in

Australia’s desert zones for around two million years. - Australia is a global ‘hotspot’ for these animals. Where other countries have an estimated 30-40 species, there are about 200-300 Australian species identified so far. - Dr Humphreys is currently based at the Western Australian Museum. - He has worked with government and industry to enhance stygofauna conservation. - He is a member of the Australian Government’s Threatened Species Scientific

Committee. - Dr Humphreys has been an effective international collaborator and an important mentor for early career researchers in Australia.