Biological sciences


Photomicrography of insect specimens in the Terrestrial Invertebrate Collection and Research Facility, Science Centre.

Research overview

Research in Biological Sciences at the South Australian Museum is unparalleled in the world. It incorporates an exciting blend of traditional scientific disciplines, cutting edge molecular genetic technologies and unique and extensive specimen collections.

Specimen collections started over 150 years ago and focus on South Australian and Australian fauna, although neighbouring lands such as Antarctica and New Guinea are also well represented. Animal groups include terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates, parasitic worms, amphibians, fish, birds, reptiles and mammals.

Measuring the skull of a reptile.

Critical measurements of the skull of a reptile by Senior Research Scientist, Dr Mark Hutchinson.

Every collection features type specimens; these are important scientifically and historically as they are the first biological samples upon which the original descriptions of new species were based. Preserved whole and part animals, dried skins, skulls, bones, microscope slides of small specimens and frozen tissue samples contained in the Australian Biological Tissue Collection, offer research scientists unmatched opportunities to study animal morphology and genetic characteristics.

Excellent searchable databases, image libraries and rare and out-of-print scientific publications sit alongside the specimens. As a result, biological research at the Museum has the capability to match data on date, site and habitat of specimen collections, with knowledge of the physical appearances and genetic characteristics of the animal. This capacity offers key insights into the physical distributions of animals over space and time, and how species make evolutionary adaptions to changing environments.

Collection management and in-house research activities are conducted by a small but dedicated group of nine Research Scientists, 12 Collection Managers and Technical Staff (some are fractional appointments), supported by an active team of 31 Honorary Research Associates and nearly 60 volunteers. 

Museum research scientists in Biological Sciences work closely with the University of Adelaide, Flinders University of South Australia, amateur scientific societies, the South Australian Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, other state agencies and scientists across Australia and the world.

Digital inking.

Research Scientist Dr Rachael King draws taxonomic figures using ‘digital inking’ to include in a publication on new species of stygofauna.