Below is a guest post from Honours student Charlotte Nitschke about her research and field work on sea snake species diversity in Western Australia.
Charlotte is supervised by Dr Kate Sanders, Dr Vinay Udyawer (Australian Institute of Marine Science) and Dr Mathew Hourston (WA Dept of Fisheries), with valuable partnerships with local commercial prawn trawlers.
My honours project focuses on the conservation biology of Western Australia’s sea snakes, with fieldwork in two incredible parts of the world – Shark Bay and Exmouth Gulf. I’m investigating the genetic diversity and distribution of about 12 different species of sea snakes, with a few of those species only found in WA! Despite being a renowned hotspot for sea snake biodiversity, there are still major gaps in our knowledge of Western Australia’s sea snakes. As well as being charismatic and intriguing, sea snakes are important predators in marine ecosystems, worthy of research and protection. I will use a combination of genetic analyses (phylogenetic trees and haplotype networks) and species distribution models (from the present-day and the last glacial maximum ~21kya) to better understand how different species persisted through the changing climate and how this has influenced their current day diversity levels and distributions.
The project involves a lot of great collaborators, I am working with both industry and government partners. As part of my fieldwork I’ve worked on Research Vessels from the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the WA Department of Fisheries, as well as commercial prawn trawlers.
Through the beauty of citizen science, and with the help of some snake-loving crew on the trawlers, I’ve collected genetic samples from over 100 sea snakes.
Here’s a snapshot of the fieldwork I’ve done this year.
Video courtesy of Charlotte Nitske