Scientist Member profile - Dr Joseph Dibattista

At a recent evening lecture at the Australian Museum celebrating the 50th anniversary of the creation of their Lizard Island Research Station, an Australasian Fishes member and supporter participated in a panel discussion following an address by Dr Anne Hoggett AM, the island’s co-Director who has lived and worked on the island for many years along with her co-director husband, Dr Lyle Vail, AM. Of course, the address was excellent, and it reinforced the needs for remote research stations across the Great Barrier Reef.
It was always a pleasure to see an Australasian Fishes Project participant contributing to public discussion, and an even further delight to see someone promoting not only traditional marine research, but also, delivering a powerful message in support of citizen science. The professional researcher on the stage was Dr Joseph Dibattista, who joined the AFP project in 2017 after joining the staff of the Australian Museum. On his iNaturalist page he tells us, “I am interested in coastal ecosystems, understanding the effects of tropicalisation on Australian fish species and identifying those that may act as indicators of change, and exploring new ways to track and monitor environmental shifts in our oceans with environmental DNA (eDNA).”
Here are a few questions, answered by Joey about his research, his work at the Australian Museum and Australasian Fishes. He tells us, “I grew up on the “island” of Montreal in Canada, but really only experienced the ocean after the age of 9 or 10 on overseas trips. My interest in science began with now very out of date chemistry kits, microscopes, and observing the behaviour of animals in our neighbourhood.”
Why the interest in the Australasian Fishes and how did you get involved with our project?
“My now retired colleague, Mark McGrouther, introduced me to the project while he was still Collection Manager of the Ichthyology Section at the Australian Museum. I saw value in this project as a citizen to identify fishes and provide permanent verifiable records of biodiversity in my own backyard, and I saw value as a scientist for sourcing biodiversity data around Australia and New Zealand to validate our species detections using DNA-based approaches. In the past few years, I’ve also learned how big a role these verifiable records can play in advancing protection or conservation of sites of importance."
Could you tell us a little about your typical, fish identification process?
“I usually start with body shape or form, colouration, fin placement, and then any other distinguishing morphological features or behaviours (i.e., solitary versus schooling, etc.). The holy grail for fish taxonomists would be an in-focus (up close) photo of the side profile of the fish with all fins displayed.”
Do you go into the water much these days. Scuba, snorkel, etc.?
“As part of my community-focused project funded by Blue World on “Marine Biodiversity in Southern Sydney Harbour”, I get to snorkel regularly at Parsley Bay in Vaucluse, a wonderful hidden gem both on land and in the sea. My best advice is to be one with the fishes and do not chase them around. The moment they sense your intention to approach them, they are likely to be gone for quite some time. Also, be sure to take your time and look for fish big and small. If focused entirely on larger predatory fishes you tend not to have your eye in for the smaller cryptic fishes, which get missed.”
What was the most difficult fish you had to identify? Why was it difficult?
“I suspect many taxonomists would agree, mullet are very difficult to identify from photographs based on many species sharing characters.”
It appears a lot of taxonomy has gone down the genetic route, rather than the traditional physical inspection process.
“I would consider genetics simply another “character” that can and should be used for taxonomic descriptions of fishes. Additionally, no species can and should be described solely based on genetics. I think the biggest advantage to genetics is the ability to quickly match unknown tissues, specimens, or even weird and wacky fish larvae to adult species based on their DNA sequences, or at least guide someone in that process.”
What are your personal, current areas of research? How long have you been engaged in these areas? International collaborations?
“My current areas of research have shifted to coastal ecosystems, understanding the effects of tropicalisation on Australian fish species and identifying those that may act as indicators of change, and exploring new ways to track and monitor environmental shifts in our oceans with environmental DNA (eDNA). In our field, you must be collaborative and inventive, and so I work with dozens of researchers (domestic and international) and stakeholders at any given time on a number of different projects. Diversity in your collaborators and research topics allow you to extend your “shelf life” in science. Engaging with the general community is just as important for me.
What do you think about the project? Are we making a contribution, and if so, in what areas do you believe the data we are collecting will ultimately be useful, in a scientific context? What advice would you give our participants or words of encouragement would you offer?
I was fortunate enough to put together two scientific publications in the past two years with colleagues (including Mark McGrouther) that used Australasian Fishes records to 1) generate an up-to-date annotated checklist of fishes recorded from Sydney Harbour (we observed a 15% increase in species since 2013), and 2) demonstrate that quality-filtered citizen science data can in fact be used to improve taxonomic representation and the geographic breadth of species monitoring in Australia.”
One of the most important roles of citizen scientists is not only to collect data for future scientific research and discovery, but is to work with the professional scientific community in ways which benefit both. Scientists like Dr Dibattista are among a growing legion of science professionals who recognise the importance of community engagement and how to utilise the vast store of volunteer labour which is the citizen science community. We are grateful for his work on the Australasian Fishes Project and hope his research continues to prove productive in the advancement of our knowledge of the Australian marine environment.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Publicado el 22 de junio de 2023 a las 02:22 AM por markmcg markmcg


A good read about a good scientist!

Anotado por drmattnimbs hace 10 meses

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