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Recognising research on molluscs

By Rebecca Hancock
Wednesday, 17 September, 2008

Australian Museum Senior Fellow Dr Winston Ponder has received the prestigious Australian Marine Sciences Association Silver Jubilee Award for a lifetime of achievement in research on marine molluscs. The award was presented at the joint conference of the New Zealand Marine Sciences Society and the Australian Marine Sciences Association held in Christchurch, New Zealand in July.

The prize recognises more than 40 years of research by Dr Ponder on marine molluscs, a very diverse and conspicuous group that is ecologically, commercially and culturally important. It is the largest marine phylum, containing about 23% of all named marine organisms, including many familiar animals such as oysters, clams, squids, octopuses, snails, limpets and slugs.

Dr Ponder was also selected as a finalist in the ABRS Eureka Prize for Outstanding Taxonomic Research for his recent work documenting the systematics and biodiversity of Australian fresh- and brackish-water gastropods. His achievements included discovering previously unrecognised snail diversity in south-eastern Australia and Tasmania, pioneering work on artesian springs associated with the Great Artesian Basin, describing many of their endemic species, and discovering new freshwater mollusc faunas in northern Australia. His work was recognised for being innovative in its combination of intensive sampling with the study of both morphology and molecular biology.

Photo: Dr Winston Ponder (left) shaking hands with Dr Fred Wells, the then-president of AMSA, by Narelle Hall. 

About Dr Ponder

Dr Ponder devoted his early research career to the systematics and anatomy of micromolluscs (smaller than 10 mm), which comprise the great bulk of species and most of the unnamed ones. His studies resulted in the introduction of several new families and encompassed faunas in the tropical Pacific, Antarctic, sub-Antarctic and western South America. Later research was instrumental in the revision of the higher classification of the gastropods, by far the largest group of molluscs. In recent years, the main focus of Dr Ponder’s marine research has been on small gastropods in estuarine environments.

Conservation issues are important to Dr Ponder. In 2002, he co-authored a review of marine invertebrate conservation in Australia and has also investigated at-risk marine molluscs, such as those with narrow distributional ranges.

Dr Ponder has helped to build the Australian Museum's mollusc collection over many years to be one of the most extensive of its kind in the world.  Dr Ponder is passionate about the collections being used to their full extent, pointing out that they represent by far the largest source of distributional, historical and habitat information on marine invertebrates and how, with adequate filtering, they can provide excellent data for biodiversity mapping using geographic information systems (GIS).

As for the future, Dr Ponder shows no signs of slowing down. He continues to supervise students and, with Assoc. Prof. Andy Davis at the University of Wollongong, runs a course on molluscan biology. He is co-writing a text book on molluscan biology and evolution with Prof. David Lindberg (Univ. of California, Berkeley) and is in the final stages of developing a web-based interactive key for marine molluscs of temperate Australia. He is also the managing editor of the journal Molluscan Research.