Darko Cotoras is the recipient of a 2019 Lizard Island Postdoctoral fellowship funded by the Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation (LIRRF). He took some time to answer some questions about his work at the Lizard Island Research station and how the fellowship has contributed to taxonomic research in Australia.

QUESTION 1: What is the aim of your Lizard Island postdoctoral fellowship study?

The title of my project is “Exploring the arachnid diversity of the Lizard Island group, Great Barrier Reef”. My main aim is to produce a species list of the arachnids present on the Lizard Island group. This is an initial step towards a more comprehensive understanding of the biogeography of the arachnids on the islands scattered along the 2,300 km of the Great Barrier Reef.

The specific objectives of my study are:

(1) to create a collection of arachnids from different environments from the islands;

(2) to contribute to electronic databases (georeference locations and pictures); and

(3) to publish the species list on the peer reviewed literature.

As part of the field research, I mentored John McCormack (on the right in the picture above), an undergraduate student from the University of Virginia. He was participating on the study abroad program of the School of International Training looking at the beetle diversity of the Lizard Island group. This research is parallel to my work with the arachnids. John and I are planning to collaborate and publish a species list on the scientific literature of arachnids and beetles and also contribute photos to the Lizard Island Field Guide.

QUESTION 2: Would this project been possible without a LIRRF fellowship?

This research would have not been possible without the support of the LIRRF fellowship. I am very grateful for this opportunity and beyond that, I am grateful that the LIRRF supports biodiversity discovery and taxonomy. It is becoming increasingly harder to find ways to fund this kind of fundamental research which is so important to our understanding of biodiversity. The photo below is me on a night collecting trip on Lizard Island April 2019.

QUESTION 3: In what ways is LIRS different to other field stations you have worked at?

The main difference of LIRS, with respect to other stations where I have worked before, is the strong marine focus. Many of the other places I have done my work have a terrestrial or forestal focus. In this way it was very enriching for me to interact with scientists working on the marine environment. It was interesting to learn about the different methodologies and types of questions they ask; and at the same time realise the similarities between working in the terrestrial and marine environment.

QUESTION 4: What is next for you?

Right after the fieldwork on Lizard Island I spent one month working on the species identification – two weeks at the Queensland Museum and another two weeks at the Australian Museum. It was key to interact with the museum curators and local experts to complete the identification. I will go back to Chile and then to Costa Rica to participate as co-coordinator on an undergraduate summer field course with the Organisation for Tropical Studies.

Darko’s work will substantially increase knowledge of the arachnids of the Lizard Island group and he continues to work on his findings for publication.

Greer Banyer, LIRRF Trustee