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Ms Karen Richards

profile_richards_thumbMs Karen Richards
PhD student

Topic: systematics and habitat preferences of endemic hydrobiid snails (Hydrobiidae: Beddomeia) in Tasmania.

University of Tasmania


This research project investigates the habitat needs and the genetic differences of several species of endemic freshwater snail in two catchments in northern Tasmania.

I'm looking at the DNA of 20-30 of the 42 species of Beddomeia, taken from their 'type localities' across the state to determine if the DNA variation is sufficient to support the current speciation (which is currently based on morphological characteristics). Each species is characterised on the basis of 80 physical characteristics - six of them external (shell) and 74 internal (ie requires dissection to identify). The animals are approximately 3mm in height, so there are some difficulties identifying species using internal characteristics!

This research should also increase our understanding about the characteristics of the freshwater habitats where these species are found. Once gathered, this information could be used to refine management recommendations for this genus of snail.

My interest in hydrobiid snails developed in response to my work as a zoologist with the Forest Practices Authority (né Board), and previous work as an aquatic biologist. Dealing with threatened species on a daily basis, it soon became evident that there is a preferential bias amongst zoologists for working with the 'cute and cuddlies'. At that time (1999) very little had been known about the 42 species of hydrobiid snails listed as 'threatened' on the Tasmanian Threatened Species Protection Act 1995 with only one major study having been conducted, and so I decided to take up the challenge, and i'm still at it.

My supervisors are Associate Professor Alastair Richardson (School of Zoology, University of Tasmania), Dr Sarah Munks (Forest Practices Authority, Tasmania) and
Dr Winston Ponder (formerly of Australian Museum, Sydney).

My PhD studies are funded through an Australian Postgraduate Award and the Forest Practises Authority, and contribute to the CRC for Forestry Biodiversity Project.

To browse other PhD projects available with the Biodiversity Project, click here.