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5th National Postgraduate Training Workshop in Systematics

The University of Adelaide

 July 2018

Workshop report: Systematics workshop reveals diverse assemblage of budding systematists

By Tim Collins, PhD candidate at the University of New England

The 5th National Postgraduate Training Workshop in Systematics was held in July this year at The University of Adelaide, giving 28 PhD, Masters and Honours students from 11 universities across Australia and New Zealand hands-on training using a variety of systematic analyses. Financial and in-kind support from Australian Centre for Evolutionary Biology & Biodiversity (The University of Adelaide), Environment Institute (The University of Adelaide), Society of Australian Systematic Biologists, Australasian Systematic Botany Society and Australian Biological Resources Study, meant that there were no registration fees and thus generously covered lunches, tea breaks and other workshop costs.

The workshop program included introductory seminars on phylogenetics and data handling through to practical exercises applying phylogenetic analyses to real-world data. Methods of DNA sequence data handling and analysis included alignment using Geneious, basic tree production using RAxML, and time-measured phylogenies using BEAST. These introductory seminars focused on protein-coding nuclear DNA sequences, in particular COI sequences, but later seminars covered species delimitation and phylogenetics using Next Generation Sequence data.

The budding systematicists were privy to behind the scenes tours of the SA Museum and State Herbarium demonstrating a variety of ways that museum specimens are stored, and the specific challenges in maintaining specimen databases for the different collections.

Dr Mark Harvey was engaging and witty in his seminars covering the different approaches of zoological and botanical nomenclature to large and diverse groups, and the processes (and fun) involved in describing and publishing new species.

The short seminars on funding, collaboration and employment were interesting and well-worth their inclusion as they helped provide a complete picture of the challenges facing taxonomists in Australia today.

Overall, I think I gained a lot more confidence in understanding the application of a variety of phylogenetic analyses. The timing of the workshop was particularly good for me, as I am preparing to sequence samples, and will be able to approach the data analysis with some experience of the software, and the challenges of manipulating the large data sets.

I also enjoyed meeting the other students and learning about the broad variety of systematics projects underway around Australia. The welcome dinner, a mid-week BBQ and the spontaneous Schnithouse dinner were wonderful opportunities to get to know each other and have fun.

The venue was excellent, food was good, and Andy Austin and his team made me feel very welcome. I would definitely recommend future workshops to other systematics students.