Biological sciences

Research in biological sciences at the South Australian Museum is unparalleled in the world. It incorporates an exciting blend of traditional scientific disciplines, cutting edge molecular genetic technologies and unique and extensive specimen collections.

The Museum started to collect specimens over 150 years ago and focuses on South Australian and Australian fauna, although neighbouring lands such as Antarctica and New Guinea are also well represented. Specimens collected include terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates, parasitic worms, amphibians, fish, birds, reptiles and mammals.

Every collection features type specimens; these are important scientifically and historically as they are the first biological samples upon which the original descriptions of new species were based. Preserved whole and part animals, dried skins, skulls, bones, microscope slides of small specimens and frozen tissue samples contained in the Australian Biological Tissue Collection, offer research scientists unmatched opportunities to study animal morphology and genetic characteristics.

Excellent searchable databases, image libraries and rare and out-of-print scientific publications sit alongside the specimens. As a result, biological research at the Museum has the capability to match data on date, site and habitat of specimen collections, with knowledge of the physical appearances and genetic characteristics of the animal. This capacity offers key insights into the physical distributions of animals over space and time, and how species make evolutionary adaptions to changing environments.

Collection management and in-house research activities are conducted by a small but dedicated group of nine Research Scientists, 12 Collection Managers and Technical Staff (some are fractional appointments), supported by an active team of 31 Honorary Research Associates and nearly 60 volunteers. 

Museum research scientists in Biological Sciences work closely with the University of Adelaide, Flinders University of South Australia, amateur scientific societies, the South Australian Department for Environment and Water, the South Australian Department for Energy and Mining, other state agencies and scientists across Australia and the world.

A scientist measures the skull of a reptile

Reptiles and amphibians research

Research in the herpetology section is focused on the diversity, distribution, origins and conservation of Australian and Melanesian reptiles and amphibians, emphasising South Australia and the Australian arid zone.  

A researcher examines two albatross in the South Australian Museum collection

Birds research

The Museum’s ornithology Section is involved in an exciting range of research in bird behaviour, distribution and taxonomy.

Genetic sampling taking place via a machine

Evolutionary biology research

Evolutionary Biology Unit research scientists use molecular (DNA, RNA and protein) methods to explore fundamental questions in evolution and ecology.

A scientist examines a fish in the South Australian Museum's collection

Fish research

The ichthyology collection is primarily used for research focused on the taxonomy and phylogeography of various fish groups from the Australian region.

Catherine Kemper and Ikuko Tomo examine a dead dolphin at the South Australian Museum Bolivar facility

Mammals research

The Museum’s globally renowned marine mammal collections and databases are the focus of much of the research undertaken by the Mammals group.

Rachel King, scientist, conducting marine invertebrate research

Marine invertebrates research

The diversity of marine invertebrates is so immense that our current research focus is limited to a few groups of organisms, while the vast scope of this collection presents research capabilites for decades to come.

A scientist removes a label from a speciment jat to reveal an orange parasite

Parasites research

Parasitology is the study of parasites, a diverse group of organisms that are dependent on another living organism for nutrition to survive — the host.

Two scientists research terrestrial invertebrates

Terrestrial invertebrates research

The Museum has had some of the longest history of terrestrial invertebrate research in Australian museums that dates back to the early 1900s.


Photomicrography of insect specimens in the Terrestrial Invertebrate Collection and Research Facility, Science Centre.

Critical measurements of the skull of a reptile by Senior Research Scientist, Dr Mark Hutchinson.

Research Scientist Dr Rachael King draws taxonomic figures using ‘digital inking’ to include in a publication on new species of stygofauna.

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