Meet the carcinologists: Rachael Peart

Carcinologists are the people who study the world of crustacea. Three of those experts have helped to shape Mawhiti Tino Rawe | Clever Crustaceans in partnership with NIWA Taihoro Nukurangi.

Here, NIWA Taihoro Nukurangi’s crustacean biologist Rachael Peart talks to MScSoc graduate Poppy McGuigan Hay about her work in the world of crustaceans.

Rachael Peart exploring the Smithsonian Crustacean collections. Photo by Kareen Schnabel. NIWA

A crustacean biologist, Rachael focuses on mainly small crustaceans, particularly the amphipods – looking at their presence and how they interact with the environment. Over the last 25 years, Rachael has described over 100 amphipod species and a significant number of polychaete worm species.

What is your favourite crustacean – and why?

RP: Of course it is an amphipod … particularly a group called the Ampithoidae. These are the gentle herbivores of the coastal marine environment. They generally live on and in seaweed and have ‘silk’ glands on some of their legs. They use the silk to stick together fronds of seaweed, making a nest and raising their young and eating the seaweed from the inside.

How did you get into this work?

RP: Initially, I started at the Australian Museum as an illustrator of amphipod parts. I had completed my honours degree on larval fish and estuary health. The researcher I was illustrating for recommended I do further study on amphipods, which I did and finished my PhD.

How would you answer, “What is a carcinologist?” at a party?

RP: I am afraid I am too much of a nerd, I don’t get invited to parties – someone who studies any aspect of crustacean science.

What makes crustaceans so special?

RP: The huge diversity – they range from Large king crabs or spider crabs to the tiniest ones that live amongst the sand grains. Some are spikey, some are round, some make tubes, and some float midwater.

What research do you feel most proud of?

RP: Describing over a hundred species new to science.

What are you currently working on that you’re passionate about?

RP: The work examining the biofouling communities on the tsunami detection buoys.

What inspires you to go to work each day?

RP: Coffee (and examining such a wide variety of organisms).

What advice would you give to an aspiring carcinologist?

RP: Don’t just look at the big and tasty ones. There is so much diversity in the smaller things. Also, don’t give up, it is worthwhile finding how crustaceans are influenced by and can influence the world around them.

Is there anything you wish more people knew about crustaceans in Aotearoa New Zealand?

RP: They are everywhere – every environment (not the air though). There are many crustaceans from your backyard to the deepest trenches. They can be used as bioindicators, food, or as signals of a changing environment.

Rachael Peart scraping off goose barnacles from tsunami detection buoys. Photo by Oliver Twigge. NIWA

Rachael exploring the Smithsonian Crustacean collections. Photo by Kareen Schnabel. NIWA

Rachael Peart sampling algal dwelling crustacean at Rēkohu Chatham Islands. Photo by Helen Bostock. NIWA

Rachael Peart sampling algal dwelling crustacean at Rēkohu Chatham Islands. Photo by Helen Bostock. NIWA

Rachael (centre) in the Smithsonian collections lab with Immaculada Frutos. Photo by Kareen Schnabel. NIWA