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Person details


Current activities

Revision and phylogeny of scale worms (Polychaeta: Polynoidae)

In collaboration with Dr Kristian Fauchald at the Smithsonian Institution, Robin is reviewing scale worms which occupy habitats from rock pools to specialised niches in the deep sea and are often commensal on other marine invertebrates. Scale worms are arguably the pinnacle of polychaete diversity with more than 800 species world-wide, but this diversity is a challenge to taxonomists, and to our understanding of evolutionary relationships of these fascinating animals. This project aims to remove the scales from our eyes by generating an evolutionary analysis of all genera and thus to begin to explain when and how these animals came to occupy such diverse habitats.

Sandworm biogeography (Polychaeta: Nereididae)

If any polychaete family can be said to be well-known in Australia, it is the sandworms – familiar to anglers as bait and to wading birds as fuel for their migrations. This project, in collaboration with Chris Glasby at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin, uses the 120+ known Australian sandworm species to test existing bioregions and marine reserves and to discover historical factors that explain current distribution patterns.

Documenting polychaete diversity in Australia

This is a number of projects but with a over-arching goal: to enable biologists to identify Australian polychaetes reliably and to understand what this tells us about marine biodiversity in Australia. Despite the publication of the Polychaetes interactive identification CD, recent expeditions continue to discover many new species. Robin and colleagues in Australia and overseas are describing new species in families including Eulepethidae, Nereididae, Opheliidae, Polynoidae, Scalibregmatidae and Spionidae and clarifying the identity of an introduced species of fan worm in the family Sabellidae. The results will be incorporated into a new online identification tools including Museum Victoria''s Port Phillip Bay taxonomic toolkie ( polychaete LifeDesk at the Encyclopaedia of Life The data generated are part of the output of the Marine Biodiversity Research Hub, a collaboration including Museum Victoria aimed at producing predictive models and tools to better understand and manage marine environments around Australia.

Marine field guides

Robin is closely involved with production of the Museum Victoria series Guides to Marine Life. He was co-author of the first title, An Introduction to Marine Life(2007), and is now editing future titles including one on nudibranchs and their relatives by Museum Victoria Honorary Associate Robert Burn.


Robin Wilson has over 25 years’ experience working on polychaete worms, perhaps the single most dominant, diverse and widespread group of marine invertebrates.  He has published over 30 scientific papers and contributed 25 chapters to Polychaetes and Allies in the Fauna of Australia synthesis.  This taxonomic knowledge has been the basis for Dr Wilson’s contributions to projects such as the ecology of Port Phillip Bay, the spread and identity of introduced marine species, and, currently, to characterising marine faunas of newly-explored regions of Australias continental shelf and slope.  Since 2000 Dr Wilson has had an increasing focus on making taxonomic information available to a wider audience, with major outputs including An Introduction to Marine Life (a popular guidebook, 2007), Polychaetes (2003, an interactive identification tool for all polychaete families and genera, and all 1,200 Australian polychaete species known to that point) and marine pests for Pests and Diseases Image Library (an internet identification resource, 2005-present).  

Academic qualifications

BSc., PhD (Monash)

Membership of key national committees

Robin Wilson  is a past president of the Society of Australian Systematic Biologists and currently (2007-2013)  is a member of the Australian Biological Resources Study Scientific Advisory Committee.