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Science News

September 2011
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Dr Anne Jungblut works in the Antarctic on cyanobacteria - a summary of her recent work is taken from the Botany annual report

 

The Antarctic is characterized by extreme cold and aquatic ecosystems that are dominated by microbes. Cyanobacteria can be found in polar lakes, ponds and streams, and often dominate total ecosystem biomass and productivity by forming benthic mats and films. These organisms are highly tolerant of the harsh polar conditions and overcome nutrient limitation by recycling and scavenging inorganic and organic nutrients.

 

In the ice-covered lakes of the Dry Valleys of Antarctica, cyanobacteria-dominated microbial mats form pinnacle structures that are potential analogues to microbialites found in fossil records. However, despite the importance of cyanobacteria to Antarctic ecosystems, ecology and geo-biology, their diversity, community structure and ecology have been little studied.

 

Two field events took place during the austral summer 2010-2011. The first project aims to evaluate the diversity of Antarctic cyanobacteria along spatial and temporal scales. During the field trip to Antarctica in collaboration with Dr Ian Hawes, Dr Jenny Webster-Brown and Hannah Christenson, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand), collection sites were targeted on Ross Island and McMurdo Ice Shelf that were visited by the British National Antarctic Expedition (Discovery Expedition 1901–04), the British Antarctic Expedition (Terra Nova Expedition 1910-13) led by R.F. Scott and the British Antarctic Expedition (Nimrod Expedition 1907-09) led by E. H. Shackleton in order to test how present-day diversity compares with cyanobacterial mat specimens from 100 years ago. The fieldwork was supported by Antarctica, New Zealand and the project “Antarctic Aquatic Inland Ecosystems: Icebased ecosystems” (Project Leader: Dr Ian Hawes).

 

The second project is in collaboration with Dr Dale Anderson (Principal Investigator, SETI Institute, CA, USA), Dr Dawn Sumner and Tyler Mackey (US Davis, CA, USA) and Dr Ian Hawes (University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand). The objective is to gain a better understanding of pinnacle formations in cyanobacteria-dominated microbial mats in the perennial ice-covered Lakes Joyce, Vanda and Hoare in the Antarctic Dry
Valley, which will help to interpret ancient microbialite morphology in fossil records. A field event was carried out as part of the US Antarctic Program and supported by research grant from NASA. As part of the fieldwork in the Dry Valleys, pinnacle morphologies were characterized, photosynthesis capabilities examined and cyanobacterial diversity assessed by way of microscopic analysis. Ongoing research in the NHM Botany Department will determine community structure of cyanobacteria within microbialite structures to evaluate the role of cyanobacteria in the formation of microbialite structures, and to study the phylogenetics of cyanobacteria from these unique Antarctic cryo-ecosystems.

 

Anne wrote a blog on her experiences in the Antarctic - a day-by-day account from the early part of 2011.

 


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Mary Anning remains one of the most famous characters in the history of Palaeontology. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the discovery of the specimen that started her career. To mark this anniversary this specimen—comprising the skull and some post cranial elements of Temnodontosaurus platydon—has been loaned to the Lyme Regis Museum. The specimen was the first discovery of a complete Ichthyosaur and was made by Mary Anning and her brother Joseph in 1811 in the 205 million year old Jurassic Blue Lias from cliffs nearby. Now after 200 years the gigantic skull has returned to Lyme Regis to the museum built on the site of Mary’s childhood home, on loan from The Natural History Museum (London).


Soon after it was found in the Anning family sold the ichthyosaur to Henry Hoste Henley of Colway Manor in Lyme for £23. From there it was sent to London, probably by sea where it was exhibited at William Bullock’s Museum of Natural Curiosities. In 1819 the specimen was purchased by the British Museum (at the time the British Museum was made up of what is now the Natural History Museum, the current British Museum and the British Library).  It is in the Natural History Museum that it is normally exhibited alongside a host of other marine reptile remains. The skull’s return to Lyme Regis for the first time in 200 years was overseen by Palaeontology staff Drs Martin Munt and Tim Ewin.

 

SiS ichthyo 8 2.jpg

Martin Munt, Tim Ewin, Chris Andrews and Paddy Howe


Carrying the heavy, two metre-long specimen up the curved staircase to the geology gallery at Lyme Regis Museum proved to be too difficult. So with concern for the specimen’s safety, not to mention the backs of the local geologists including Paddy Howe and Chris Andrews who had turned out to help with the installation, the decision was taken to place the specimen in the Social History Gallery on the Ground Floor. where it will be on display until the end of September 2011. The loan has been made possible due to a grant of £1,000 from Natural England and the financial support of The Natural History Museum.


As Dr Martin Munt noted “it has been a privilege to help Lyme Regis Museum achieve their dream of bringing home this iconic fossil specimen to mark the 200th anniversary of its discovery. This loan has been the outcome of over a year’s planning and was supported by former Director of Science Dr Richard Lane, Keeper of Palaeontology Prof. Norm MacLeod, with technical assistance provided by the Head of the Palaeontology Conservation Unit, Chris Collins.”

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Adrian Pont from Entomology spent two weeks on fieldwork in Armenia, 16-29 July. This was the second of three projected visits to Armenia, within the framework of the International Science and Technology Center project “Molecular genetic monitoring of blood-sucking flies (Diptera) as a basis for biological control of vectors of dangerous infectious diseases and precautions against the acts of biological terrorism”

 

The 2010 fieldwork was in June and the projected 2012 fieldwork will be in May. In this way, the seasonal succession from spring, summer and high summer will have been covered. Samples were collected at 52 sites. 14 of these were during day-trips out from Yerevan to localities previously investigated in 2010, such as Tsakhkadzor at over 2300 m and Lake Kari at nearly 3200 m.  Adrian also spent a morning investigating the polluted River Hrazdan that runs through the centre of Yerevan. The other 40 sites were in the south-east of Armenia.

 

From 22 to 28 July inclusive, Adrian and his team drove to Meghri on the border with Iran and worked their way slowly back to Yerevan. His companions were a mosquito specialist and two blackfly specialists, and consequently the sites visited were sometimes in villages (for adult mosquitoes in cow sheds) but more usually on the banks of rivers and streams (for blackfly larvae and pupae). As it happened, the riverine habitats were the only ones to produce any Diptera as the open grassland was dry and baked in the summer sun. Day temperatures were in the upper 30s, and it was only at the high-altitude localities that Diptera were more abundant. Early morning and evening were the best times of day to collect Diptera.

 

Some 1350 specimens were collected and pinned. Over the next few months those on minutien pins will be mounted, and data labels will be printed and attached to all specimens, which will then be sorted to families.  Adrian will continue sorting and identifying the Muscidae, and Michael Ackland will continue his work with the Anthomyiidae.

 

Among other families, there were few Brachycera and few Acalyptrates. Dolichopodidae were very abundant around the streams, but the season for Empididae was clearly over and very few specimens were found. Sarcophagidae were abundant, but there were few Calliphoridae and only a moderate number of Tachinidae. In the Muscidae, genera such as Thricops, Drymeia, Phaonia, Helina, Mydaea, Coenosia, were also notably scarce or absent. One species (undescribed) of Spilogona was common at Lake Kari. Lispe species and some Limnophora were present at almost all rivers and streams and, as in 2010, Lispe tentaculata was the most abundant and widespread predaceous species of Muscidae and was observed taking adult chironomid midges as prey.

 

In a paper in 2005 (Pont, A.C., Werner, D., and Kachvoryan, E.A., A preliminary list of the Fanniidae and Muscidae (Diptera) of Armenia,  Zoology in the Middle East, 36: 73-86) Adrian noted that only 20 species of Muscidae had previously been recorded from Armenia. The list now stands at well over 100 species, and grows with each field trip.

 

This article was taken from Entom news - thanks to Adrian and Esther for content.

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Zoology Seminar


Stories about Polychaetes from Deception Island (South Shetland Islands, Antarctica)

 

Sergi Taboada MORENO
University of Barcelona

 

Monday 19th September,

Neil Chalmers Science Seminar Room (DC.LG16)

12:00 - 13:00

 

The Antarctic Polychaeta fauna has a relatively very good background. However, very little is known about the polychaetes that thrive in whale bones implanted in the sea floor. During this talk I will be presenting some of the results obtained after studying experimentally deployed whale bones at Deception Island, a very peculiar Antarctic volcanic island from the South Shetland Islands archipelago.


NOTE: THIS SEMINAR IS ON MONDAY, NOT THE USUAL TUESDAY SLOT!

Contact: Ronald Jenner, Zoology (R.Jenner@nhm.ac.uk) or see see http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/seminars-events/index.html

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Entomology Seminar

 

Alfred Russel Wallace in the New World: Wallace's US-Canada Lecture Tour of 1886-87

 

Charles H. Smith

Western Kentucky   University, USA

 

Wednesday September 14th

Neil Chalmers Science Seminar Room (DC.LG16)

 

2 pm - 3 pm

 

Alfred Russel Wallace is best known for events that took place relatively early in his life, in connection with his natural history collecting expeditions to South America and Indonesia in 1848-52 and 1854-62, respectively. But after returning the second time to England he lived another fifty-one yearsto the age of ninety in 1913. This later portion of his life was also filled with activity, and even included another lengthy period of time spent out of the country. Over a ten month period in 1886-87 he toured some ten thousand miles across Canada and the United States, along the way observing, lecturing, botanizing, attending séances, and meeting and befriending a couple of hundred leading figures from American science, politics, and academia, right up to President Grover Cleveland. He left a journal of his tour which is most enlightening, and currently under transcription for publication. In this presentation, focussing on the journal, we attempt a return to this late-Nineteenth Century world.

 

Contact: Dr Vladimir Blagoderov, Entomology (v.blagoderov@nhm.ac.uk)

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Collections Management Seminar


Wednesday 21st September 2011, 2.30pm-4.00pm, Flett Lecture Theatre, NHM, South Kensington


Will it fit through the door? Relocating the Grant Museum of Zoology, University College, London.

 

Speaker:  Mark Carnall, Curator and Acting Manager Grant Museum of Zoology UCL.


In March this year UCL’s Grant Museum of Zoology re-opened in new premises in the Rockefeller Building on Gower Street. The re-opening of the museum concluded a year long process of relocating stores and collections from inadequate facilities that had been begged for, sometimes stolen and borrowed when the collection was relocated previously.

 

The new museum has received widespread praise for maintaining the Victorian atmosphere albeit in a space twice the size of the previously location. However, the movement of the collection was fraught with difficulties including a disastrous flood, delays before the project even started and problems arising dealing with numerous stakeholders and project managers inside and outside of the University. The move was highly unusual in that the displays were installed as they were being unpacked with no installation plan and that museum staff had little control of the budget.

 

This seminar looks at how the collections were moved, the advantages and disadvantages of working within a university and what these moves mean for the ongoing relationship between the museum and UCL.

 


For further details see http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/seminars-events/index.html