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January 21, 2011
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Adrian Glover (Zoology) and Helena Wiklund have also been awarded a Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship for Helena to work on deep sea biology.  This Marie Curie scheme, funded by the European Union, allows experienced EU researchers to work in other EU countries to develop skills and collaboration, producing high-quality science.  The NHM bids successfully for funds to a wide range of research funding agencies each year in the UK and elsewhere.

 

They will be working on worms in the deep sea: the last unexplored frontier on Earth, where in recent years many hundreds of new species have been discovered. We are familar with shallow coastal seas affected by tidal currents, richly productive and fertile.  In contrast, the deep sea has many areas where nutrients are scarce, cold and subject to high pressure, deep ocean basins over 4 kilometres below the surface.  The lives of organisms in the deep sea are often very different from those of related species near the surface.

 

A key question in deep-sea biology is that of whether and how deep-sea animals are able to disperse. Many organisms, such as worms, have limited abilty to move over any distance as adults: some have planktonic young that can be carried over distance by currents.

 

The dominant idea for the deep sea has been one of cosmopolitanism: that animals are relatively mobile at certain stages of their lfe cycle and have easy access to all ocean basins around the world. However, this has been recently challenged and for many species there may be barriers to dispersal in the form of substrate specialisation (the requirement to live in particular types of sediment) limited mobility or particular reproductive characteristics.

 

This study will target one of the most abundant and species-rich groups, the polychaetes. To answer questions of dispersal and evolution in the deep sea Helena will study three contrasting groups of polychaetes:one group with mobile planktonic larvae; a second group with direct-developing larvae, similar in form to the adults; and a third group, the newly discovered genus of ’bone-eating’ worms, Osedax, that are sessile (non-mobile) and exist on the most specialised of habitats – whale bones on the sea floor. (One of which, Osedax mucofloris, was a NHM species of the day in 2010)

 

osedax-sem_69101_1.jpg

Osedax mucofloris


The study will use molecular data (such as from DNA analysis) from material from several ocean basins to construct phylogenies (evolutionary trees) to evaluate the relationships within the three groups.  It will have great value in understanding species formation, population connections and the processes that drive biodiversity in the deep sea.

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Ranee Tiwari, Polly Parry and Julie Harvey from the Museum are currently visiting the Acharya Jagadish  Chandra Bose  Botanical Garden in Kolkata, India (formerly Calcutta) to collaborate on a project that combines science and history.  They are working on the plant collections and correspondence of Nathaniel Wallich who held the post of Superintendent of the Calcutta Botanic Garden in the early 19th Century, part of a project involving the National Archives of India, the Acharya  Jagadish Chandra  Bose Botanical   Garden, the NHM, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the British Library.

 

The NHM collections have developed over the past three centuries as a resource and reference for current scientific research, but always as part of a wider network of collaboration between museums, universities and botanical gardens in many different countries.  Information and specimens are constantly added to ensure that the collections reflect the best modern understanding of diversity and evolution.  However, they have a wider value: the gradual development of the collection reflects and captures all sorts of information and evidence of historical, social and economic interest.


Nathaniel Wallich's work, including botanical collections, watercolour drawings and correspondence is an invaluable scientific and historical resource for researchers and botanists around the world. He was central to the development of Indian botanical collections for a period, and exchanged specimens and letters with collaborators in different parts of the world: a quick search of the NHM botany collection database online shows Wallich as the named collector for more than 2,200 specimens.  This collaborative project will trace Wallich materials in different organisations and develop a website resource for public and research use.

 

Wallich was Danish, born in Copenhagen, but moved to the Danish settlement at Serampore in Bengal.  This was captured by the British East India Company shortly afterwards, Wallich and other Danes were employed by the Company: Wallich in the botanical garden from 1809, where he eventually became Superintendent at a period of prolific collection of plants from across Indian and neighbouring territories.

 

The long history of museum collections means that there is huge potential for research in the Arts and Humanities. In addition to their modern value, specimens and archives reflect past views of the world and are often associated with particular social or political developments, or with particular figures of both scientific and broader interest.  This resource is used by historians, anthropologists, artists and others for particular projects and the Museum has set up a specialist NHM Centre for Arts and Humanities Research to focus, support and develop these activities.