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September 23, 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.”