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7 Posts tagged with the india tag
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The great majority of the more than 400 families of snails are found only in the sea, while about 5% of them are exclusively freshwater. Very few snail groups are common in both environments and just three marine families have rare freshwater members.

 

One of these is the Littorinidae (periwinkles), familiar from rocky shores. In the nineteenth century three freshwater periwinkle species (genus Cremnoconchus) were discovered in the mountainous Western Ghats of India, living in fast-flowing streams at altitudes between 300 and 1400 m. These have not been studied for over 100 years.

 

Cremnoconchus.JPGFigure from the original description of Cremnoconchus (images 1-7) Image courtesy of Biodiversity Heritage Library. http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org

 

In a collaboration with scientists from the NHM's partner organisation the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Bangalore, David Reid revisited the type localities of the three known species to collect new specimens. (The type locality is the place in which the reference specimen was found that was originally used to describe and name the species.) These were studied to find out more about the snails and allowed the relationships between the species to be investigagted in more detail and revised.  There are distinctive differences between the species particularly in terms of their radula (the rasping tongue of snails), their reproductive systems and the calcified operculum (the disc that fits into the shell opening when the snail retreats into the shell, providing additional protection from predators and desiccation).

 

In addition, an unknown radiation of six new Cremnoconchus species was discovered in the central Western Ghats, 500 km south of the previously known range where David and his collaborators looked at the known species.

 

Cremnoconchus is interesting in evolutionary terms: the current evidence suggests that its closest living relatives are marine snails found only in New Zealand and Australia, suggesting that the ancestral population was split by the breakup of the ancient continent Gondwana during the Cretaceous, between 145 and 65 million years ago.  However, more evidence and DNA studies would be needed to confirm this hypothesis.


Each of the six new species was restricted to a single stream system on the steep western escarpment of the Deccan Plateau, with limited overlap in distribution in two places.  This suggests that populations of ancestral species were isolated by waterfalls or other features allowing evolutionary divergence over time The habitat of these snails is fragile, being very limited in scale and threatened by tourism, road construction and domestic pollution: all the species are judged to be endangered.

 

Reid, D.G., Aravind, N.A. & Madhyastha, N.A. (2013) A unique radiation of marine littorinid snails in the freshwater streams of the Western Ghats of India: the genus Cremnoconchus W.T. Blanford, 1869 (Gastropoda: Littorinidae). Zoological  Journal of the Linnean Society. 167: 93-135.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1096-3642.2012.00875.x

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Ralf Britz and collaborators from the Conservation Research Group from St Albert's College, Kochi, Kerala have published a series of papers describing three new fish species from South India.

 

Pristolepis rubripinnis, Dario urops and Pangio ammophila were discovered during the January 2012 NHM-funded visit of Dr Ralf Britz to Kochi, to work with Dr Rajeev Raghavan. Historical specimens of the fish collection in the Natural History Museum collected by Sir Francis Day in the 1860s and 70s played an important role in the resolution of taxonomic and nomenclatural issues before the species could be described.

 

This series of papers highlights our incomplete knowledge of one of the most important biodiversity hotspots in Asia, the Western Ghats, a mountain range along the west coast of Peninsular India. Both Pristolepis rubripinnis and Dario urops are of particular interest in that closely related species are found in north-eastern India - it is not clear how this distribution arose because there are no river connections between the two areas that would have allowed ancestral populations to separate, migrate and diverge into different species. 


Britz, R., Kumar, K. & Baby, F. (2012). Pristolepis rubripinnis, a new species of fish from southern India (Teleostei: Percomorpha: Pristolepididae). Zootaxa, 3345: 59-68.

Britz, R., Ali, A. & Philip, S. (2012). Dario urops, a new species of badid fish from the Western Ghats, southern India (Teleostei: Percomorpha: Badidae). Zootaxa, 3348: 63-68.

Britz, R., Ali, A. & R. Raghavan. (2012). Pangio ammophila, a new species of eel-loach from Karnataka, southern India (Teleostei: Cypriniformes: Cobitidae). Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters, 23: 45-50.

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The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is an international agreement under the UN umbrella that focuses on biodiversity information, conservation and sustainable use. Most of the World's countries have signed up to the CBD since it was initiated in 1992. It represents a common understanding of what biodiversity is; who owns and controls genetic resources; what information is needed to protect biodiversity and make decisions about its use; and how countries work together on all sorts of issues.

 

Dr Chris Lyal of the NHM has developed a lot of expertise on policy,  collaboration and capacity building under the CBD.  He is the focal  point for the UK for the Global Taxonomy Initative, a CBD programme that  aims to share taxonomic information and expertise. As a scientist, Chris is an expert on the taxonomy of weevils, a group of beetles that are significant crop pests - this involves deep knowledge of classification, naming and description of new species from around the world.

 

The Conference of the Parties to CBD (COP) is held every couple of years and COP 11 is currently being held in Hyderabad in central India.  Chris is there on behalf of the  NHM and has been in discussion with delegates from governments and other organisations on the science behind biodiversity and CBD initiatives.

 

One of the foci for CBD is invasive species.  There have always been natural patterns of change in the distribution of plants and animals. However, when humans cause species to be introduced - by accident or design - to new areas of the World they can cause major impacts.  They may become pests on crops or cause unexpected declines in natural biodiversity, for example, and can have huge economic costs. 

 

A new Global Invasive Alien Species Information Partnership has been formed to share and develop information on invasive species and to support development of expertise. Chris Lyal attended the inaugural signing of the partnership agreement and will be leading the NHM's contribution.

 

Chris at COP.jpg

Chris (standing) signing the GIASIP agreement on behalf of the NHM


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David Gower, Mark  Wilkinson, Diego San Mauro (Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellow),  Emma Sherratt (NERC-funded PhD student) and NHM Scientific Associate S. D. Biju (University of Delhi) collaborated in the discovery and description of a new family of amphibians. 

 

Chiklidae is a small radiation of caecilian amphibians endemic to northeast India, previously known only from a single poorly preserved specimen collected in 1904. More than a century later this species was rediscoved (and some closely related undescribed species discovered) by the team as a result of the most extensive dedicated field surveys of caecilians that have ever been attempted.

 

The animals were scanned using Micro CT, and phylogenetic analysis of the relationships of the family within the wider group of caeclians was based on a combination of nuclear genes and complete mitochondrial genomes.  The CT  scanning revealed a distinctive cranial morphology which with the phylogenetic analysis showed the closest relatives to be an endemic African family.

 

The discovery reveals an ancient Gondwanan biogeographical link between Africa and northeast India.   Gondwana was a landmass that combined South America, Africa, the Indian subcontinent, Antarctica and Australia - the separation of India from Africa began around 120 million years ago during the Jurassic. The breakup of the supercontinent separated populations that diverged in evolutionary terms over time, resulting in new groups of species. (As a parallel example: Humans and the great apes are in the family Hominidae; gibbons are in the closely related family Hylobatidae, although the split between these families is thought to have occurred only 18 million years ago)

 

This work identifies the first family of vertebrates that are endemic to northeast India and highlights the possibility that northeast India could be a Biodiversity Hotspot - an area of particularly high diversity for many groups of organisms. 

 

The work was part funded as an International Joint Project (Gower & Biju) of the Royal Society and Indian Department of Science and Technology and has attracted substantial worldwide news media attention.  A video on the discovery posted on YouTube has attracted more than 100,000 hits.

 

A good slideshow on the Huffington Post

See also: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/about-us/news/2012/march/scientists-dig-up-new-branch-of-amphibian-family-tree108532.html

RG Kamei, D San Mauro, DJ Gower, I Van Bocxlaer, E Sherratt, A Thomas, S Babu, F Bossuyt, M Wilkinson and S. D. Biju. Discovery of a new family of amphibians from northeast India with ancient links to Africa Proc. R. Soc. B doi: 10.1098/rspb.2012.0150

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This international conference will be held from the 6th-7th December, 2011, on the general theme of South Asian natural history collections with a special emphasis on the collections of the Danish botanist Nathaniel Wallich (1786-1854), a major figure in the history and development of botany in the nineteenth century.

 

As superintendent of the Calcutta Botanic Garden (1817-1846), he undertook botanical expeditions, described new plant species, amassed a large herbarium, collected thousands of plant specimens and commissioned local artists to draw beautiful botanical watercolours. His work has thus been influential in South Asian Natural History research.

 

This conference will explore the challenges associated with exploiting such collections and the interesting opportunities they provide for interdisciplinary research. In particular, the conference will consider the experience of the recent “Wallich and Indian Natural History” project as an interesting exemplar (a collaboration with the British Library and The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew). An earlier blog post outlined some of the work of this project.

 

Major South Asian natural history collections from the 18th and 19th century are now dispersed across institutions in South Asia, Europe and beyond. Thus, the conference will be hosted by the Natural History Museum, London and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in partnership with the British Library. This conference plays an integral part in the World Collections Programme funded project “Wallich and Indian Natural History”.

 

More information is available on the NHM Centre for Arts and Humanities website. A full programme and travel information will be available on that site by the 30th September, 2011. Abstract Submission Deadline: 30th August, 2011

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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.

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In November 2010, Drs David Gower and Mark Wilkinson (Zoology) represented the NHM at the formal launch of the International project LAI: Lost Amphibians of India at the University of Delhi, India.

This project aims to “rediscover” Indian amphibian species in the wild that have not been recorded scientifically for anywhere between 18 and 169 years. The concern is that some of the 50 or so species on the wanted list might have become extinct, given that amphibian declines and extinctions have been reported worldwide in recent years.

Many of the “lost” Indian species are known only from their museum type specimens, often historical material held only in the NHM, having been collected during the colonial period.

The NHM is an official Institutional Partner in the LAI project along with several international conservation NGOs. The project is organised by the University  of Delhi and supported by the Indian government Department of Biotechnology, Department of Science and Technology, and Ministry of Environment and Forests.

Both David and Mark have worked in India and other countries with local collaborators over many years, focusing in particular on the diversity, evolution and biogeography of the burrowing, legless caecilian amphibians.  Two South American examples of these animals can be seen among the species of the day for 2010: Rhinatrema bivittatum; and Atretochoana eiselti.