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7 Posts tagged with the taxonomy tag
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LIFE SCIENCES DEPARTMENT SEMINAR

 

 

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Taxonomic background information is essential for bee conservation

 

Denis Michez

Laboratory of Zoology,  University of Mons,  Belgium

 

Friday 31 of January 11:00

Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)


Bees are a monophyletic group of largely pollenivorous species derived from among the predatory apoid wasps. Their extant diversity is estimated to be about 20.000 species worldwide, with 2000 species known from Europe. Many European bee species are in strong decline and several working groups are currently analyzing potential drivers of range contraction. Here I would like to address the importance of clear taxonomic background information to correctly characterize bee decline and to develop a conservation program at global scale.

 

 

For additional details on attending this or other seminars see http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/seminars-events/index.htm

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Taxonomy specialists at the Museum are running three week-long short courses for junior environmental science researchers and PhD students in March 2014.

 

The courses are sponsored by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

 

The deadline for application is January 10 2014.

 

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Taxonomic principles and tools in botanical research: a short course

A course about plant taxonomy designed for environmental science researchers and PhD students run by the Museum's taxonomy specialists. The course covers taxonomic tools, nomenclature and the role of collections in botanical research.

 

March 10-14 2014

9.30-17.30

Natural History Museum, London.

 

Find out more about the course and apply online

 

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Taxonomic skills and field techniques for freshwater ecology and quality: a short course

A course about freshwater ecology and water quality designed for environmental science researchers and PhD students run by the Museum's fresh water biology and biodiversity specialists.The course covers the taxonomic skills and field techniques needed for freshwater sciences and water quality research.

 

March 17-21 2014 (5 days)

9.30-17.30

Natural History Museum, London, UK.

 

Find out more about the course and apply online

 

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Molecular Techniques for Taxonomy

The course will provide the practical skills, understanding and expertise necessary to obtain DNA from a variety of specimen types and an introduction to analysing molecular data.

 

February 17-21 2014 or March 3-7 2014

9.30-17.30

Natural History Museum, London.

 

Find out more about the course and apply online

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Friday 24 of May 11:00
Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)

 

 

Octocorals of the family Xeniidae in Red Sea and beyond

 

 

Yehuda Benayahu - Department of Zoology, Tel Aviv University, Ramat Aviv, Tel Aviv,  Israel

 

 

Octocorals are common throughout the Indo-Pacific reefs and play an important role in the ecology of the ecosystem, yet they remain dramatically understudied. The seminar will deal with octocorals of the family Xeniidae, a highly abundant component of Indo-Pacific coral reefs, particularly in the Red Sea. Aspects concerning their life history and acquisition of symbiotic algae (zooxanthellae) at early ontogenetic stages will be addressed. Opportunistic Xeniidae are taking over degraded reefs but taxonomic difficulties force researchers to recognize them as a group whichprecludes detailed understanding of the reef environment and processes on impacted reefs by genera or even species. Our ongoing project deals with phylogeny of the family including provision of species identifications based on their morphological characters. Recent findings reveal that novel microstructural features of their sclerites might be critically important in resolving taxonomic difficulties. Such a study requires introduction of high resolution scanning electron microscopy at magnifications never used before by octocoral taxonomists. Insights on microstructural features of xeniid sclerites also enabled us to examine the effect of ocean acidification on these octocorals and understand the possible function of their living tissue in protection against deteriorating effects of acidic conditions.  It is anticipated that studies on xeniids will facilitate future surveys aimed at the maintenance and greater understanding of coral reef diversity and reef-environment function and sustainability.

 

For additional details on attending this or other seminars see http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/seminars-events/index.html

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Thomas Simonsen has published an invited peer-reviewed paper in Arthropod Structure and Development in collaboration with co-workers from the Finnish Museum of Natural History and Naturalis (Dutch Museum of Natural History) on the continuing importance of morphology in Lepidoptera systematics.

 

Taxonomy and systematics are areas of science that are focused on description, naming, classification and evolutionary relationships of living things.  Such science is the fundamental reason for the existence of large natural history collections, and traditionally the focus has been on morphology - the use of combinations of physical characters such as number of legs, wing patterns or body form.  The differences in these characters between species can be compared and allow identification - so a fly will have one pair of wings but a bee will have two pairs, for example. Over time, different species and groups have diverged as a result of evolution and in general become progressively more different in form.

 

However, while morphology is a key tool in understanding diversity, evolutionary difference can be seen also in molecules, particularly DNA.  DNA of different species can be compared and the degree of difference used to assess patterns of evolution and relationships.  The use of DNA in taxonomy and systematics is of increasing importance and museum collections are of great value in this new science - a purpose never suspected by those who started to assemble them in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

 

Wallace birdwing NaturalHistoryMuseum_PictureLibrary_056153_IA.jpgOrnithoptera croesus, Wallace's golden birdwing butterfly - a member of the Paplionidae family

 

Some scientists have argued that DNA alone will be used in future to assess diversity and to identify species: it is after all DNA differences that are the root cause of morphological difference - so why use both?  There are in fact a number of reasons why morphological techniques will be of continuing importance - Thomas and colleagues explore the relative value of morphology and molecular information for large groups of butterflies in this paper.

 

They reviewed the morphological characters that are important for understanding butterfly phylogeny and evolution in the context of large-scale molecular phylogenies (evolutionary classifications) of the group. In particular, they were interested in what the molecular evidence was able to tell them about the evolution of morphological features - so for example, were characters that are used to separate distantly related groups actually caused by large genetic differences?

 

They looked in particular at the families Papilionidae, Nymphalidae and Hesperiidae which have all been studied with a combination of morphological and molecular data in recent years. What they found was that a  scientifically more valuable classification emerged not from using either molecular or morphological techniques, but from using both in combination. They argue that morphology still has an immensely important role to play in butterfly (and insect) phylogenetics - including its value in understanding how the whole organism is important in evolutionary changes, natural selection and diversity.  

 

Simonsen, T. J., de Jong, R., Heikkilä, M. & Kaila, L. (2012). Butterfly morphology in a molecular age – does it still matter in butterfly systematics? Arthropod Structure and Development. 41: pp. 307-322.

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Tropical periwinkles

Posted by John Jackson Nov 29, 2011

David Reid (Zoology) has published the fourth and final monograph of the worldwide tropical periwinkle genus Echinolittorina which concludes a taxonomic review of all 60 species of this littoral gastropod mollusc.

 

This completes a 20-year project, which has required  collection of anatomical and molecular samples from across the globe,  study of all major museum collections and a 3-year NERC-funded molecular  programme (by PDRA Suzanne Williams, now also a Researcher in Zoology).  The recognized species diversity has been increased by about 50% and 14  new species have been described.

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A scanning electron micrograph of a portion (3 tooth rows from a lotal length of 5 mm) of the long radula ribbon of Echinolittorina placida.

 

 

As a result the group is now among the most comprehensively known of all marine invertebrates, with taxonomy, morphology, development, distribution and molecular phylogeny all described in detail. It has become a model system for the study of the evolution of tropical marine invertebrates in shallow water, and has been used, for example, to demonstrate the prevalence of allopatric speciation (speciation following geographical separation of populations), the Miocene origin of many extant species, the influence of tectonic activity on diversification, and evolution of mating signals by reinforcement.

 

More information on an example of the group, Echinolittorina placida, is found on the NHM species of the day pages.


Reid, D.G. (2011) The genus Echinolittorina Habe, 1956 (Gastropoda: Littorinidae) in the eastern Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. Zootaxa 2974 1–65

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The main Museum news stream features an article on the diversity of potatoes, referring to a paper produced by Dr Sandra Knapp and collaborators in Russia and the USA.  They refer to the 626 different names (both species and varieties of species) used to refer to cultivated potatoes that are in fact members of only four species.

 

It's tempting to see this diversity of names as a mistake, or untidiness in taxonomy.  The reality is more complex: the idea of what a species is and how it should be identified and named has changed over time.  In addition, cultivated strains are frequently bred to develop particular characteristics that may have appeared to scientists in the past to represent different species. The fact that we are now able to bring together information on physical morphology with DNA data means that ideas of species can be tested in a number of different ways and reasons for superficial differences associated with cultivated strains explained.

 

ANNA OVCHINNIKOVA, EKATERINA KRYLOVA, TATJANA GAVRILENKO, TAMARA SMEKALOVA, MIKHAIL ZHUK, SANDRA KNAPP and DAVID M. SPOONER Taxonomy of cultivated potatoes (Solanum section Petota: Solanaceae) Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society Volume 165, Issue 2, pages 107–155, February 2011DOI: 10.1111/j.1095-8339.2010.01107.x

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Understanding the diversity of life is central to the mission of the Natural History Museum. Science sees diversity in many ways: populations, species, ecosystems, individuals or genes and the Museum's collections of more than 70 million items are used by scientists for research on many aspects of diversity.  The collections have developed over the past 250 years with a very strong emphasis on the idea of the species, but reflect diversity within species as well - the differences between populations from different areas, for example.

 

What separates one species from another is not always an easy question: it is a key question for the science of taxonomy and has important practical implications.  The established biological species concept defines two species as two groups of organisms that cannot interbreed to produce fertile young when in the same location.  When different species are present in the same location, this can be observed in theory.  However, when two groups of similar organisms are geographically separate, are they different populations, different subspecies, or different species? This will be the case for many thousands of species and has led to heated debate among scientists who have taken different views.

 

Beyond science, this is of importance because the species is often used in practical policy-making and economic activity.  There needs to be accurate definition for biodiversity conservation, pest control in agriculture, human health and other activities.

 

A group of collaborating scientists from Oxford and Cambridge Universities and from BirdLife International have used the Museum's bird collections to try to define a reliable standard for species. They aimed to define how much genetic, morphological and behavioural distance there was between known species and subspecies, and within species.

 

The scientists looked at pairs of 58 closely-related species and subspecies, including European swallows and linnets, North American blackbirds and tyrant flycatchers and African Illadopsis. They examined more than 2,000 specimens from the NHM bird collections and more than 140 from Louisana State University for morphological data and plumage, and looked also at song, ecological and behavioural differences. The intention was to use this suite of characters to define a reliable and objective difference between species.

 

Tobias et. al (2010) published their results in the journal Ibis, concluding that this is a reliable way of confirming species separations and propose that this could be used increasingly to improve the reliability of understanding of bird diversity. An article in Nature (Brooks and Helgen, 2010), commenting on the paper, suggested that there could be very interesting possibilities in applying similar techniques to other groups of organisms and with DNA data.

 

Thousands of visiting scientists routinely use the Museum's collections as a research resource: the collection represents a body of evidence to address new questions and test established knowledge of natural diversity, and continues to develop as research interests expand.

 


TOBIAS, J. A., SEDDON, N., SPOTTISWOODE, C. N., PILGRIM, J. D.,  FISHPOOL, L. D. C. and COLLAR, N. J. (2010), Quantitative criteria for  species delimitation. Ibis, 152: 724–746.  doi: 10.1111/j.1474-919X.2010.01051.x

 

Brooks, T. M. and K. M. Helgen (2010). "Biodiversity: A standard for species." Nature 467(7315): 540-541.