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33 Posts tagged with the zoology tag
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What does the future hold for the Pangolin?  They are rapidly earning the reputation of being the mammal with the world’s highest level of illegal trade, yet many people have never heard of them.

 

Louise Tomsett, Mammal Curator at the NHM, is giving two Nature Live events on Saturday 21st February 2015 - World Pangolin Day - in order to raise awareness of these lesser-known animals, and to highlight the threat of extinction due to the illegal wildlife trade. She will be showing specimens from the NHM’s scientific collections, not normally on display to the public.

 

What are pangolins?


Pangolins are nicknamed "scaly anteaters" but they are not the same animal we generally think of as an anteater. Despite their distinctive appearance, making them hard to confuse with any other mammal, relatively few people know about them. The scales cover most of their body, giving them the appearance of a "living pine cone" or artichoke. They live in a variety of habitats such as grassland, rainforest and agricultural areas such as plantations. There are four species in Africa and four in Asia.

 

Sunda or Malyan pangolin ii.JPGThe Sunda or Malayan Pangolin


Pangolins are well adapted to their ecological niche. They feed primarily on ants and termites, using large, powerful claws to break open nests and mounds, and very long, sticky tongues to lick up the insects. Their specialised ears and eyelids can be closed to prevent attack by ants. The scales are an aid for digging burrows, and help some species climb trees in addition to acting as armour against ants and larger attackers such as lions.

 

pangolin_scales.JPGPangolin scales

 

When threatened pangolins curl up into a tight ball, rendering them virtually impenetrable, even to a lion’s teeth. Their common name ‘pangolin’ even comes from a Malay term generally meaning ‘rolled up’. Unfortunately it is this defence mechanism that also makes them rather easy for poachers to pick up and carry.


Conservation issues


The main threats to pangolins are the illegal wildlife trade and habitat destruction. Trade in pangolins (live and dead) is on an international scale, with confiscated shipments often amounting to tonnes. Quantities found in seized shipments represent only a fraction of the real numbers traded and estimates of the trade indicate as much as tens of thousands of individuals each year. The main drive for trade is the falsely attributed health benefits of pangolin meat and other body parts such as scales. Alleged benefits range from curing acne to curing cancer. In some countries, the sheer cost of the meat and being able to afford it is used as a status symbol. Pangolins are also used as bush meat, for indigenous folk-law rituals and for leather goods.

 

The traditional source for pangolins for the illegal trade is southeast Asia but this is now appearing to change, with African pangolins now a target as Asian pangolins run out.  The consequence is that all species of pangolins are now threated with extinction.


tree or African white-bellied pangolin.jpg

Tree or African White-Bellied Pangolin

 

Pangolins are easily stressed and many die during the hunting and trafficking process, or even once rescued. They are extremely difficult to keep in captivity due to the fact that very little is known about their biology and care. In addition to this a continuous food supply of live ants and termites is very difficult to source. They have rarely been bred successfully and usually only have one offspring at a time so with current hunting levels, populations are not sustainable.

 

giant African pangolin scale.JPGScale of the Giant African Pangolin

 

The NHM’s collections are used by scientific researchers from all over the world. Like many of our collections, the pangolin specimens we hold contain a wealth of information, much of it waiting to be unlocked. For example, the geographical information can provide historical species ranges, specimen tissue samples for DNA analysis shows the genetics of different populations and isotope analysis of samples indicates geographical sources and movements during an individual’s life. All of this information is extremely valuable for conservation.

 

Louise Tomsett

 

#worldpangolinday

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Miniatures, morphology and molecules: problems with the phylogenetic position of Paedocypris

 

 

miniture fish.jpg

 

 

Ralf Britz

Vertebrates Division, Dept. Life Sciences, NHM

 

Wednesday 26 June 11:00

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

 

The highly miniaturized fish species of the cyprinid genus Paedocypris are among the smallest of all vertebrates. Their skeleton shows a puzzling mixture ofhighly reductive and morphologically novel characters. Numerous structures present in most bony fishes are absent in Paedocypris due to an organism wide case of progenesis or developmental truncation. I highlight the problems associated with working morphologically with such a truncated organism and offer some solutions. I also look in detail at the evidence from recent molecular systematic analyses some of which are in sharp contrast to the results based on morphology. I touch upon the general issue of morphology versus molecules and discuss it in the context of the phylogenetic position of Paedocypris.

 

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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Ralf Britz and his Smithsonian colleague David Johnson have published a paper in the Journal of Morphology on the development of the sucking disc of remoras. Remoras are a group of marine fish that usually attach themselves to sharks or other large fish such as manta rays with their sucking disc.  This lifestyle appears not to harm the shark, nor does it bring any benefit: depending on the species of remora, they eat fragments of the larger fish's food that fall from its mouth;  faeces; or the larger fish's parasites.

 

Echeneis NaturalHistoryMuseum_PictureLibrary_009079_Comp.jpgEcheneis naucrates - watercolour painting by Sydney Parkinson made during Captain Cook's first voyage 1768-1771

 

Ralf's work on the sucker involved examination and comparison of fins of different species of fish to identify the homology of its components - homology is the term used to describe organs in two species that have the same evolutionary origin, despite sometimes different appearance and function (so the human arm and a bat's wing are homologous).  The remora's sucker is not found in other fish - is it a totally new organ, or is it a highly modified version of an organ found in other fish?

 

By studying the development of larval remoras ranging from 9.3 to 26.7 mm in length, they demonstrated that the skeleton of the sucking disc forms by enormous expansion of the dorsal fin supports and the bases of the associated fin spines. The evolution of a sucking disc from a regular spinous dorsal fin seems like a major step in evolution but is actually a gradual process involving small incremental changes of structures during development.


Britz, R. & G. D. Johnson. 2012. Ontogeny and homology of the skeletal elements that form the sucking disc of remoras (Teleostei, Echeneoidei, Echeneidae). Journal of Morphology, 273 (12) 1353-1366 , DOI: 10.1002/jmor.20063


Ralf has also published a paper with a Brazilian colleague, Mônica Toledo-Piza, analysing the egg surface structure of the poorly known and highly venomous freshwater toadfish Thalassophryne amazonica with the NHM's scanning electron microscopes (SEM). Eggs of this fish show a highly unusual and complex system of ridges and intermittent grooves that originate at the equator of the egg and run toward the animal egg pole and end in a spiraling pattern at the micropyle (the only opening for sperm to enter). This striking modification may help to increase the chances of eggs being fertilized.

Britz, R. & M. Toledo-Piza. 2012. Egg surface structure of the freshwater toadfish Thalassophryne amazonica (Teleostei: Batrachoididae) with information on its distribution and natural habitat. Neotropical Ichthyology, 10: 593-599.


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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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Zoology Seminar

 

Aplacophoran molluscs—Diversity, Relationships and Hidden Beauty

 

Christiane TODT,
University Museum of Bergen, Norway

 

THURSDAY 7th June, 13.30pm

Neil Chalmers Science Seminar Room (DC.LG16)

 

When residing last summer among the islands and fjords of the western coast of Sweden, I met with an animal the mere external appearance of which immediately attracted my particular attention.
With these words a new species of worm-like marine invertebrate, Neomenia carinata, was introduced to science - communicated by Tycho Tullberg in 1875, finally published in 1886. He could observe a specimen alive and obviously was fascinated by this unknown “worm” covered in calcareous sclerites and creeping on a ciliated ventral gliding sole. Since then, 268 additional species of Solenogastres have been described, and about 130 species of the closely related Caudofoveata. Most of our knowledge on the diversity of the so-called aplacophoran molluscs is based on museum material, predominantly from deep-sea cruises. A wealth of unknown diversity is still resting in museum collections, awaiting attention of one of the very few taxonomic experts. I met my first living solenogaster in 1999 during a field trip to Bermuda. In contrast to Tullberg I knew what I was seeing – educated by my previous thesis work focusing on more or less well-fixed African solenogaster material. Still, I was as fascinated with the strange beauty of these animals. Since 2006, I work in Bergen, Norway, with excellent collecting and culturing facilities and a rich aplacophoran fauna in the fjords just outside the city. In addition, I have access to a large material from Norwegian waters, from recent collection efforts and dating back to the early days of aplacophoran taxonomy. In my seminar talk I will summarize the status quo of knowledge on aplacophoran biodiversity and phylogenetic relationships and outline the planned work for my SYNTHESYS stay at the Natural History Museum (21.5 - 8.6.2012). This work will include testing the suitability of micro-computer-tomography for non-invasive identification of solenogaster museum material.

 

 

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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Zoology Seminar


Aplacophoran molluscs—Diversity, Relationships and Hidden Beauty

 

Christiane TODT
University Museum of Bergen, Norway

 

TUESDAY 22nd May, 12pm

Neil Chalmers Science Seminar Room (DC.LG16)

 


When residing last summer among the islands and fjords of the western coast of Sweden, I met with an animal the mere external appearance of which immediately attracted my particular attention.
With these words a new species of worm-like marine invertebrate, Neomenia carinata, was introduced to science - communicated by Tycho Tullberg in 1875, finally published in 1886. He could observe a specimen alive and obviously was fascinated by this unknown “worm” covered in calcareous sclerites and creeping on a ciliated ventral gliding sole. Since then, 268 additional species of Solenogastres have been described, and about 130 species of the closely related Caudofoveata. Most of our knowledge on the diversity of the so-called aplacophoran molluscs is based on museum material, predominantly from deep-sea cruises. A wealth of unknown diversity is still resting in museum collections, awaiting attention of one of the very few taxonomic experts. I met my first living solenogaster in 1999 during a field trip to Bermuda. In contrast to Tullberg I knew what I was seeing – educated by my previous thesis work focusing on more or less well-fixed African solenogaster material. Still, I was as fascinated with the strange beauty of these animals. Since 2006, I work in Bergen, Norway, with excellent collecting and culturing facilities and a rich aplacophoran fauna in the fjords just outside the city. In addition, I have access to a large material from Norwegian waters, from recent collection efforts and dating back to the early days of aplacophoran taxonomy. In my seminar talk I will summarize the status quo of knowledge on aplacophoran biodiversity and phylogenetic relationships and outline the planned work for my SYNTHESYS stay at the Natural History Museum (21.5 - 8.6.2012). This work will include testing the suitability of micro-computer-tomography for non-invasive identification of solenogaster museum material.

 

 

 

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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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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Zoology Seminar


TUESDAY
28th February, 12 noon

Neil Chalmers Science Seminar Room  (DC.LG16)

 

Contact: Ronald Jenner, Zoology



The Mysterious World of Vampire Amoebae and  Plasmodiophorid Plant Parasites

Sigrid NEUHAUSER & Cédric  BERNEY
Department of Zoology, NHM

Vampire amoebae  (Vampyrellida) and plasmodiophorid plant parasites (Phytomyxea) have been known  since the second half of the XIXth century, yet have been given very little  attention up to now in spite of their fascinating biology. The taxonomic  position of both groups has been much debated for over a century, but recent  molecular work showed them to be sister lineages within the eukaryotic  supergroup Rhizaria. From their common ancestor, the Vampyrellida evolved to  become super-predators of algae, fungi and other microorganisms in all marine  and terrestrial microbial ecosystems, with some species adopting a peculiar mode  of feeding that earned them the name of vampire amoebae. In contrast, the  Phytomyxea evolved to become obligate, endobiotic parasites of higher plants,  diatoms, brown algae and oomycetes. Members of this group can cause devastating  and significant plant diseases (e.g. Plasmodiophora brassicae causing  clubroot disease), while others will spend their life hidden inside their hosts  without causing any visible symptoms. As part of our research group’s focus on  the biodiversity, evolution, and ecological importance of poorly known members  of the Rhizaria, we will present some of our results and illustrate the  enigmatic nature and contrasting lifestyles of vampire amoebae and  plasmodiophorid plant parasites.

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Different ideas of the relationship between the crustacea (crabs, barnacles, copepods and others) and insects have been discussed at length over the past century. The emergence of more and better DNA information is allowing the evolutionary relationships to be explored and clarified.


Ronald Jenner (Zoology) co-authored a first phylogenomic test of the recent hypothesis of a sister group relationship between hexapods (insects) and remipede crustaceans. Numerous data and testing of different interpretations led the authors to robustly find hexapods and remipedes as sister groups.


Remipede crustaceans were first described as Carboniferous fossils in the 1950s (around 310 million years old).  However, living species have been discovered since 1979, living only in underground aquifers connected to the sea. They are slow-moving with relatively basic segmented body plans, but can have specialised characteristics such as poison fangs and advanced sense of scent, important for securing prey in their unusual habitat.

 

NaturalHistoryMuseum_014472_Comp.JPG

A Remipede from Mexico

 

The paper looks at the idea of the Pancrustacea - a large group containing both crustaceans and insects.  The data support the idea that the Pancrustacea can be divided into two major groups.  In the first are the marine decapods (crabs, prawns and lobsters), barnacles and copepods.  In the second group are found the freshwater Branchiopoda (such as the familar waterflea Daphnia), the Remipedes and the insects.  This supports the insects as a part of the Pancrustacea, possibly as part of a subgroup that moved from shallow marine environments to specialist freshwater, groundwater and terrestrial habitats.

.


von Reumont, B. M., Jenner, R. A., Wills, M. A., Dell’Ampio, E., Pass, G., Ebersberger, I., Meyer, B., Koenemann, S., Iliffe, T. M., Stamatakis, A., Niehuis, O., Meusemann, K. and Misof, B. Early online. Pancrustacean phylogeny in the light of new phylogenomic data: support for Remipedia as the sister group of Hexapoda. Molecular Biology and Evolution (doi:10.1093/molbev/msr270)  Abstract

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Bryozoans are widespread aquatic colonial animals living both in the sea (sea mats) and fresh waters, with an extensive marine fossil record over almost 500 million years. Collaborating research groups in the NHM Departments of Zoology and Palaeontology represent arguably the strongest concentration of bryozoan research expertise anywhere in the world.

 

NaturalHistoryMuseum_026159_IA.jpg

 

Wilbertopora woodwardi (Brydone) from the Upper Cretaceous Chalk, Hampshire

 

Andrea Waeschenbach (NERC Postdoctoral Fellow, Zoology), Paul Taylor (Palaeontology) and Tim Littlewood (Zoology) have had accepted for publication the most comprehensive molecular phylogeny of bryozoans to date, using mitochondrial and ribosomal genes.

 

This has resulted in a well supported topology (the shape of the phylogenetic tree), providing unambiguous evidence for the interrelationship of the taxonomic classes.  It also provides strong evidence that several presently recognized taxonomic units at various hierarchical levels are each in fact of more than one origin in evolutionary terms - they are non-monophyletic (a monophyletic group has a single ancestor)

 

Using this topology, the work tried to establish the likely larval form and strategy of the ancestral bryozoans, but this gave ambiguous results.  It seems most likely that multiple shifts have occurred between different types of larval nutrition – dependency on yolk provided to the egg (lecithotrophy) and feeding by the bryozoan larva on phytoplankton (planktotrophy).

 

This result, combined with their long fossil record, promises bryozoans to be a suitable phylum to studying links between reproductive strategy and large scale evolutionary patterns, such as speciation rates. This paper is a significant contribution for assessing the interrelationships in a relatively neglected group that offers much promise as an evolutionary model. This work was funded by NERC (NE/E015298/1).

 

Waeschenbach, A., Taylor, P.D., Littlewood, D.T.J. (2011) A molecular phylogeny of bryozoans, Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ympev.2011.11.011

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Robert Prys-Jones (Zoology) is co-author on a new paper on Indian Ocean Parrot biogeography and evolution being published in Molecular Phylogenetics & Evolution. It is the latest in a line of research papers deriving from Robert’s on-going Indian Ocean island research programme, and comprises a comprehensive overview of extant and extinct parrot evolution on western Indian Ocean islands. 

 

NaturalHistoryMuseum_009509_IA.jpg

Psittacula eupatria

 

Parrot diversity around the Indian Ocean is high, with many possible geological, ecological and geographical explanations.This paper examines DNA data from modern and extinct parrots and suggests that the Indian Ocean islands acted as stepping stones in  the radiation of the Old-World parrots, and that past sea-level changes may help to explain distributions and  differences in speciation. A molecular phylogeny shows complex colonisation of Africa, Asia  and the Indian Ocean islands from Australasia via multiple routes, and  of island populations ‘seeding’ continents.


A second paper develops a comprehensive phylogeny of the finches, a large and familiar bird family within which many genus-level relationships have previously been unclear, and is the first product of a co-operation with Dr Per Ericson, Director of Science at the Swedish Museum of Natural History, and is further co-authored by Dr Pamela Rasmussen (Michigan State University Museum), a Scientific Associate of the NHM. The similarity of plumage of finches, and of feeding habits, has in the past given misleading impressions of related groups.  DNA from nuclei and mitochondria give a much clearer and more reliable picture in this paper.

 

  • Kundu, S., Jones, C.G., Prys-Jones, R.P. & Groombridge, J.J. The evolution of the Indian Ocean parrots (Psittaciformes): extinction, adaptive radiation and eustacy. Molecular Phylogenetics & Evolution, Volume 62, Issue 1, January 2012, Pages 296-305. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ympev.2011.09.025
  • Zuccon, D., Prys-Jones, R.P., Rasmussen, P.C. & Ericson, P.G.P. The phylogenetic relationships and generic limits of finches (Fringillidae). Molecular Phylogenetics & Evolution, in press, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ympev.2011.10.002
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Tapeworm genomics

Posted by John Jackson Dec 22, 2011

Genome data represent the largest and most diverse set of heritable characters for comparative evolutionary studies. In collaboration with the The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, we have recently characterised and assembled the complete genome of Hymenolepis microstoma, a classical tapeworm model with over 50 years of literature supporting it.

 

Together with colleagues from the University of Würzburg, Germany, Peter Olson and Magdalena Zarowiecki have recently published the first insights into the gene content and general characteristics of tapeworm genomes based on data from Hymenolepis and the medically important genera Echinococcus and Taenia. Findings show that tapeworms have small genomes at ~150 Mb, compared to ~350 Mb in flukes and over 700 Mb in free-living planarians.

 

Their genomes are compact, containing few repetitive or mobile elements, and appear to contain a majority of common gene families, albeit they may be missing ~10% of 'core' or universal metazoan genes found in free-living animals and typically show a reduction in the number of genes per family. A number of necessary biosynthesis components are missing, such as genes required to synthesise cholesterol, and hence these essential molecules must be taken directly from the host. Data are now publicly available via the Web and promise to accelerate the pace of research in the field by eliminating the need for time consuming and costly genetic manipulations at the bench.


PD Olson, M Zarowiecki, F Kiss and K Brehm (2011). Invited review: Cestode genomics--progress and prospects for understanding basic and applied aspects of flatworm biology. Parasite Immunology [doi: 10.1111/j.1365-3024.2011.01319.x]

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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.

species-bahav-banner_85379_1.jpg

 

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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Birds of South and Middle America – recent advances in knowledge

 

Joint British  Ornithologists’ Club/Neotropical BirdClub/Natural History Museum free one-day  symposium

 

29 October  2011, 10.30-17.00, Flett Lecture  Theatre, Natural History Museum, London SW7 5BD

 

Key contact:  Robert Prys-Jones (r.prys-jones@nhm.ac.uk) - if you wish to attend, please email in advance: places are limited.

 

Programme

 

10.30-11.00   Coffee/tea

 

11.00-11.45    Nathalie Seddon (Edward Grey Institute, Oxford University)  Why birds sing at dawn

 

Communal displays of acoustically and visually  signalling  animals include some of the great spectacles of the living world.  Many  of these spectacles involve large communities of different species   signalling in concert, often just before sunrise. Though perhaps best   documented in birds, dawn choruses occur in a wide diversity of other  animals,  from primates and frogs, to lizards and insects. These  signalling events have  long fascinated humans, but despite a century of  speculation, there is little  consensus as to their adaptive  significance. Drawing on a recent study of the  largest dawn chorus of  all, that of the singing birds of Upper   Amazonia, to discuss how  ecology, social interactions and  evolutionary history drive birds to  synchronise their songs at daybreak.

 

11.45-12.30     Huw Lloyd (Manchester Metropolitan   University) Conservation of High Andean forest birds in Peru


The  loss and degradation of high-Andean Polylepis woodlands is of particular international concern because of its highly   fragmented distribution, the inadequacy of its protection within  national  reserves, and the high levels of habitat-restricted endemism  amongst its  threatened bird communities. This talk will discuss some of  the most  recent ornithological findings from southern Peru, that could  lead to the  development of effective and realistic habitat restoration  strategies for  populations of these severely threatened bird species.

 

12.30-13.15    James Lowen (Bradt Travel Guides) Wildlife of the Pantanal, South   America’s Serengeti


The world's largest wetland and the aquatic heart of South  America showcases some of the most breathtaking  gatherings of birds,  mammals and reptiles you could ever hope to see. The  author of a new  book to Pantanal wildlife and travel treats us to a visual  celebration  of the region's wildlife spectacles, with a particular focus on the   region's avian specialities and their conservation.

 

13.15-14.15    Lunch (not provided)

 

14.15-15.00    Cristina Banks-Leite (Imperial College  London) * Understorey bird responses to deforestation in  the Atlantic Forest of Brazil


The  Atlantic Forest has been reduced to only 15 per cent of   its original area, whilst much of the extant forest is degraded and  fragmented.  Such altered conditions pose a great threat to the  persistence of a highly  endemic and diverse avifauna; however, our  ability to build effective  conservation measures is impaired by an  imperfect understanding of how  communities respond to deforestation.  Through the analysis of a dataset consisting  of over 7000 birds from  140 species captured in the Atlantic Forest of Brazil,  the speaker will  show how the understory bird community responds to habitat loss,   fragmentation and degradation at multiple spatial and temporal scales.


15.00-15.45    Robert Prys-Jones (Natural History   Museum) Project BioMap: documenting the global museum  resource of Colombian birds for research and conservation


Project BioMap, a tri-national initiative between  British,  Colombian and United    States institutions, began in late 2001. The   project aim was to digitise and verify all Colombian bird specimens  deposited  in natural history museums around the world. A total of  217,802 Colombian bird  specimens in 88 museums were databased and  georeferenced (whenever possible)  and made available online.  My talk will present a  temporal and spatial breakdown of the  information available, highlighting  strengths and weaknesses, and  discuss its use in research and conservation.

 

15.45-16.15                Coffee/tea

 

16.15-17.00    Thomas Donegan (ProAves) Exploring, studying and protecting  the world's most diverse national avifauna


The publication in 2010 of a new field guide  for Colombia is  a  good point to take stock of recent advances in knowledge in the   world's most diverse country for birds. Explorations and discoveries   facilitated by the improving security situation and the increasing  capacity  of national researchers and institutions have resulted in  significant recent  findings (new species, splits, lumps,  new records, etc.), many of  which will be discussed.  An illustrated  discussion of some of the steps  being taken to conserve Colombia's   birds and their habitats will also be presented.

 


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Biomimetics of Water

Posted by John Jackson Aug 19, 2011

Andrew Parker is a Research Leader in the Crustacea Research Group in the NHM Zoology Department.  He writes:


Animals and plants capture or store water in efficient ways where water is scarce. This research into biomimetics of water has the ultimate aim to manufacture devices that can collect, filter and store water in dry regions of the Earth, which are set to expand rapidly with the progression of climate change.


This work falls into the subject of biomimetics – extracting good design from nature. It involves a collaboration with physicists, chemists, mathematicians and engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which was instigated by National Geographic magazine, who dedicated a feature article to the independent but uniquely related work of the MIT and NHM groups (April 2008).


The subjects we cover are diverse, and include the water collecting mechanisms in various beetles and lizards, hydrophobic and hydrophilic surfaces in plants, and the mechanisms by which diving birds can maintain an air layer beneath their feathers while submerged. Within the physical sciences, we consider the mechanics of flow in fluids, and the interaction of fluids with surfaces, including hydrophobic, hydrophilic and pining behaviours of fluid drops, such as that observed when dew drops cling to certain leaves.


Our research begins with electron microscopy to understand the 3D architecture of the biological surfaces at the micron and nano levels. In other, specialized microscopes, drops of water and other liquids (with different fluidic characteristics) are placed on the biological surfaces and their “contact angles” are measured. This provides data on how well different liquids “ball up”, and therefore the degree of water repellency, for instance. Then, calculations are made to explain how each biological surface is responsible for its precise water properties. From here, new surfaces can be designed to solve precise liquid problems in industry, along with solving water capture problems in hot environments.


The micro-structure I found on the back of a Namibian “darkling” beetle (Stenocara sp.), with combined hydrophobic and hydrophilic surfaces, efficiently captures water from wind-borne fogs. This has been manufactured in plastics for use in air conditioning systems, where it recaptures water leaving the system as vapour, which can be recycled. Further, the hot water vapour no longer contributes to warming the atmosphere.


The overall aim of this research is to produce a prototype device to be employed in developing countries to collect clean water for drinking. This device will feature as many adaptations found in nature as possible, enhanced by the superior materials available in the industrial world.


The device may well contain the Namibian beetle device, since 22 different countries are subjected to desert fogs yet are short of rain. It may draw water from damp soil (rather than from more accessible puddles) in the manner of the Australian “thorny devil” lizard (Moloch horridus) or the xylem system of plants. It may filter water to make it safe for drinking as occurs in the cuticle of certain beetles, self-clean its surface as known in some plant leaves and butterfly wings, and channel and store water efficiently and safely as evident in burrowing desert frogs. Additionally, other biomimetic devices such as “moth-eye antireflectors” and “beetle heat dissipaters”, known to improve solar cell efficiency, will be incorporated where a renewable energy source is required.


Above all, the device must be resilient in the field. To achieve this, we are holding competitions at MIT (in the manner of their famous robotics competition), encouraging students to design the most practical device that may be employed in the Skeleton Coast area of Namibia. This device should showcase several new, bio-inspired technologies that are each ripe for commercialization in disparate industries.


For instance, there may even be spin offs in oil repellent surfaces, and in non-salty water collection for ships and boats at sea. Already, there have been several transatlantic visits between the NHM and MIT, and we have achieved breakthroughs such as understanding the depths to which a bird can dive based on the nanostructure of a single feather.


Most recently we have received vital support from two government ministers in South Africa, so hopefully the politics of employing our devices in Africa will keep pace with our scientific progression, and we can achieve our ultimate goal.

 

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