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The Palaeontographical Society – 8th Annual Address

 

Dr Richard Edmonds (Jurassic Coast Heritage Centre) - "The Jurassic Coast: fossils, history, value, and management".

 

Wednesday 16th April – 4 pm (following immediately from the AGM).

 

Flett Lecture Theatre, The Natural History Museum, London

 

Tea and coffee from 3:30 pm.

 

Free to attend – all welcome.

 

The Dorset and East Devon coast was designated as a World Heritage Site in 2001 on the grounds that it contains the most complete and continuous exposure of sedimentary rocks through the Mesozoic anywhere in the world. Those rocks record virtually one third of the evolution of life including the age of the reptiles. These interests are maintained by erosion which itself forms the third element of the Outstanding Universal Value of the Site, being superlative examples of coastal processes from spectacular landslides to a barrier beach and erosion along a concordant and discordant coast. The principle threat to the site is the construction of coastal defences and we support Natural England and work closely with coastal engineers to try to find pragmatic solutions where potential conflicts do arise.

 

The second area of work is the management of the fossil collecting interest along the coast. There is a long history of collecting and collectors have and continue to demonstrate their invaluable role in the recovery of fossils from the very process that exposes them, erosion. The fossils, particularly in West Dorset, are also a fabulous and sustainable resource to engage and excite the public in the Earth sciences and places such as the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre and Lyme Regis Museum run regular and extremely popular guided walks which are enthusing younger generations.

 

Our approach to collecting is based on the national guidance provided by Natural England, one of responsible collecting. We have developed that approach through the West Dorset fossil collecting code of conduct and also benefited from Heritage Lottery funded projects such as Collecting Cultures, which has helped enhance museum collections and secure specimens of great scientific importance. Our approach is not perfect and we do not claim that it is. The main issues is the acquisition of specimens of key scientific importance and this relates to funding, capacity within museums and differing ambitions between those parties involved and this will form the major part of the presentation.

 

http://www.palaeosoc.org/site/home/

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EARTH SCIENCES SEMINAR ROOM Tuesday 8th April - 4.00 pm

Javier Cuadros, Department of Earth Sciences, Natural History Museum, London

 

Confinement appears to be essential at the mineral-microbial interface and has an effect on both, microbial development and mineral formation. The role of confinement starts before life itself. Prebiotic molecules had to be concentrated from water or gas and "confined", possibly within clay interlayers, where they could react, be protected from adverse physical and chemical conditions, and perhaps also where specific reactions were catalysed.

 

Microorganisms frequently confine themselves within organic or inorganic walls for a number of reasons such as protection and feeding. They build exopolysaccharide capsules, burrow into mineral grains, etc. Close contact or confinement within mineral grains is arguably the habitat of the largest portion of existing microorganisms.

 

Microbial confinement has a feed-back effect on minerals. Microbes burrowing into mineral grains contribute to mineral weathering. Confined spaces inhabited by microorganisms, such as burrows, biofilms, exoskeletons of dead microbial algae, have chemical conditions different from the surrounding environment and impact mineral crystallization. For example, glauconite originates largely in connection to biological decay within marine shells.  Microbial activity can thus control to some extent the chemistry, mineralogy and formation rate of the neoformed phases. Clay minerals are obviously affected by microbially-mediated confinement of mineral-solution systems, as they are typically formed in the range of conditions in which these processes take place.

 

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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Denis Michez,  University of Mons, Belgium

 

Wednesday 2 April 11:00

 

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

 

Bees (Anthophila) are one of the major groups of angiosperm-pollinating insects and accordingly are widely studied in both basic and applied research, for which it is essential to have a clear understanding of their phylogeny, and evolutionary history. Direct evidence of bee evolutionary history has been hindered by a dearth of available fossils needed to determine the timing and tempo of their diversification, as well as episodes of extinction.

NaturalHistoryMuseum_PictureLibrary_015744_Comp-1 bee.jpgCopal from East Africa containing Apis mellifera

 

Here we assess the similarity of the forewing shape of bee fossils with extant and fossil taxa using geometric morphometrics analyses. Predictive discriminant analyses show that fossils share similar diagnostic forewing shapes with families like Apidae, Halictidae, Andrenidae and Melittidae. Their taxonomic assessments provide new information on the distribution and timing of particular bee groups like corbiculate groups, most notably the extension into North America of possible Eocene-Oligocene cooling-induced extinctions.

 

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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Maarja Öpik,  Department of Botany, University of Tartu, Estonia


Wednesday 26 March 11:00   Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)


Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF, Phylum Glomeromycota) are soil and root-dwelling, obligate plant root symbiotic organisms present in most terrestrial environments. Their occurrence and diversity have important roles in life, and in diversity and functioning of host plant communities. Therefore, understanding the taxonomic and functional diversity of AMF is the topic of increasing popularity. Their diversity patterns are described to address questions ranging from climate change and land use effects to understanding ecosystem succession and macroecological patterns.

 

Diversity of AMF is commonly measured using DNA sequences of nuclear ribosomal operon markers; the most frequently used one being the SSU rRNA gene. Total AMF molecular operational taxonomic unit (MOTU) richness of SSU rRNA gene sequences suggests at least twice as high number of species present as is currently known on the basis of morphotaxonomy.

 

These MOTUs have been organised into a common system of “virtual taxa” (VT) in a public database MaarjAM (http://maarjam.botany.ut.ee). VT are delimited as phylogenetically related clades of sequences of SSU rRNA gene at approximately species level. VT nomenclature provides comparability among data and consistent communication among scientists.Application of the VT nomenclature has allowed description of AMF diversity patterns from global to local scales.

 

In this talk, I will present evidence of global scale patterns of AMF diversity being related to biomes and climatic zones; and of local scale patterns related to host ecological groups, spatiotemporal processes and root- vs. soil-localising AMF growth strategies. I will conclude with highlighting the questions of urgent need to advance the understanding about this important group of organisms.

 

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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Friday 28 Mar, 4.30pm

Neil Chalmers Seminar Room, DC2

 

 

The Evolution of Vertebrate Reproduction

 

by Zerina Johanson, Department of Earth Sciences

 

The early history of the jawed vertebrates, and the evolutionary transition from jawless to jawed vertebrates, is recorded entirely in the fossil record. Phylogenetically, the most basal jawed vertebrates (and some of the most crownward stem gnathostomes) are the placoderms, fossil taxa ranging in age from the early Silurian to the end of the Devonian (435-360mya). As such, placoderms record the origins and evolution of a number of major jawed vertebrate morphologies. A re-examination of the superb three-dimensionally preserved placoderms recovered from the Gogo Formation (Late Devonian, Western Australia) has provided the most detailed knowledge of this group to date.

 

zjsem.jpg

 

We review recent information on placoderm embryos as well as previous descriptions of the placoderm pelvic structures and reinterpret the morphology of the pelvic region, in particular the position of the pelvic fin and the relationship of the male clasper to the pelvic girdle. Claspers in placoderms and chondrichthyans develop in very different ways; in sharks, claspers develop from the pelvic fin while the claspers in placoderms develop separately, suggesting that their independent development involved a posterior extension of the ‘zone of fin competence’.

 

 

SciFri is a cross-departmental science seminar series and social event, held on the last Friday of each month. The 45 minute talks are intended to be informal, contemporary, inter-disciplinary and cover a range of fields including the latest research, curation, science policy, library & archives research, publishing, media, fieldwork and science methods.

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Eocene.jpg

Fridgeir Grimsson

Department of Palaeontology, University of Vienna

 

Tuesday 25 March - 4.00 pm

Earth Sciences Seminar Room
(Basement, WEB 05, the previous Mineralogy Seminar Room)
 
Oldest records of many modern north-temperate woody angiosperm genera are from the Eocene. However, the precise time and place of origin of individual tree genera that play important roles in modern temperate forest ecosystems has largely remained unresolved. One hypothesis about the origin of modern temperate woody elements in the northern hemisphere was proposed in the late 19th century by Adolf Engler, who suggested that many modern temperate tree genera originated in Arctic areas and migrated southwards in the course of the Cenozoic when global climate cooled.

 

The final objective of the present study is to test the validity of Engler’s (1882) concept of the “arctotertiary element”, that is, to determine whether early Cenozoic high latitude floras were the cradle of a number of tree genera that now dominate north-temperate mid-latitude forests. To achieve this, the systematic affinities of  pollen from Paleocene and Eocene sediments of western Greenland and the Faröe Islands are being assessed using combined light and scanning electron microscopy. Macrofossils from the same areas housed in existing museum and university collections are also under study, and new material has been collected in the field. By combining evidence from the palynofloras and the revised macrofloras, the phylogenetic affinities of the recognized plant taxa are being established in order to determine the proportion of extinct lineages and co-occurring extant genera, representing the “arctotertiary element” in the fossil floras.

 

 

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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Coll man flyer 28 March.jpg

 

If you have any queries please contact the organiser Julie Reynolds (julie.reynolds@nhm.ac.uk)

 

 

 

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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Papilio_dardanus.jpg    (Image from Wikipedia)

 

Martijn Timmermans

Department of Life Sciences, Natural History Museum

 

Wednesday 19 March 11:00

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


Papilio dardanus is a polymorphic Batesian mimic renowned for copying a large number of toxic Lepidopteran models. Its phenotypic variation is known to be largely determined by a single mimicry switch, but studies on the origin and maintenance of its intricate wing pattern variation have been “hindered at the outset by a complicated nomenclature” (Poulton, 1924; pg. 21). To acquire a comprehensive overview of the phenotypic diversity displayed and to stimulate collaborative research on this enigmatic species, we have digitised, geo-referenced and made publicly available all specimens held by the Museum. I will describe how data-derived distribution maps help us to understand Papilio dardanus’ wing pattern radiation and present genomic data that exposes the engrailed gene as the enigmatic mimicry master switch.

 

 

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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sea fan coral.jpg

 

 

Maria del Mar Soler Hurtado

University of Seville, Spain

 

Wednesday 12 of March 11:00

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

 

Although abundant, the Eastern Pacific octocoral fauna was considered poorly known by Bayer (1951), mainly due to the difficulty of identification and lack of taxonomic expertise.  In addition, the continuous nature of many of the morphological characters in the taxonomy of the Octocorallia has been a major problem for the systematic study of the group.  For this reason, some authors consider octocoral characters difficult to encode or to polarize, and it is necessary to implement in this family new sources of characters (in all available disciplines) to help us in the correct identification of units (species), in order to develop a more natural classification and phylogeny than that which currently exists, which is seen as clearly artificial yet still in use. In this context, the opportunity to review important collections of gorgoniid specimens deposited in museums, such as the collection available in the NHM, is for us a major step in the development and expansion of our research.  The examination of these type specimens, from a morphological and molecular point of view, will permit their comparison with newly-collected material from Ecuador, the delimitation of specific variability, the re-evaluation of the importance of morphological characters previously used, and the description of new forms where necessary.

 

 

 

 

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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Earth core mantle.jpg

 

Dr Ian Wood

Senior Lecturer, Department of Earth Sciences, UCL

Tuesday 11 March - 4.00 pm

Basement, WEB 05, the previous Mineralogy Seminar Room

 

If we are to understand large-scale Earth processes such as the formation and evolution of the core, the magnetic field, and the transfer of heat through the mantle, it is essential that we know the physical properties of the minerals present in the Earth’s deep interior, i.e. in its lower mantle and core. However, as the core-mantle boundary in the Earth lies at a depth of nearly 3000 km, at which point the pressure and temperature are around 1.3 million atmospheres and 4000 K, direct experimentation is extremely challenging. A more effective route for determining the structures and properties of these deep-Earth phases is, therefore, to combine X-ray and neutron diffraction studies with computer simulations of both actual and low-pressure “analogue” systems. In this talk I shall concentrate on recent work on the FeSi – NiSi system, a possible inner-core component of terrestrial planets, and on studies of ABX3 analogues of MgSiO3 perovskite, with particular relevance to the perovskite to post-perovskite phase transition that occurs in MgSiO3 just above the Earth’s core-mantle boundary.

 

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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rhinoceros-beetle-micro-ct-scan_38570_1.jpgStill image taken from a micro-CT of the rhinoceros beetle, Oryctes boas.

 

 

Thomas J. Simonsen

Department of Life Sciences, the Natural History Museum

 

Friday 7 March 11:00

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

 

Computer-aided X-ray tomography (CT scanning) has been around as a medical, industrial and scientific tool since the early 1980s. However, it was only after the arrival of scanners with sufficient resolution power (micro-CT) in the early 2000s that the technology was used in the study of non-vertebrate animals. After the first study presenting micro-CT scanning results from insects in 2002, the technology has become a state-of-the-art tool for studies into insect comparative morphology and palaeontology (in particular involving amber fossils). On the other hand, micro-CT scanning has been criticised for not yielding the same resolution as histology, nor having the same ability to distinguish between different types of tissue, partly due to low natural contrast in soft tissue and cuticle. Nevertheless, micro-CT scanning has the advantage of being much faster than traditional methods such as histology, thus allowing for much larger samples to be examined. Furthermore, the method is largely non-destructive and thus ideal for studying rare and valuable specimens. Here I will give a short introduction to micro-CT scanning in entomology and illustrate the technology's uses (and limitations) in the study of insect, focused on forensics entomology, developmental biology and taxonomy/virtual dissections.

 

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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Not so Scilly after all!

Posted by John Jackson Feb 28, 2014

Mark Spencer

Department of Life Sciences, NHM

 

Wednesday 5 March 11:00

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

 

The Isles of Scilly are a small archipelago of islands off the coast of Cornwall in SW Britain. Over the last few years I have led several teams of volunteers and, more recently, staff members on expeditions to collect material to enhance our UK collections. In 2013 this culminated in a cross-departmental project in partnership with the NHM’s Nature Live team and the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust. In this talk I will explore ideas around how field collecting can be linked to our public engagement activities as well as identify why the Isles of Scilly are a collections-based research worthy destination. And show some pretty pictures….

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Friday 28 Feb, 4.30pm, Neil Chalmers Seminar Room

 

Livestreamed on http://www.youtube.com/user/SciFriSeminars

 

 

Chemosynthesis-based communities through time: a 3.2 billion year history

 

Cris Little, University of Leeds

 

At the beginning of this seminar I will briefly review the ecology of modern chemosynthetic communities at hydrothermal vents, hydrocarbon (‘cold’) seeps and sunken dead whales (whale-falls) touching on biogeography and discussing evolutionary issues, including molecular divergence estimates for several major taxonomic groups.

 

little1.jpg

 

Then I will turn to the fossil record of these communities, which for vents goes back 3.25 billion years. I will show that vent and seep fossil assemblages have changed in taxonomic structure during the Phanerozoic, from brachiopod dominated communities in the Palaeozoic and early Mesozoic to mollusc (bivalve and gastropod) dominated communities from the later Mesozoic onwards. Some of the ecologically dominant taxa that have chemosymbiotic bacteria (e.g. vesicomyid clams and bathymodiolin mussels) are relative newcomers to vent and seep environments and were preceded by other, now extinct, bivalves that may (or may not) also have had symbionts.

 

Whale-fall communities from the Miocene are similar in structure to modern examples in the so-called sulfophilic stage, but older Oligocene and latest Eocene whale-fall communities lack some of the typical molluscs. This may be related to the small size of whales in their early evolutionary history. Prior to the Eocene whale-fall-like communities may have existed on sunken marine reptiles (e.g. turtles, ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs), or even large fish carcasses.

 

 

About SciFri

 

SciFri is a cross-departmental science seminar series and social event run by the NHM Science Forum, held the last Friday of each month. The 45 minute talks are intended to be informal, contemporary, inter-disciplinary and cover a range of fields including the latest research, curation, science policy, publishing, media, fieldwork and science methods. If you have ideas for future speakers from any of these areas please contact the seminar organiser Adrian Glover, Life Sciences Department.

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world.gif

 

 

Emiel van Loon

University of Amsterdam

 

Friday 28 February 11:00

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

 

Species distribution modelling (SDM) is increasingly applied to answer all sorts of ecological questions. Implicitly, the
SDM literature suggests that the question of interest together with the available data prescribe the appropriate methods for data analysis. In contrast with this suggestion, it can be argued that a range of questions concerning the distribution of a species is usually interesting, while the available species occurrence and environmental data cannot easily be changed. Hence it may be effective to establish which questions may be answered by the available data as a first research step. The number of species records is one of the most important factors limiting the research questions and methods that are applicable. For that reason this presentation will focus on the relation between the number of available species records and the potential to answer different research questions.

 

First a hierarchy is proposed to organise research questions that differ in nature and complexity, and to cast different research questions in a model comparison framework. Using this framework, research questions of different complexity are translated into SDMs. Through different simulation examples, the effect of the number of occurrence data on the possibilities to identify SDMs with different numbers of predictor variables as well as on predictive performance are shown. Next, it is shown that with increasing scarcity of species records, either the information requirement as dictated by the research questions has to decrease or more prior knowledge about the species-environment or geographical relations have to be specified. The presentation concludes with a preliminary overview of research questions on species distributions and the matching levels of occurrence records that are required to obtain an adequate answer.

 

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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Those people over fifty in the UK will remember the tremendous change to the landscape in many areas of the country as a result of the death of more than 25 million Elm trees from Dutch Elm Disease. 

 

There are fears now that we may see the same loss for Ash from Ash Dieback and Mark Spencer has been representing the NHM in government-organised stakeholder forums and summits as part of the UK response to this invasive alien disease.

 

Ash Dieback was first seen in the UK in early 2012 in imported nursery trees and in late 2012 in the wider environment in the east of England.  It's a disease caused by the fungal pathogen commonly known as chalara (Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus) that has had significant impacts on Ash trees across Europe over the past twenty years.

 

2013 saw significant development of policy, disease monitoring and raising public awareness and involvement. The UK Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) convened a Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Expert Taskforce (chaired by Professor Christopher Gilligan, an NHM Trustee) as part of the response to the outbreak of Ash dieback. The taskforce report recommended better prediction, monitoring and other measures to control the problem. One of the recommendations was for a UK Plant Health Risk Register which was launched on the 21 January 2014.

 

As a consequence of his work on plant health and the Risk Register in particular, Mark Spencer has been asked to contribute to a Defra-funded consultation on ‘Major drivers of emerging risks in plant health, in particular concerning native broad leaved trees in the UK’.

 

The Forestry Commission has been active in promoting public awareness and reporting of Chalara through its own website and receives data through web and smartphone tools such as Ashtag. NHM has been developing wider public participation with partner organisations through the OPAL Tree Health Survey that enables members of the public and schools to identify trees and tree health problems such as Ash Dieback with guides and Apps and to submit results as part of scientific research.

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