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Tibet plateau.bmp(Image from Wikipedia)


Robert Angus

Department of Life Sciences, Natural History Museum


Friday 14 February 11:00

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


This is an illustrated account of my travels on the north-eastern part of the Tibetan Plateau in June 2013. The extent of the Plateau is shown with its division into the various Chinese provinces, including the Xizang Autonomous Region. My objective was to collect and do research on various beetles, and this was fundamental to the design of the trip.  Some of the research will be discussed in a future seminar. This one is to illustrate the landscape and the sheer fun of it.



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Lichen Sri Lanka.jpg



Gothamie Weerakoon

Department of Botany, University of Sri Jayawardenapura, Sri Lanka


Wednesday 12 February 11:00

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

Corticolous lichen species are identified as indicators of disturbance for seven vegetation types in central mountains of Sri Lanka (four disturbed, and three undisturbed matched by habitat). Ordination of lichen communities (six sites / type for 42 sites) showed distinct species composition in the vegetation types. Disturbed and undisturbed sites differ; undisturbed sites have higher species richness of both trees and lichens. Canopy cover, bark pH, distance to an undisturbed site, and years since disturbance, were all correlated with a disturbance gradient. Indicator species analysis (ISA) was performed on three different sets of site groups: seven vegetation types, three groups of sites with different disturbance levels, and two groups of sites near to vs. far from an undisturbed site. Twenty species were strong indicators of undisturbed sites from all three ISA analyses; three species indicate moderately disturbed sites; five species indicate very disturbed sites. Six additional species were weaker indicators of disturbance level. Thirty-four species were strong indicators for a single vegetation type. Most indicators of disturbance level are visually distinct. Parataxonomists could be trained to identify them in the field; these will be the most useful indicators for land managers.



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Tien Shan 2.jpg(Image from Wikipedia)


Dmitry Konopelko

Geological Faculty Saint Petersburg State University, Russia



Tuesday 11 February - 4.00 pm


The presented results are part of a bigger project on Hercynian post-collisional magmatism in the Tien Shan carried out during the last two decades. Results are presented for two vast terranes of the Tien Shan which previously were inaccessible due to their remoteness or political reasons: the whole Tajik part of Tien Shan and the Alai ridge in Kyrgyzstan. In both areas the main types of granites and alkaline rocks including carbonatites were sampled. In Tajikistan special attention was paid to subduction-related granitoids that were studied for comparison with arc magmatism elsewhere in Tien Shan.

Four samples of subduction-related granites from the Gissar ridge in Tajikistan yield ages showing active subduction under Gissar block that continues from 321 to 300 Ma. This is similar to ages of subduction-related granites in the Middle Tien Shan terrane in Uzbekistan (315-300 Ma). The ages of 17 post-collisional intrusions including alkaline rocks and carbonatites in both terranes are in the range from 300 to 274 Ma. Some of the alkaline complexes have slightly younger ages but none formed in post-Permian time as shown on some regional geological maps. Post-collisional rocks of the Alai ridge have crustal isotopic Pb-Sr-Nd compositions supporting suggestion that the basement of the Alai segment comprises a Precambrian micro-continent. Similar crustal signatures were previously reported for other terranes of the Tien Shan in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

The features of the post-collisional intrusions in Tajik Tien Shan and Kyrgyz Alai ridge match well the general characteristics of the post-collisional magmatism in Tien Shan: (1) Early Permian Hercynian post-collisional magmatism culminated after the closure of the Paleo-Turkestan ocean and affected the whole region across terrane boundaries, (2) The majority of post-collisional intrusions were emplaced within a relatively short time span between 295 and 280 Ma, (3) Ages of intrusions emplaced syn-kinematically into the regional shear zones, and ages of alkaline intrusions indicating regional extension also match the 295-280 time span, (4) Similar ages were reported for the major orogenic gold deposits in the Tien Shan, (5) The post-collisional intrusions are geochemically diverse and their volume varies from one terrane to the other. This suggests different scenarios of post-collisional development in various terranes of the Tien Shan.


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Juliet Brodie and Jo Wilbraham: Department of Life Sciences, NHM


Friday 7 February 11:00

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

The seashores and shallow seas around Britain support an important component of UK biodiversity with over 650 species of red, green and brown seaweeds which represent c. 7% of the described seaweed flora of the world.  However, over 55% are Data Deficient according to IUCN criteria, there is increasing evidence that large brown habitat-forming seaweeds (kelps and fucoids) are disappearing, and invasive seaweeds species are increasing.  Seaweeds remain an under-recorded group with over 50% data deficient, yet there is an urgent and increasing need for good quality, verifiable data on past and present species occurrence to inform on e.g. environmental change, potential pressures from harvesting, loss of habitats, increases in non-native species (currently c. 6% of the UK flora). 


Data from the NHM seaweed collection provide crucial evidence points for mapping changing patterns in species distribution around the UK but regional museums often hold important collections from their local area which will help fill in current spatial and temporal data gaps.  So we set about capturing from UK national and regional museum collections specimen data against a target list of seaweed species in order to provide data on distribution of species over time around the UK, and to make these data widely available via a purpose built website which provides a unique resource for disseminating information about these species.  Fourteen institutions participated, 8334 records were received of which 4334 were newly generated. 


We will describe this model project, discuss the findings in relation to temporal and spatial change, detective work, social history, taxonomy, the role of Queen Victoria and her children, and the detrimental impact that the Victorian collectors had on some of our more charismatic seaweeds.  We will also demonstrate the web site:


This project was funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund.


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rB>C @50 - The Golden Anniversary of Hamilton’s Rule (or helping your relatives is good for you)


hosted by the NHM in collaboration with UCL, the CEE and Imperial College London



Darwin's birthday Party 2014 picture.jpg



The nocturnal social wasp Apoica pallens – Darién, Panama (photo Sandy Knapp)



Wednesday, 12 February 2014, 4:00 pm

Flett Lecture Theatre, The Natural History Museum

(reception follows)



Our topic this year celebrates the 50th anniversary of the original 1964 paper in which W.D. (Bill) Hamilton first articulated what is known as Hamilton’s Rule (i.e. that helping your relatives makes evolutionary sense, even if it doesn’t benefit you directly )



Laurent Lehmann (Université de Lausanne, Switzerland) - Hamilton’s 1964 legacy: the rule that rules them all and the myth of inclusive fitness maximization


This talk will present the key steps to derive the rb-c>0 rule and discuss the two results obtained by Hamilton in his 1964 paper: (1) an equation describing allele frequency change under natural selection expressed in terms of phenotypic cost and benefit and a genealogical concept of relatedness; and (2) a result about the maximization of inclusive fitness. The first result has been extended to all conditions and provides the rule that rules them all. The second result applies only under narrow conditions and points to a mismatch between Hamilton's aim for inclusive fitness and what has been proved over the last 50 years.



David Haig (Harvard University, USA) - All-inclusive fitness: the enduring legacy of W. D. Hamilton


W. D. Hamilton’s concept of inclusive fitness revolutionized the way we think about social interactions. Individuals were shown to have an interest in each other’s well-being to the extent that they shared common genes. His insights have had unexpected medical applications to understanding conflicts within genomes between genes inherited from fathers and genes inherited from mothers and to understanding how sibling rivalry can be expressed in the mother’s womb during the early stages of pregnancy.



Full information including a flyer and map for this event can be found at:


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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.



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British Butterfly.jpg




Using the NHM collections to track the long-term seasonal response of British butterflies to climate change


Steve Brooks

Department of Life Sciences, NHM


Wednesday 29 January 11:00

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



Changes in the emergence dates of British butterflies have been documented from observational monitoring data which mostly date from the 1970s. Few data, however, are currently available to extend the baseline to the period before the onset of rapid climate change. An important, but neglected, source of information is available in the NHM collections, which can extend this record to the mid-19th century. Our results show that British butterfly collection data reflect phenological responses to temperature. First collection dates of museum specimens advance during warm years and retreat during cold years. Rates of change, however, appear to be slowing in some species, when compared to recent observational data, suggesting some species may be approaching the limits of phenological advancement. Steve Brooks will discuss the potential  of the NHM collections to study the response of animals and plants to recent climate change.




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Thermopolis archaeopteryx.jpg

False colour image of the Thermopolis Archaeopteryx.



Synchrotron-based imaging of zoological and paleontological samples



Dr Phillip Lars Manning

University of Manchester


28th January- 4.00 pm

Earth Sciences Seminar Room
(Basement, WEB 05, the previous Mineralogy Seminar Room)


Biomolecules have been identified within living organisms that utilise metals to help mediate or catalyse chemical transformations of organic molecules and/or perform key biological functions e.g., iron in hemoglobin and magnesium in chlorophyll. Trace metals such as copper, zinc and nickel are also essential for routine metabolic functions, performing specific roles dependent on the tissue-type in which they are occur. Therefore, the ability to resolve elemental inventories and their distribution within fossil organisms might provide valuable information pertaining to the biology, function and evolution of a species. However, in order for original biochemistry to be resolved, it must be clearly shown that the observed fossil chemistry has not been derived through geologic/taphonomic processes and that the trace elements are detectable. Commercially available techniques (such as scanning electron microscopy and electron microprobe) lack the ability to chemically image large areas and/or lack the sensitivity required to investigate the trace metal chemistry preserved in fossils. Given the dilute concentrations of such trace-elements in biological tissues, the only reliable way to spatially resolve such inventories is through the application of synchrotron-based elemental imaging techniques. Synchrotron Rapid Scanning X-Ray Fluorescence (SRS-XRF) is a uniquely optimized method that can simultaneously detect elements in trace amounts, accommodate sizeable specimens (up to 1m2) and scan large surface areas in short time periods (~30 s/cm2) at high resolution (~2-100 microns). Complementary X-Ray Absorption spectroscopy (XAS) can also indentify the oxidation state of elements within a fossil and help determine whether they are organically derived. A series of unique fossil samples have already been mapped using SRS-XRF, including a 50 mya reptile (cf.  Bahndwivici ammoskius), 120 mya bird (Confuciusornis sanctus) and a 150 mya bird (Archaeopteryx). Results from both SRS-XRF and XAS clearly show endogenous bioaccumulated trace-metal chemistry can be preserved in fossils after tens of millions of years. The results provide a unique insight into the preserved biochemistry of these extinct organisms.


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(Image from Wikipedia)



The Vredefort impact structure, South Africa: witness of a planetary catastrophe, gold deposit and world heritage



Uwe Reimold

Natural History Museum, Berlin

Thursday 23rd January - 4.00 pm


The Vredefort impact structure in South Africa is, at some 250 km diameter and 2.02 Ga age, the oldest and largest currently known impact structure on Earth. It encompasses the entire Witwatersrand Basin of great economic geological significance. Because of the great geological age of this impact and the complex multi-stage metamorphic history of the target terrane the recognition of evidence for impact has long been controversial. Shock microdeformation and the genesis of massive pseudotachylitic breccias and enigmatic impact melt rock deposits
will be discussed, as well as the more recent history of Vredefort as a World Heritage Area.





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NHM Expedition to Sabah, Borneo: Report from the Freshwater Team








Mary Spencer Jones, David Bass, Hanna Hartikainen, Beth Okamura

Department of Life Sciences, NHM


Wednesday 22 of January 11:00

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


Borneo contains some of the oldest rainforest in the world and is characterised by exceptionally high biodiversity being the centre of evolution and radiation of many species of plants and animals endemic to the region. Endemism in freshwater organisms has been particularly demonstrated for fishes, amphibians and some aquatic invertebrates (especially insects), but the diversity of aquatic taxa is poorly understood relative to that of the terrestrial flora and fauna. An even more incomplete understanding characterises what is known of the diversity of parasitic groups in this region and most particularly of those groups that are poorly known overall. The aim of the NHM Sabah Expedition Freshwater Team was to undertake a combination of environmental and targeted sampling to explore the diversity of parasitic groups across a range of sites and habitats. A key component of our work involved adopting environmental sampling to significantly improve on discovery rates of novel endoparasitic lineages and thereby avoid the necessity of finding parasites within host organisms. A second objective was to gain better understanding of the diversity of freshwater bryozoans (Phylum Bryozoa, Class Phylactolaemata) and their myxozoan parasites. We will provide a summary of our activities and results thereby demonstrating how our programme of work is revealing novel biodiversity of aquatic life.


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Unappreciated Invertebrates Causing Engineering Nightmares


Timothy Wood

Senior Scientist, Bryo Technologies (USA)



Friday 17 of January 11:00
Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)

In the 21st Century it is somewhat astonishing to find that biofouling invertebrates routinely shut down power plants, disrupt water supplies, and create other kinds of expensive havoc. While biofouling is generally well managed on ships at sea, in fresh waters it seems to take everyone by surprise. This is despite the fact that incidents of freshwater biofouling are increasing in frequency and severity, due mostly to eutrophication and misguided infrastructure design. Most people are unaware of these problems, industry is oblivious, and engineers are clueless. The cost of cleaning, repairing, or replacing damaged structures is staggering, not to mention the loss in productivity.  Solutions to these problems are usually not complicated nor very expensive, but implementation faces a wide range of institutional hurdles.




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SEM image.jpg


Microscopy and Imaging at the NHM in the 21st Century – how state of the art instrumentation can be used to image and analyse irreplaceable Natural History and Cultural Heritage specimens.


Thursday 23rd January 2014, 2.30pm-4.00pm


Flett Lecture Theatre, NHM, South Kensington


Who? Speaker: 
Alex Ball, EM Unit manager, Science Facilities NHM.


What’s it about?
Microscopy and Imaging is a rapidly evolving discipline and the Museum’s Imaging and Analysis Centre is very much at the forefront of the practical technology for Natural Sciences and Cultural Heritage research. This talk is an attempt to give you both a roundup of the facilities available at the NHM and also to demonstrate some of the ways they have been used at the Museum and to compare them to either “state of the art” applications, or to some of the more eye-catching, media friendly research that has been performed recently.
As a researcher with a background in microscopy, 3D reconstruction and analysis and now over 20 years’ practical experience in electron microscopy applications, I travel regularly to international microscopy conferences and talk frequently with lab managers from other institutions. Staff at the Museum are in a privileged position; not only do they have access to some of the world’s finest natural history collections and libraries, but this is backed up by Science Facilities that are literally world class and free at the point of use (at least for microscopy and analysis). I would like to use this talk to inspire our users to be inventive, to look beyond what is current in their own fields and try to see what might be applied from other fields to their own research.


Who should come?
The seminar is open to all interested members of the museum, particularly


Science Group: All senior departmental managers & collection management staff.
Public Engagement Group:  Any staff who work with and use collections or manage staff who work with collections.


We also welcome colleagues from other institutions who would find the seminar of interest. There is no booking fee and only large parties need to notify the organiser for catering purposes.

Tea and coffee will be available in the lobby area after the talk.


Suggestions for seminar speakers are always most welcome. Please contact the organiser Clare Valentine (




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(Image from Wikipedia)



Unique PGE-Cu-Ni Noril’sk deposits: geology and origin


Nadezhda Krivolutskaya

Vernadsky Institute of Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry RAS, Moscow, Russia



Tuesday 14th January - 4.00 pm



Thanks to their uniqueness in the extensive class of magmatic Pt-Cu-Ni deposits (their setting in the flood-basalt province, young age, and the vast thickness of the ores related to the relatively thin intrusive bodies), the Norilsk ore-bearing massifs continue to attract keen interest of researchers during more than five decades. The paramount impact of the discovery of the Talnakh deposits on the world's economy still puts forth the problems of the genesis of such ores. Solving these problems will facilitate in optimizing exploration for such unique ores.

Although the Norilsk deposits have been studied for a long time, several issues of their genesis remain obscure until nowadays. A principally important problem is the mechanisms that concentrated metals in the uniquely large deposits. Several hypotheses were suggested to explain this phenomenon. Some researchers explained the unusual structure of the deposits by their origin from unusual ore-bearing magmas, others argued that the deposits were produced by tholeiitic melts during their long-lasting ascent to the surface. Practically all of the genetic models attach much importance to the assimilation of rocks, first of all, anhydrite, which provided sulfur for the system.

Our study of geological relations between basalts and intrusions in the Norilsk Complex and on their major- and trace-element compositions (6 - 7 wt % MgO in the volcanic rocks and 10 - 12 in the intrusions, relatively low Ti concentrations and La/Yb ratios in rocks of the Norilsk Complex) and isotopic composition (first of all, sulfur isotopic composition δ34S from +1 - +5 to +18‰ for the basalts and intrusions, respectively), the conclusion was drawn that the ore-bearing intrusions have no comagmatic volcanic rocks and were produced by a separate magmatic pulse in post-Nadezhdinsky time. There is much less evidence that the magmas of the Norilsk Complex were emplaced in post-Morongovskoe time and, perhaps, even after the whole volcanic pile was formed (Malich et al., 2010; Ivanov, 2011).

We were the first to widely apply a new approach to estimating the composition of the parental melt of a given rock based on data on melt inclusions in the early liquidus phases (olivine and pyroxene). In particular, we have demonstrated that the ore-bearing massifs were produced by highly magnesian (up to 8 wt % MgO) melts that contained olivine and plagioclase phenocrysts and had crustal characteristics: negative Ta-Nb and positive Pb anomalies and did not contain elevated concentrations of base metals. The melt contained 0.5-0.7 wt % H2O with low concentrations of Cl (0.2 wt %) and CO2 and its characteristics were close to those of lower crustal rocks (εNd = 0 ± 1.5; 87Sr/86Sr = 0.706 ± 0.1) that are are reasonable suitable candidates for the source of the Norilsk parental magmas. The possibility of melting is uncertain.

The two-stage scenario for the genesis of the sulfides seems to offer a more efficient mechanism for metal concentrating than a single-stage process.



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Not so boring Urticaceae? A framework for the study of over 2,000 species of tiny flowered weeds


Alex Monro

Department of Life Sciences, Natural History Museum and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew


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

The Urticaceae comprise ca 2,500 species in ca 50 genera. The family was last monographed by Hugh Algernon Weddell in 1856 whose beautifully detailed illustrations still provide the most informative images for this families tiny flowers. I have been studying the family for ca 15 years and in collaboration with Zeng-Yuan Wu we have generated a phylogenetic tree that once will  provide a context for exploring the evolution of these uncharismatic but fascinating plants. I will provide a summary of some of the most promising lines of research as they appear to me.


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“Across the disciplines” - a student’s perspective on the Marie Curie Initial Training network INTERCROSSING: Introduction to a natural hybrid zone between bluebells species in northern Spain

Jeannine Marquardt

Department of Life Sciences, NHM


Wednesday 4 of December 11:00
Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)


This presentation will be split in two parts: (1) I will introduce the Marie Curie ITN INTERCROSSING. The principal strategic objective of INTERCROSSING is the cultivation of a new type of early stage researcher (ESR) to deal with challenges of exploiting the latest Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) technologies. The consortium behind INTERCROSSING are all using NGS technologies, but have found the recruitment of appropriate Early Stage Researchers (ESRs) a major obstacle to build on their innovations. A combination of industrial and academic partners deliver training courses equipping the ESRs to traverse the barriers between these disciplines. Taught courses will provide practical experience of NGS data acquisition, computational methods, model-based statistical inference and population genetics. The NHM - the only charity partner - will deliver training in citizen science and public communication. My PhD project within the ITN (2), one of the few actually using data of non-model organisms, is about studying introgression between Hyacinthoides non-scripta (the British bluebell) and H. hispanica in the natural environment in northern Spain. The analysis of hybrid zones provides a window into speciation from which we can learn about processes that drive species divergence. Especially using genome wide markers generated with NGS technology we have the potential to gain lots of information about the species’ evolutionary history.  I will focus on early results from fieldwork and preliminary analyses of the transcriptome.




(Image from Perm State University Web pages)



Botanical Garden of the Perm State University, Russia: its history, living collections and research


Sergei Shumikhin

Perm State University, Russia


Wednesday 4 of December 11:30
Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)

The oldest in the Urals botanical garden of the Perm University (Perm Botanical Garden) was founded in 1922 by Professor Alexander Genkel, a prominent Russian algologist famous for his work in the Arctic Ocean. In the past, several renowned Russian scientists, including physiologist Dmitry Sabinin and geobotanist Vladimir Baranov were among the Directors of the Perm Botanical Garden. Now it is a large scientific, educational and cultural centre of the Western Ural with the ex situ collections totalling over 6,500 taxa.  One of the main activities of the Botanical Garden is studying and preservation of biodiversity of the local flora. This talk presents the history of the Perm Botanical Garden, its living collections and main research activities, including introduction and re-introduction of Red List species.



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