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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.


For additional details on attending this or other seminars see





“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.



For additional details on attending this or other seminars see




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Bone-eating worms and wood-eating bivalves: characterising the ecology of deep-sea organic falls from multiple ocean basins


Diva Amon

Department of Life Sciences, NHM and University of Southampton



Wednesday 27 of November 11:00
Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)

Large organic inputs to the deep seafloor such as the remains of whales or pieces of wood are termed ‘organic-falls’ and are important sources of food, shelter and hard substrate in the deep sea. Despite over 30 years of research on these habitats, we still have only a basic understanding of their taxonomic composition and for some ocean basins, no natural or experimental studies have ever been conducted. The degree of connectivity between these isolated habitats, as well as how quickly organic matter is remineralised by specialist organic-fall fauna, such as bone-eating Osedax worms and wood-eating Xylophaga molluscs, are poorly known. My PhD research has tried to shed light on these topics resulting in the last three years spent undertaking some extraordinary tasks in a variety of locations: collecting whale bones and bone-eating worms from the Antarctic deep seafloor, cutting bones out of beached whales in Kent, sinking wood and whale bones on the Southwest Indian Ridge, diving to 2500 metres in a Japanese submersible, observing what happens when tiger sharks and whale bones meet in the Bahamas, and haggling over pig carcasses with a Jamaican butcher. All in the name of science! Today I will reminisce on a few of these adventures, as well as present results from the penultimate chapter of my thesis: Ecosystem function of the wood-boring genus, Xylophaga (Pholadidae, Bivalvia) revealed by X-ray micro-computed tomography. Wood deployments from two seamounts on the Southwest Indian Ridge were investigated in detail to examine the nature of intact Xylophaga borings, the comparative abundances and population size structures of the species, their rates of growth and their consumption rates of wood. Two more sets of samples from the Mid-Cayman Spreading Centre and the Tongue of the Ocean, Bahamas were also scanned. The wood at each deployment site was colonised by a different species of Xylophaga. This novel analysis has shown that an individual Xylophaga can bore between 0.235 and 0.606 cm3 of wood per year depending on the species, emphasising the importance of the genus Xylophaga with regard to wood remineralisation in the deep sea and its role as an ecosystem engineer.


For additional details on attending this or other seminars see




Presentation of PhD results: impact on visitors of meeting scientists in Nature Live


Amy Seakins

Collaborative PhD between the Natural History Museum and King’s College London

Thursday 5 December
DC Seminar Room (underneath the Attenborough Studio) 10.00-11.00


This thesis explores the impacts of meeting research scientists on visitors to the Natural History Museum, London, from the visitors’ perspective. Firstly, the study aims to investigate whether meeting a scientist changes visitors’ identification of scientists, their perceptions of ‘who scientists are’ and what scientists are like, perhaps challenging previously encountered stereotypes of scientists. Secondly, the study looks at visitors’ identification with scientists, whether visitors become more interested in the life and work of the scientist, seeing science as personally relevant, and whether visitors make connections to the scientist. Through researching the impacts of interactions between visitors and scientists, this thesis adds to the literature aiming to increase science literacy and engagement, contributing to knowledge of how individuals can become more active, confident and interested in science as a part of their everyday lives.


Amy is about to submit her thesis so come and discuss her findings with her. They are of value to those who plan public engagement activities as well as those from Science who take part in education programmes and interact with visitors.



For additional details on attending this or other seminars see


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


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


The deadline for application is January 10 2014.




Taxonomic principles and tools in botanical research: a short course

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


March 10-14 2014


Natural History Museum, London.


Find out more about the course and apply online




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

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


March 17-21 2014 (5 days)


Natural History Museum, London, UK.


Find out more about the course and apply online



Molecular Techniques for Taxonomy

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


February 17-21 2014 or March 3-7 2014


Natural History Museum, London.


Find out more about the course and apply online




How to make a tapeworm


Pete Olson

The Natural History Museum, Dept. of Life Sciences, Div. of Parasites & Vectors


Wednesday 20 November 11:00
Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)

The evolution of parasitic flatworms represented a major departure from the free-living platyhelminth form, with each group evolving fundamentally different key adaptations toward increased fecundity (i.e. extreme r-selection). Such radical departures in morphology make homology assessment difficult if not impossible and hence we are working to elucidate the molecular signals that underpin their morphological evolution.


Using the beetle/rodent tapeworm Hymenolepis microstoma as a laboratory model of a strobilate (i.e. segmented) tapeworm, we now have not only a full catalog of its genes, but also transcriptome (i.e. expressed gene) samples from different regions of the body and ontogenetic stages. These genome-wide transcriptome profiles provide both qualitative and quantitative data on gene expression within a given sample, and through comparison we can thus identify which genes are up- or down-regulated throughout their complex life cycle. Among these we have selected the comparatively small number (~50) of 'developmental genes' (i.e. signalling and transcription factors) and have begun to survey their spatial expression patterns through whole-mount in situ hybridisation.


Results show both stereotyped and novel spatial patterns and allow us to associate the genes with organs, such as the ovaries, which prove to be an important source of developmental signals in tapeworms, just as they are in other animals including ourselves. These data provide a comprehensive picture of the factors governing tapeworm development and offer an effective means of identifying the 'hidden synapomophies' that underpin key innovations in form.


For additional details on attending this or other seminars see


The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) has announced results for proposals from universities and partners for Doctoral Training Programmes. This replaces NERC's former system for allocating studentships directly to university departments.   The  purpose of this change is to ensure PhD  students will be equipped with a wider range of specific skills that will enhance  their employability in a wide variety of academic, commercial, media, and  government sectors and to ensure training is focused on NERCs strategic  priorities and/or priority skills needs.


The  announcement on 4 November covered 1,200 studentships that will be awarded over  the next five years: 240 PhD studentships per year. These will  be distributed over 15 successful DTPs with a total programme budget of £100  million.


The Museum is a hosting partner of four DTP proposals, as follows:


  • Great  Western 4 Plus (GW4+) DTP (28 studentships per year)
    • Lead - University of Bristol

    • Hosting and Training Partners - University of  Exeter, Cardiff University, University of Bath, The Natural History Museum,  British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Plymouth Marine  Laboratory, Met Office
  • Spitfire  DTP (15 studentships per year)
    • Lead - University of Southampton
    • Hosting and Training Partners - National  Oceanography Centre, The Natural History Museum, British Antarctic Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Marine Biological Association, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science, HR Wallingford
  • London DTP  (24 studentships per year)
    • Lead - University College London
    • Hosting and Training Partners - Birkbeck  University of London, Brunel University, King’s College London,  Queen Mary University of London, The  Natural History Museum, British Geological Survey,  Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Met Office, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew,  Zoological Society  of London - Institute of Zoology
  • Science  and Solutions for a Changing Planet (SSCP) DTP (15 studentships per year)
    • Lead - Imperial College London (Grantham  Institute for Climate Change)
    • Hosting and Training Partners - The Natural History Museum, Met Office, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Royal  Botanic Gardens Kew, Zoological Society of London - Institute of Zoology

In addition to development and supervision of DTP-related project proposals, Museum staff will provide lectures, practicals, field trips, and other elements in professional development training courses. Museum staff have particular expertise in theprinciples and practice of taxonomy, collections, systematics and taxonomy of particular groups, presentation skills, communication of science to public audiences, scientific publishing and scientific media work.




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The boredom of belemnites: endoliths in belemnite guards from the Cretaceous Speeton Clay



Paul D. Taylor

Earth Sciences Department, Natural History Museum.


Tuesday 12 November- 4pm

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



The Early Cretaceous Speeton Clay Formation is renowned for its rich and diverse belemnite fauna. During October 2009 and March 2011 NHM field parties collected numerous examples of Speeton belemnites from the coastal exposures of the Speeton Clay south of Filey in East Yorkshire. These collections have been used in a research project, undertaken jointly with Consuelo Sendino and Museum volunteer Jane Barnbrook, on the previously unstudied biota of boring organisms that infested dead belemnite guards lying on the Cretaceous sea floor.


At least 15 ichnotaxa of borings can be recognized, ranging from brachiopod pedicle attachment traces (Podichnus), to rosette-like traces believed to have been made by foraminifera (Semidendrina), and putative fungal microborings (Orthogonum and Saccomorpha). The study of these endoliths can provide evidence for palaeoenvironmental conditions on the sea floor during deposition of the Speeton Clay.


For additional details on attending this or other seminars see




Phylogenetics and evolution of some early and oddball plants


Sean Graham

University of British Columbia


Friday 8 November 11:00
Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)

My research group works on multiple problematic nodes in the plant Tree of Life. Here I focus on two major subjects from phylogenetic and evolutionary perspectives: (1) The 'early' aquatic flowering-plant family Hydatellaceae; (2) the mycoheterotophic plants, which are diverse lineages of non-photosynthetic plants that rely on fungi for their carbon budget.



For additional details on attending this or other seminars see




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Mixing, mingling and enclave crumbling in the post-Minoan dacitic magmas of Santorini volcano, Greece


Chiara Maria Petrone,

Earth Sciences - Natural History Museum


Tuesday 29th October - 4.00 pm

Earth Sciences seminar room

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



The post-caldera islets of Palea- and Nea-Kameni formed as a result of nine eruptive events from A.D. 46-47 to 1950 in the center of the Santorini Minoan caldera. The erupted products are represented by dacitic lava flows and domes hosting basaltic to andesitic mafic enclaves. Dacitic rocks have low porphyritic index that increases with time, whereas their degree of evolution decreases pointing to the composition of the mafic enclaves. Enstatite contents of pyroxene and anorthite contents of plagioclase decrease from mafic enclaves to host lavas. Sr isotopes systematically increase with time and toward the less evolved composition of lavas and mafic enclaves, whereas Nd isotopes decrease. Whole rocks and mineral separates of mafic enclaves from the younger events are more Sr-radiogenic than their host lavas, the opposite occurs in the A.D. 46-47 lavas and enclaves.


Mixing and mingling processes between dacitic and mafic magmas, along with crumbling of the mafic enclaves in the host lavas are responsible for the observed textural and geochemical characteristics of the dacitic host lavas. The variations of Sr-Nd isotopes with time in the enclave magmas seem to indicate assimilation of limestone from the basement by the most mafic magmas; this process is associated to new mafic magma inputs and femic phase crystallization. A shallow layered reservoir with dacitic magmas overlaying lower mafic magmas is supported by our data. Crystal fractionation and cumulitic processes affect the lower part of the plumbing system allowing further layering of the mafic magmas, generating the variable and complex textures shown by the mafic enclaves. Different portions of the layered reservoir were frequently and variably sampled during time, as testified by variable types, compositions and distributions of mafic enclaves in the different eruptions. All this allows us to suggest periodic arrivals of mafic magmas in the post-Minoan plumbing system of Santorini, also implying for a still active magmatic system whose behaviour needs to be fully evaluated, also in the light of the 2011-2012 unrest.  


For additional details on attending this or other seminars see





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The evolution of bird pollination in the Hawaiian Islands



Jonathan Price

Dept. of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Hawai'i at Hilo



Friday 25th October 11:00
Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)


Bird pollination is a prominent ecological interaction in Hawaiian terrestrial communities involving about 200 species of plants and as many as 27 species of birds. Phylogenies indicate that bird-pollination first evolved on now eroded islands that pre-dated the present high islands. However, the arrival of Metrosideros around 4 Mya may have spurred further diversification and the development of suites of pollinators on each island. This arose through three primary processes: 1) colonists with appropriate traits colonized the archipelago, 2) species shifted toward bird pollination, or 3) species with this syndrome underwent cladogenesis. Morphologies indicate different optimal fits of bills to flowers, suggesting varying degrees of specialization, and niche partitioning within communities.


For additional details on attending this or other seminars see




Conservation of reef corals of the world: why phylogeny matters

Danwei Huang

Postdoctoral scholar, University of Iowa


Friday 18 October 11:00
Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)

One third of the world's reef-building corals are facing heightened extinction risk from anthropogenic climate change and local impacts. Extinction probabilities aside, species are not equal. Rather, evolutionary processes render each species, or species assemblage in general, unique with a distinctive history that can be characterised for conservation. My research is aimed at quantifying these patterns based on a robust understanding of the coral tree of life. In this talk, I will show that it is critical to consider species' contribution to evolutionary diversity in conjunction with their extinction risk when setting priorities to safeguard biodiversity.


My analyses identify the most endangered lineages that would not be given top priority on the basis of risk alone, and further demonstrate that corals susceptible to impacts such as bleaching and disease tend to be close relatives. One of Earth's most threatened reef regions, the Coral Triangle, is also famously the most biodiverse. While competing ideas are plentiful, the dynamics underlying this biogeographic pattern remain poorly understood. Phylogenetic modelling adds a valuable dimension to these explanations, and can help us uncover the evolutionary processes that have shaped coral richness in the hotspot. Indeed, conservation of the world's reef corals requires protecting the historical sources of diversity, particularly the evolutionarily distinct species and the drivers of its geographic diversity gradient.


For additional details on attending this or other seminars see




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Sir Arthur Smith Woodward and the NHM Fossil Fish Collection


Mike Smith,

Volunteer, Fossil Fish Collection, Earth Sciences Department, . 

Tuesday 15th October- 4.00 pm

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

Arthur Smith Woodward joined the British Museum (Natural History) on August 23rd 1882 at the age of 18 years and was knighted upon his retirement as Keeper of Geology 42 years later. He built his career as a palaeontologist on the meticulous study of fossil fishes naming over 300 new species. Between 1889 and 1901 he wrote the 4 part Catalogue of Fossil Fishes in the British Museum (Natural History), a publication that remains an important research aid to this day. He also wrote a book, Outlines of Vertebrate Palaeontology for Students of Zoology and two major monographs on English fossil fish. The fact that the fossil fish collection here at the Museum is the most important such collection in the world owes much to his work at the Museum. In this talk Mike Smith will briefly discuss the man himself, the fossil fish collection and how we will celebrate his life with the Woodward150 symposium to be held on May 21st next year.


Wine and cheese will be served after the seminar.


For additional details on attending this or other seminars see


Projecting Responses of Ecological Diversity In Changing Terrestrial Systems


Andy Purvis and Lawrence Hudson

Department of Life Sciences, NHM

Wednesday 09 October 11:00
Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)

The PREDICTS project is an ongoing collaboration with UNEP-WCMC and others that aims to build a better global model than has been available previously of how local biodiversity responds to human impacts. We will introduce the project (and our lab), give an overview of the database one year into the project, and show some preliminary models of how land cover and the intensity of land use affect some simple measures of local diversity.



For additional details on attending this or other seminars see


This is the 9th in our series of Wallace100 lectures.


How did Wallace's pioneering understanding of species distribution change science, and how does it continue to have an impact today? Find out in this free afternoon lecture.


Wallace's legacy: from biogeography to conservation biology



The Natural History Museum 10 October 16:30 – 17:30, Flett Events Theatre



Dr Tom Fayle, Imperial College.


Wallace recognised that humans played a major role in biogeography - the geographic distribution of plants and animals over geological time - a view that was not widely appreciated by his contemporaries.


Dr Fayle will discuss how Wallace's ideas have had a major impact on biogeography and conservation biology since the 19th century, with a particular focus on southeast Asian insects.


Tom Fayle is an ecologist, with an interest in community and behavioural ecology and conservation biology. He holds postdoctoral positions at the University of South Bohemia, Czech Republic, and Imperial College London. His work focuses on tropical ants, and has taken him to Malaysian Borneo and Papua New Guinea.




As part of the Wallace100 celebrations taking part in 2013, the Natural History Museum will be hosting a monthly lecture series. These lectures are part of the Museum’s participation in Wallace100, an international programme of projects and events celebrating the centenary of Wallace’s death on 7 November 2013. At these monthly events, leading biologists and historians will discuss different aspects of Wallace’s life and work. The series also highlights the significance of the Museum as a focal point for Wallace collections and studies.



Free tickets need to be booked in advance

Book tickets online
Doors open 16.00


Details of the event can also be found here:


Details of the Wallace100 celebrations can be found here:


Details of Wallace100 events taking place at the NHM can be found here:



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