Skip navigation
You are here: Home > NaturePlus > Blogs > Tags

Blog Posts

Blog Posts

Items per page

After filling our water tanks and having breakfast, the Halton left Bergen harbor for our first diving site in Vatlestraumen on Sunday morning.


Leaving Bergen.JPGLeaving Bergen on Sunday morning.


This location is of interest to the bryozoan team because a species list was done in the area by Professor John Ryland (University of Swansea) back in the late 1950s. After dive checks are completed the bryozoan team jumps in.


checks_before_dive.JPGHamish supervising dive checks with Piotr.


Bryo_team in water.JPG

Joanne, Piotr and Sally about to dive.


As the Halton circles, waiting for the divers the return to the surface, the Norwegian coastguard arrives and asks us to move from the area as the police are undertaking a missing persons search. With bryozoans and rocks on board, the days dive plan is hastily revised and we head for Åskenset, a short steam away.


The horse mussel team, which consists of Dr William (Bill) Sanderson, Prof Hamish Mair and Rebecca Grieves from Heriot Watt University, are looking for maerl (coralline red algae) and horse mussel beds as part of their biogenic reef project.


mussel team.JPGBill and Rebecca waiting to dive while Hamish supervises.


After half an hour down, the divers come to the surface – it has proved unsuccessful and we move on. After a 2 hour steam through some narrow fjordic passages, we arrive in Herdlefjorden at a site commonly known as the Shark Wall. This vertical wall is unusual due to the shoals of tope (a small shark species), which congregate in these waters.


Piotr ready to go.JPGPiotr clutching his camera about to go down to the Shark Wall.


This would finish off the day’s underwater activities before the Halton started to steam north through wonderful Nordic scenery. Several hours later, we moor up overnight. The work for the day has not finished, however, as microscopes come out and Mary and Joanne review the days samples.



Bryozoans on rocks from Vatlestraumen.



Bryozoan zooids seen down the microscope.


More diving in the coming days. Check back for more soon!


This week, I and 11 other marine scientists will be heading off to the Norwegian fjords to look at the effects of climate change on marine life. This includes four members associated with the Museum who investigate bryozoans (also known as sea mats or moss animals).


We are aiming to photograph and collect samples of current marine Bryozoa to assess changes in the species composition of the Norwegian fauna in comparison with historical surveys from circa 1900-1920 and 1963 in the Bergen and Trondheim areas. The collections will be done by SCUBA diving in the cold clear waters of the Norwegian fjords.


We are investigating to see if the species biodiversity has changed in response to increases in sea water temperature. The team will also be surveying artifical structures to look at patterns of distribution of non-native and invasive bryozoan species in north European waters.


Cellaria webcopy.jpg

A colony of the bryozoan, Cellaria sinuosa growing on a rocky wall.


An electron microscope image showing the colony units.


The bryozoan research team consists of four members:


  • Mary Spencer Jones: Bryozoa and Entoprocta curator at the Museum
  • Dr Joanne Porter: Scientific Associate at the Museum/Heriot-Watt University Associate Professor
  • Sally Rouse: Heriot-Watt/Scottish Association of Marine Sciences PhD student and former Natural History Museum Encyclopedia of Life Rubenstein Fellow
  • Dr Piotr Kuklinski: Scientific Associate at the Museum/Institute of Oceanology Poland Associate Professor



The bryozoan research team: Mary Spencer Jones, Dr Joanne Porter, Sally Rouse and Dr Piotr Kuklinski.

The expedition kicks off on Saturday 28 June when the team join the research vessel MV Halton in Bergen and get all the equipment loaded on board. Joanne and I are making a visit to the bryozoan collection held at the Bergen Museum of Natural History prior to joining the cruise. Just time for a bit of final last minute packing before we head off on Thursday morning!


For more information on bryozoans, have a look at the Bryozoa of the British Isles Scratchpad website.


Mary Spencer Jones


There are colonies of cyclostomes and cheilostomes bryozoans with an exceptional preservation found on bivalve shells from the Red Crag Formation of Suffolk and Essex (SE England). This formation, as its name indicates, is red at outcrop, strongly oxidised, but unweathered samples from the subsurface are known to have a greenish colour. Therefore, to study green-coloured Red Crag samples is essential to determine the identity of the original iron-coating, oxidised to goethite in surface exposures.


Red Crag.jpg

Red Crag Formation at Butley, Suffolk, England


bryozoans on bivalve.jpg

Bryozoans encrusting Glycymeris

The British Geological Survey keeps samples of these deposits in its core store. Therefore, to visit the BGS in Keyworth, Nottingham, was the first stage for this bryozoan research.



Professor Edward Forbes (1815-1854) welcomes you at the BGS. He was the first officer to be appointed as Palaeontologist to the Geological Survey of Great Britain


Seven cores were analized looking for mollusc shells, preferably shedding bryzoans from East Anglia.



Cores as they are preserved at the BGS


Colonies of cyclostome and cheilostome bryozoans are commoly found encrusting shells and are exquisitely preserved with delicate articulated spines and calcified opercula. They are placed on the undersides of the bivalves shells which gives them shelter. This only explains partially their preservation.



Exceptional fidelity preservation on Escharella aff. octodentata seen under SEM


As the calcified bryozoan skeletons are absent and the colonies are very finely preserved by thin coatings of rusty red-coloured goethite, these coatings must have formed very early in diagenesis. Currently its original mineralogy is unknown but may have been the same green mineral (glauconite and/or chlorite) that gives unweathered Red Crag. Conversion of this mineral to goethite was apparently accompanied by dissolution of the calcitic skeletons of the cyclostome and most of the cheilostome bryozoans.



Javier Cuadros taking samples for lab analysis


I have just returned from the 16th IBA meeting, held in the Palazzo delle Scienze, 10-16 June. The meeting is held every three years and this one was the turn of the University of Catania, Sicily. Antonietta Rosso (Profesor of Palaeontology in the Dipartimento di Scienze Geologiche, Universita'degli Studi di Catania), jointly with Rossana Sanfilippo, organised the meeting and was our host. And they have done it really well.


2013-06-09 05.10.24-2 (Custom).jpg

Statue at the main entrance of the Palazzo delle Scienze, Catania, Sicily


It started on Monday 10 June with a session on Bryozoan Taxonomy, which was a really good beginning.

2013-06-11 00.08.17 (Custom).jpg

We are welcomed to the meeting


On the same day we had a reception - a cheese-party - in the lovely Botanical Garden of Catania, which was founded by a Benedictine monk, Francesco Tornabene Roccaforte (1813-1897) in 1858.


The Botanical Garden of Catania


We have enjoyed a nice conference with 82 participations from many different continents. It is a wonderful opportunity to meet bryozoologists and to get to know their latest research. Since I joined the IBA, this group has become more and more international, and now includes students from the Middle East.


My own presentation was on Tuesday 11 June in the Cenozoic Bryozoans session and was about the Pliocene Bryozoans from Gran Canaria. This research started several years ago with a field work trip to Gran Canaria where Juan Francisco Betancort [Tachi] and Joaquin Meco, both of them from the Univeristy of the Las Palmas of Gran Canaria [ULPGC], showed us the locations where Sir Charles Lyell (1797-1875) collected fossil invertebrate fauna in order to falsify Leopold von Buch's (1774-1853) catastrophic theory of Craters of Elevation.



The first slide of my presentation on Pliocene bryozoans from Gran Canaria



Another slide from my presentation with taxonomical information


Some of the taxa found in the Pliocene fauna are still present in the Mediterranean Sea today. They allow us to infer the recolonisation of the Mediterranean from the North Atlantic, after the Messinian desiccation and subsequent flooding. There is an illustrative video on the BBC Earth YouTube channel that is related to this.



BBC video on Messinian desiccation


On Wednesday 12 June, we visited the archaeological area of Neopolis and the archaelogical museum, Paolo Orsi, which is very close to the Madonnina delle Lacrime in Syracuse. We even found bryozoans on some of the sculptures at the Museum!

2013-06-11 06.38.55-2 (Custom).jpg2013-06-11 08.09.13-2 (Custom).jpg

Left: Neopolis. Right: Realistic image of an old fisherman at the Paolo Orsi Museum


We continued our visit by walking around Syracuse. What a lovely city! I have to highlight the famous Cathedral of Syracuse, and the temple dedicated to Athena. Finally, we finished the day with a wonderful Italian-Sicilian dinner by the Mediterranean.


2013-06-11 10.32.01 (Custom).jpgView of the Piazza Duomo, Syracuse


The next day, I visited the Geological Museum in the Dipartimento Scienze Geologiche of the Universita Degli Studi during a meeting break guided by Rosella Bruno. It keeps hundreds of specimens and two of them caught my attention. One of the original specimens was a dwarf elephant skeleton found in the Grotta di Spinagallo, near Syracuse. The other one was a faked fossil of a recent dog.


2013-06-12 09.19.38-2 (Custom).jpg

Geological Museum entrance


2013-06-12 07.27.31 (Custom).jpg2013-06-12 07.38.11 (Custom).jpg

Left: Elephas falconeri, a dwarf elephant from Syracuse. Right: a faked fossil of a dog


On Friday 14 June our host Antonietta Rosso gave a talk on recent Mediterranean bryozoans, open shelf soft bottom bryozoans from the Ciclopi Marine Protected Area (E. Sicily, Mediterranean) and we finished the day with a concert at the Palazzo Biscari, considered the most beautiful and well kept palace in Catania. It is the kind of palace that makes you feel to live in other times!


2013-06-14 14.43.50 (Custom).jpgAntonietta Rosso during her talk on recent Mediterranean bryozoans


It has been a really nice conference with many kind of details, starting from the dinner by the sea, continuing with the tours and finishing with the closing dinner. Thank you so much for this 16th IBA Meeting and congratulations to the organisers and speakers!


As this is the first blog, I would like to introduce you these marine animals and their collections at the Museum and why I am creating this blog.


Conulariids have a distinctive shape that resembles an inverted pyramid or ice cream cone with square cross section, with a length from about 2cm to 30cm, but most measure 3cm to 10cm from the closed pointed end to the aperture at the wider open end.


1-Ctenoconularia hispida (Custom).jpg

Ctenoconularia hispida (Slater, 1907)



2-reconstruccion (Custom).jpg

Reconstruction of a group of conulariids


The Conulariid Collection at the Museum consists of more than 1,100 specimens whose distribution goes from the Upper Cambrian (501 million years ago) to the Upper Triassic (199.6 million years ago), and it covers the whole stratigraphical distribution of this group. This collection has been key in systematic and taxonomical studies of conulariids at the beginning of the 20th century and it is a crucial source for reference today.


3-Distribution of conulariids by periods (Custom).jpg

Distribution of Museum conulariids by period

These amazing animals are incredibly abundant and lend their name to particular geological units as the Conularia-Sandstone in the Upper Ordovician of Jordan. There are more than 400 species of conulariid described.


Bryozoans are colonial animals whose individuals are called zooids. Their dimensions are microscopic.


4-Archimides (Custom).jpg


Archimedes Owen, 1838



The Bryozoa Collection, with more than 1,500,000 specimens, is one of the richest and most important in the world, containing hand specimens, samples, slides and thin sections. They spread from the Early Ordovician (485 million years ago), to the Holocene-Present.


5-Distribution of the bryozoans by periodos (Custom).jpg

  Distribution of the Museum bryozoans by periods



I am focusing in these collections because the conulariid one has been the aim of my PhD and part of my research, and the Bryozoan Collection is the one I am curating in addition to being part of my research.


In the next blogs I will show how I curate them, new technologies in collection management, part of my research, fieldwork and visitors of these collections.


So I have been travelling a fair bit recently and the only way that I could fit in writing this blog is because I have been grounded due to a blizzard in Istanbul! However, this has afforded me two days to look through some of the material from the previous collecting trips, one of which was South Africa.


The South Africa trip was a consortium from the Natural History Museum consisting of 2 Bryozoan experts, 1 Coleopterist, 1 Protist specialist and me. Beth Okamura (Team leader), Mary Spencer-Jones (mostly spends her time in waders), Peter Hammond (retired and relaxed, samples with a pipe- very dapper), Dave Bass (strange views on bird taxonomy) and I, respectively. We were based at the University of Cape Town, which offers some of the best views that a University anywhere could, under the wing of Cecile Reed, who is one of the most helpful people you could imagine. Between her and her colleagues I was told of sites, they collected some mosquitoes for me and also donated for the NHM 2 mantophasmids!!! (a lot smaller than I was expecting) which increased the collections by 20%



Dave enjoying the experience of chest waders.....


So we left at the end of a cold miserable November in the UK and arrived in glorious sunshine. Dave and I were staying in the Western Cape for the whole of the trip whilst the others were off to seek bryozoans in pastures new (or rivers and dams new). Bryozoans are tiny colonial organisms and I had only ever seen them in marine environments before. I thought that my field work was frustrating at times but I take my hat off to them as they were searching for minute colonies which may only consist of a handful of individuals to start with….


We were lodged for the majority in a fine old house that offered many advantages, not at least a swimming pool, a Braar (South African Bar-b-que) (the former was very good at catching robberflies), a good wine fridge and a very friendly dog – all of which are good after a day in the field.


Our first day of sampling was at Rondervlei Nature Reserve, which was gorgeous. I had not registered how windy it could get though which was actually a blessing on days of very intense sunshine. Rondervlei was a wonderful wetland reserve sporting a large wildfowl community and a population of hippos although we did not see them that day. But more excitingly for me, my first fly was an acrocerid!! A humpbacked fly- they are some of my favourites as they are brightly coloured, look amazing and have a fascinating life history involving firing offspring into nests. Lots of very cool asilids everywhere too. But no mosquitoes..


…in fact I did not find any for ages….


We sampled at Betty’s Bay, Raapenberg Bird Sanctuary, Western Lakes, along ditches, amongst reeds and still I did not find any mosquitoes…


However, there were other things to keep me entertained!!



A magnificent Spoonbill



And these cheeky little things....



(A bit like me...)


The first week was a hectic week of predominantly trying to find good Bryozoan sites with little joy. They are the proverbial needle in a haystack!!! There were some small successes on their side and some on mine. I spend most of the time with my head in a net which does often cause comments from anyone passing by. Luckily for me though several passes by happened to be undertaken an ecological survey and so helpfully recommended more sites, including one of their own which had mosquitoes!! I was a very excited person.


In the meantime though I set up some malaise traps at Rondevlei after a very early start due to taking a boat trip out on the wetlands in the search of Hippos. They had been reintroduced onto the reserve in 2003 and apart from one running wild after being bullied by an older male, they have been getting along fine with everyone. This is most amazing for several reasons, firstly it abuts a large housing estate, and secondly, although this is one of the most important reserves for birds in South Africa, it is located next to Zeekoevlei, which is heavily polluted!


One of my favourite localities of the trip though was De Hoop Nature Reserve, a little piece of paradise consisting of open planes, wildfowl lakes and some of the largest Dunes I have ever seen of the purest white... there was some great collecting and I caught some flies that will definitely make peoples skin crawl…or should I more accurately say make their nose dissolve


Here we have a beautiful fly, front on it looks like an inquisitive little thing (as say little – this specimen is 2cm long…..)


Gedoelstia cristata front.jpg


But this is a bot fly from the family Oestridae. It is Gedoelstia cristata which is a fairly widespread and common botfly from the afrotropical region. And it is noisy I had two of them flying straight towards me and when I caught them in the net I was most impressed. I have to say I felt a tad peculiar as well knowing these creatures were flying around as well.


Here is an abstract from ‘Parasitic diseases of wild mammals’ by William Samuel and Margo Pybus:



Sounds lovely doesn’t it! It is made more unusual as most nasal botflies directly lay their eggs into the nasal cavity. So the first instar stage uses its large mouth hooks and spines on its back to pull itself along from the eye to drop down into the nasal cavity. I have just tried looking up images for this and even for me, have decided that may be too much…..


It is generally found in large ruminants such as deer but can be problematic in sheep. It has been found in man although these cases are exceptionally rare I hasten to add. There was a case were large numbers of first instar larvae were deposited in the ear!!


I didn’t get attacked though , well not by that…there was the experience of the Cape Cobra but maybe I should leave that to peoples imagination……


All in all a very good trip. I have a mass of flies to sort, some from traps, some from me sweeping. All I need know is another life time to get through everything! Any volunteers?


Hello, the researchers on our trip have been writing about their experiences measuring, describing and sampling the rocks around us here in Samarinda, East Kalimantan. I thought I'd show you where we're staying and what day-to-day life is like at the 'base camp' (see photos!).


We are staying in Hotel Putri Ayu, up in the hills above Samarinda. The hotel is lovely - a ring of wooden cottages overlooking the Mahakam River that flows out through a delta to the east of here. We get up for 7am, earlier than some of us are used to but I'm sure it's healthy, and breakfast is served in the eating area in the middle of our cottages. We eat fried rice or noodles with eggs, toast, fresh watermelon juice, tea and coffee, which is what a group of hard-working scientists need to set them up for the day.


Hotel Putri Ayu.JPG

Hotel Putri Ayu


We then gather all the equipment we'll need and assemble around the cars. We have hired five cars so that small groups can go to different sections and do their specific work. Where everyone will go is decided the night before and is logistically complicated, but we have phones in each car so that we can stay in touch and move between the groups if we need to, or meet up for lunch.



Lunch in a restaurant near the Stadion section


The sections we're working on range from 40mins to several hours away, so our drivers have to work out where to go based on our sometimes vague descriptions, GPS co-ordinates and shouts of "Ooh look at that reef up there in the jungle, can we go that way?". They are very patient. At lunchtime we find a restaurant nearby and sample the menu - we're still learning what all the foods are and it's often a surprise to see what we've ordered. The food is really good here, not as spicy as in Java but there's always some killer red sauce around to dip bits of chicken and fish into. I think we're all big fans of the fresh fruit juice. I can't quite move on from the mango, it's perfect on hot days...


By the way, I hear that Europe is experiencing something of a cold snap. We all feel for you.


So, then it's back to work for the afternoon until five or six, when the light begins to fade. We put all our sample bags into the car and go back to the hotel for much-required showers. In the evening we convene for dinner (beef, chicken, prawns, tofu, rice, fruit, it's not easy you know) and then have a meeting about what we found during the day and where we'd like to go tomorrow. This is important as it gives people a chance to find out what each section contains - is it good for corals? Are there any bryozoans? What is the preservation like? Were there any deep-water facies?


Then it's early to bed. No really it is. Everyone is usually very tired and by the time we've sorted our samples, recharged our cameras, scrubbed the mud off our boots, downloaded our GPS tracks and said goodnight to the geckos, we're all ready to sleep. And peace reigns over the tiny encampment of intrepid explorers.