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As ever, there are heaps of things to do at the Museum over the half-term holidays and you don't even have to come inside the building to enjoy all of them. Just step into the outdoor Sensational Butterflies house and meet 100s of live ones (and it's warm in there), enjoy a coffee or ice cream by the lawn's cafe kiosk, or take a stroll in the lovely Wildlife Garden and its bustling ponds to meet London wildlife among the daisies and buttercups.

 

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Left: An awesome Atlas moth in the butterflies exhibition, snapped by our butterfly house manager. Why not take your own butterfly pics inside the exhibition or at home and enter our Pinterest competition?

 

On Saturday and Sunday, 1 to 2 June, the Wildlife Garden is the focus of our free Bat Festival weekend, which also spreads its wings into the Museum's Darwin Centre for extra displays and talks, so make some plans if you're a batty friend.

 

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Tadpoles, yellow rattle, buttercups and the thriving bee tree in our spring-filled Widlife Garden, which also hosts the Bat Festival on the weekend of 1 to 2 June. Below, batty action at last year's festival.

 

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Inside the Museum, there are over 30 wonderful galleries to explore and the chance to book in advance for the ever-popular Dinosaurs, as well as puppet shows, hands-on activities and investigative fun. Browse our What's on for kids section to get the best recommendations.

 

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Left: Fossil corals display in Dinosaur Way. Right: The roaring jaws of the sabre-tooth cat in the Extinction exhibition - look out for our 2for1 ticket vouchers for Extinction in the Museum.

 

For more grown-up stimulation, there's a choice of two major ticketed exhibitions, Sebastaio Salgado's Genesis and Extinction. Or you could drop in to one or more of the many free talks in our Attenborough Studio scheduled through the week. Starting Sunday 26 and ending on Wednesday 29 May, the talks include live-links to the Isles of Scilly where the Field work with Nature Live team are accompanying Museum scientists performing their research. The Treasures Cadogan Gallery is also a must for anyone who wants to get to the heart of the Museum in one gallery.

 

Volunteers week, 1 to 7 June, coincides with the half-term holiday break and you can get a look at some of the Indonesian fossil corals volunteers helped to prepare for research in a new display cabinet in Dinosaur Way. Or take the lift up to the Specimen Preparation Area in the Cocoon on 30 May to see our new volunteers actually at work.

 

Keep up to date with our What's on and What's on for kids pages.

Find out more about volunteering at the Museum

Read the Wildlife Garden blog

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For the next two weeks I am fortunate to be joining a Museum field trip to the Isles of Scilly, 30 miles off the southwest corner of Cornwall. Alongside my Nature Live colleague Ana Rita Rodrigues and Media Technician Tony Vinhas, we will be reporting back from the trip in daily posts and organizing live-video-links to for 4-days-worth of Nature Live events in the Museum's Attenborough Studio.

 

If you want to experience the project live and direct come to the Attenborough Studio for one of the following events, and keep checking the blog for updates:

 

 

All the events are are free to attend (as is entry to the Museum) and each will last 30 mins. You’ll be able to see and talk live to scientists in the field, see specimens collected during the trip and meet a Museum scientist in the studio.

 

The team in the Isles of Scilly comprises scientists studying topics as varied as flowering plants, fishes, lichens and flies! I will introduce the different scientists and their areas of specialism over the coming days but for now - to set the scene - here are some photos the trip's leader, Mark Spencer, took last time he visited the islands.

 

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They are clearly exceptionally beautiful, a fact that makes the involvement of the National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty even more pertinent and this collaborative project will strive to further our understanding of these incredible islands.

 

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I am so excited to be visiting the islands and to be accompanying the team. Spending any time with our scientists is an education in the natural world and two weeks exploring a stunning part of the world with such experts is a very exiting prospect. On a more personal note, I am also very pleased to be able to relive one of my Dad’s dinner time stories. Many a family meal have been the forum for a retelling of the old man’s ‘best ever, EVER dream. In his own words ...

 

‘At some point it the 70s, or was it the 80s(?), I was in Bryher in the Isles of Scilly. Half way through a walk around the island I lay down on the beach for a nap. During the dream that followed I became a professional tennis player and managed, against all odds, to win Wimbledon. Having raised the trophy and flushed with pride, I woke up and finished my walk.'

 

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Some say he [my dad] never fully woke up from that nap on the Isles of Scilly ...

 

See you again next week when we will all have arrived!

 

Tom

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By the time you read this I will be well on the way to the Popocatepetl, perhaps even there already... so while I and the rest of the team start preparing for the real work on the most active volcano in Mexico, here's the who's who of the Museum staff on this Field work with Nature Live trip. Let's start with the people here to do the fun stuff, the scientists:

 

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Chiara Maria Petrone is Research Leader in Petrology, a branch of geology that studies the origin, composition, distribution and structure of rocks. In this role she leads the Museum research on active volcanoes and the generation of igneous rocks. What drives this research is to understand how active volcanoes work and to study the rocks to gain insight into their future activity. Likening her work to psychology, she strives to discover the hidden history of the volcano, from the initial magma formation and mineral crystallization till the final eruption.

 

She has a PhD in Igneous Petrology from the University of Florence, studied Mexican volcanic rocks as a post-doc fellow at the University of Kyoto (Japan) and at the Carnegie Institute of Washington DC (U.S.A) Since studying her PhD, Chiara has developed a wide knowledge of the volcanism of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, where Popocatepetl is situated.

 

Her C.V. is positively strewn with active volcanoes including Stromboli (Italy), Santorini (Greece), Vesuvius (Italy) and the Mexican Volcanic arc and she bravely giggles when one highlights the dangers of a volcano like Popo. It’s new to Chiara and she’s keen to climb and study it. Hers is a truly exciting journey to follow.

 

Dave_Smith.jpgDavid Smith has a Masters in Geology and joined the Museum nearly 20 years ago. His official title is Petrology Collections Manager and he is responsible for the care and preservation of approximately 200,000 rocks and ocean sediments. Want access to material in the collection? Dave’s your man. The Museum’s Collections are in incredible order due to Dave’s deft curation but the work required on these vast numbers could keep Dave busy for another twenty years. And STILL not be completed.

 

Occasionally Dave appears on television showing specimens from historical expeditions and how they are used to enhance scientific knowledge today. The interest in the collection is not only from research scientists but artists too. Whenever he gets a chance, Dave likes to take photographs.

 

His subject interest is wide but he but prefers graphic architecture and abstract imagery. The latter I know because he first provided me with a blog photo you couldn’t see his face in. Once a year he teams up with three friends to form a rowing crew called 'The Muppets' for a Berkshire Regatta. Wearing the appropriate wig, Dave is 'Animal.' I cannot wait to see his fieldwork outfit.

 

And now your intrepid reporters:

 

Lee_Quinn.jpgLee Quinn has been part of the special effects team at the Museum for seven years with an applied arts degree from Camberwell College and a BA in special effects from South Bank Uni. Specialising in audio, he provides the most entertaining of his own on work assignments with his animated chat and if you've ever visited exhibitions such as our Wildlife Photographer of the Year, you'll have heard the soundscapes he's composed too.

 

He'll not deny the idea of climbing an active volcano appeals to him, 'I bungeed off a crane in Orlando when they were first invented, so this is a natural progression for me!’

 

Lastly, I’m Jo Kessler your devoted blogger, camera-shy reporter and member of the Nature Live team at the Museum, blessed with the role of developing events with scientists and presenting them to public and school audiences. Whilst having a lifelong love of the natural world, I spent my first working decade in the music industry, representing hugely talented and inspiring role models. So, little has changed in that respect.

 

When volunteering at the Museum in 2005 (do it if you can, the rewards are endless) I completed a BA in furniture and product design but soon felt ‘the call of the wild’ and made natural science my career intead. I’m so excited by the science at the Museum my drive is to share it. So, bombard me with your thoughts and burning questions and they’ll be answered (volcano jokes notwithstanding) ...

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With flights back to the UK this afternoon, there was time this morning for a final visit to the Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) campus.  Dan, Kerry and I took the opportunity to have a closer look behind the scenes of the Institute for Tropical Biology and Conservation, part of UMS.

 

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The insect collections at the Institute, kept in row upon row of cupboards and drawers.

 

The Institute has an insect collection of more than 10 000 specimens, kept in sealed drawers and cabinets, in a room where the temperature and humidity is carefully monitored. They also have a wet collection (where specimens are preserved in alcohol) including fish, amphibians and snakes, and a botanical collection of more than 6000 specimens of plants and fungi. The majority of specimens kept at the Institute were collected from various locations in Sabah, and it is here that our specimens of invertebrates and lichens will have a permanent home in the future.

 

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Dan admires the collections at the Institute.

 

It has been a tiring but memorable six weeks for Pat, Holger, Dan, Kerry and Keiron in Borneo. They’ve visited, collected from and sampled three different areas in Sabah and have a lot of hard work and study still to come.  I asked each of them about their memories and experiences of the trip.

 

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Holger

 

I asked Holger if anything had surprised him during his time in Borneo…  ‘I had very low expectations for my area of special interest, which is aquatic lichens.  Lowland tropical areas tend to have very few of them.  But here there were quite a lot and even in the secondary forest, where there are properly managed fragments preserved along the rivers, the river lichens looked pretty good and there was an amazing species diversity.  There is quite a lot of damage in the forest but if habitats are managed properly there’s hope to save quite a significant number of this unique diversity.’

 

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Kerry 

 

Kerry told me about her highlight of the trip…  ‘At home I work with tropical butterflies and seeing them in the wild, flying around, has been the best part for me.’

 

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Keiron

 

I asked Keiron what had struck him most about the differences between Borneo and the UK…  ‘There are the obvious things like the different trees and mammals, like the monkeys, that we don’t get back home.  But what I’ve really enjoyed is the all the big invertebrates that we get in the forest, like the scorpions and the stick insects, the praying mantids and the beautiful fulgorids.  It’s been a real pleasure to see them.’

 

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Tony

 

Tony has been busy following and filming the scientists over the past two weeks.  Here’s what he had to say… ‘It’s been an amazing experience, seeing the rainforest and working in that environment.  It’s been tough, carrying equipment and filming in those conditions, but it was worth it.  The highlight for me has been seeing and filming the gibbon, gibbons don’t get enough attention!  I’ve also really enjoyed working with the scientists, they’re a great group of people and a pleasure to work with.’

 

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Pat

 

Pat has done a lot of fieldwork in the tropics over the years, I asked if anything had really struck her about this trip… ‘I’ve never been to Maliau before, so this forest has been amazing to me.  It’s a forest that you can really work and move in, despite it being so diverse and such a huge amount of species.  It really contrasted with the terrible SAFE site where there are all these spiny rattans and lots of vines and the slippery mud….I really thought I wasn’t going to survive!’

 

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Charlotte

 

For me, I have had an incredible and memorable couple of weeks.  I have learnt so much about tropical rainforests and the species that live there, and the enthusiasm and passion of the scientists I have had the privilege to work with has been contagious.  I would like to thank all the people at the Natural History Museum who have helped support me over the past few months and have made this blog and the various public and school events possible.  It’s been a real team effort and I couldn’t have done it without you! I will miss the rainforest, it’s smells and sounds, it’s towering trees and incredible wildlife, but I have lots of wonderful memories to last me a lifetime!

 

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Dan

 

One of the things Dan is most looking forward to on returning home is food!  We’ve had a lot of rice in Borneo and Dan can’t wait to dig into lasagne, bangers and mash, and cottage pie.  I asked him to sum up the past six weeks and what the future holds…

 

 

 

Dan has the final word.

 

Don’t forget, you can read more about Dan’s experiences in Borneo on his blog.  We’ll have a final Nature Live event with Dan in November, giving you the opportunity to ask him your questions and hear first hand about the highs and lows of his time in Borneo.

 

Thank you for following the blog and for all of your comments and questions – keep them coming!

 

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From the city of Kota Kinabalu, on a clear day, you can see a mighty mountain rising up on the horizon. This is Mount Kinabalu – the tallest peak in South East Asia at 4095m above sea level. 

 

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Up in the clouds in can be difficult to see anything!

 

Unfortunately, for most of today the mountain was hidden from view due to low lying cloud, and it was into this cloud that we all drove in search of more lichens (for Holger, Pat and Charles) and a chance to experience Gunung Kinabalu National Park.

 

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The conditions in Gunung Kinabalu National Park are far less hot and humid than we have been used to in Maliau.

 

A World Heritage Site, the park stretches for 754km2 (an area larger than Singapore) and surrounds Mount Kinabalu.  In a far cooler climate (due to the altitude) than Maliau Basin, the forest feels distinctly different.  There are lots of ferns and mosses and cream coloured orchids.

 

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A wonderful purple toadstool that we spotted in the forest.

 

Because the park is so massive, we only had time to see a small part of it.  We briefly visited an area that has natural hot springs and a tree-top walk that attracts a lot of visitors.  Just like in Maliau, it was wonderful to view the forest from a different perspective, although a little nerve-racking…I’m sure it was higher up than before and the walkway was certainly a lot narrower!

 

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Wonderful views but not for those who suffer from vertigo!

 

With the cloud still hanging low and the rain coming and going, we chanced upon something very special, the opportunity to see a Rafflesia in bloom.  There are 17 different species of Rafflesia plant, all of them endemic to Borneo.  They are also known as the ‘corpse flower’, because of the smell of rotting flesh that they give off when in bloom. 

 

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A fly briefly settles inside the flower of the Rafflesia.

 

The flower blooms for several days, letting off a pungent smell that attracts carrion flies (that pollinate it).  After this short period, the petals become blemished and the flesh darkens and rots. Our flower wasn’t smelling very strongly when we saw it…perhaps a good thing, it doesn’t sound very pleasant!

 

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Up close and personal, fortunately this flower didn’t smell too badly during our visit!

 

Content and happy at our chance viewing of such a famous flower, we made our way back towards the city. Pausing on the way to sample some barbequed Bearded Pig (particularly tasty!) the clouds finally parted to reveal a picturesque view of Mount Kinabalu in the late afternoon light.

 

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Mount Kinabalu

 

Having spent the day with Charles (one of our main collaborators from Universiti Malaysia Sabah), he introduced us to one of the best places in Kota Kinabalu to go for dinner.

 

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A huge area full of table and chairs and lots of fish!

 

In a massive almost warehouse sized area, we found ourselves surrounded by several different fish restaurants.  Here, tank upon tank housed live fish and shellfish of almost every variety imaginable. Charles picked out the scallops, prawns, soft-shelled crabs and grouper (a type of fish) we were to have for dinner.  You don’t get much fresher than that!  Delicious.

 

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Charles picks out the fish we are to have for dinner while Dan and Pat look on eagerly.

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Yesterday, our collaborators at Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) warned Dan that some of his specimens were leaking.  Not good news!

 

All of the lichen and invertebrate specimens (collected over the past 6 weeks of sampling in the forests of Borneo) are now at UMS, waiting to be sorted and packed and eventually loaned to the Natural History Museum (NHM) for further study and identification.

 

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But the invertebrate specimens cannot be transported or stored safely while they are leaking alcohol (which acts to preserve the specimens) so it was all hands on deck this morning at UMS.

 

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The container the specimens had been stored in was swimming in alcohol.

 

On arriving at the university we discovered it was one container in particular that was causing the trouble.  Inside were specimens that had been collected by other NHM scientists in Danum Valley, but instead of being stored in tubes they had been sealed in plastic bags…that were meant to be leak-proof.  But the bags had failed and now there was alcohol swilling around the container producing a particularly bad smell!  Left in this condition the specimens would soon rot.

 

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The painstaking task of carefully emptying the bags and putting the contents into tubes.

 

So, one by one, the bags were opened and the contents removed and resealed in plastic, screw-top tubes.  A valuable lesson in the importance of reliable storing methods, without which weeks of collecting and hard work can be for nothing.  On the upside, it did give us the opportunity to see some different and interesting specimens including various ‘horned’ beetles, large cicadas and a crab!  The latter presumably having been collected close to a fresh water river.

 

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An unexpected discovery amongst the collected specimens.

 

But it wasn’t just Dan, Kerry and Keiron (with the added help of Tony) who were kept busy with attending to specimens today.  Elsewhere in the university, Pat and Holger had discovered one of the main difficulties with storing specimens in the tropics – humidity.   The specimens of lichens had been left in closed, plastic bags, and consequently moisture had collected and was causing the lichens to become damp.  A dangerous situation that can lead to the growth of mould and the loss of entire collections of samples.  Needless to say, everyone was kept busy for most of the day.

 

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Packing specimens for transportation involves lots of cardboard boxes and bubble-wrap!

 

Finally, once re-sealed and re-labelled, the invertebrate specimens were carefully packed by a removal company, ready for transportation to the UK.  Not the most common of courier requests!

 

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Dan was particularly pleased when the last box was sealed!

 

Having rinsed the smell of alcohol and dung beetles off of our hands, we decided to spend what was left of the day exploring the city.  Kota Kinabalu is clearly a busy and bustling city and well set-up for tourists, with a multitude of restaurants to choose from and markets selling memorabilia and gifts. And it doesn’t all stop when the sun goes down…in fact it gets better!  By the waterfront is a massive, open-air night market, selling vast quantities of fresh fruit and vegetables and a wide array of fish.   At some stalls, you can choose the fish you want and they will cook it for you, there and then.  We had to give it a try!

 

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One of the many stalls cooking fresh fish and seafood. 

 

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I think Kerry managed to trump my tasty but tiny prawn!

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Last night we had thunder and lightning, almost directly overhead.  It rains most evenings/nights here but last night’s down pour was particularly heavy.  Most of us were consequently woken up in the small hours of this morning by the sound of frogs!  It sounds like there are hundreds of them surrounding our bunkhouse, although it’s too dark to go out and count, but their constant calling and croaking creates a deafening noise.  I will try and get a recording for you to listen to!

 

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Keiron with an earthworm he found in one of the soil samples.

 

Soil sampling is a simple but effective way of discovering some of the numerous species of invertebrate that are living in the rainforest.  Keiron showed me how he digs a hole at set points along the transect line (a line running 100 metres through the site/plot being studied) and then sifts through it looking for animals.

 

 

Keiron demonstrates how the team sample the soil in the rainforest.

 

Dan, Kerry and Keiron have found a variety of animals living in the soil.  The majority tend to be ants and termites, which dominate the soil habitat of tropical rainforests, but they’ve also found centipedes, beetle larvae and earthworms (amongst other things). 

 

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A large beetle larva found in one of the soil samples.  They have sharp jaws so it’s best not to handle them!

 

Any animals that are found in the soil samples are picked up (using tweezers) and popped into a tube of alcohol.  This kills and preserves them (stopping them from decomposing).  Some of the ants can move particularly fast, meaning you end up chasing them around the tray with the tweezers….I certainly need to practice more before I’m up to Kerry and Keiron’s standard of tweezer/ant control.

 

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Kerry, with tweezers and tube of alcohol at the ready, carefully studies her soil sample.

 

Pat, Holger and Kishneth were collecting lichens at the final site today.  I had heard that tree diversity in tropical rainforests was high, but I was still surprised when Pat counted up the number of species they have sampled from.  Of 84 trees they have sampled, there are 49 different species of tree.  And that’s still only a handful of what’s living in the forest here.

 

 

Pat explains more about the trees and lichens that she and the lichenologists have been studying.

 

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A good hand lens reveals the colourful and intricate world of lichens on a whole new scale.

 

Today has been a particularly memorable one because of the ‘monkey action’ we all witnessed this morning taking place in a massive Strangling Fig tree, close to the Studies Centre buildings. 

 

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The Strangling Fig tree, viewed from the veranda of the Rest House.

 

For the best chance of seeing birds and mammals in the rainforest, you want to find a tree that is in flower or fruit.  In the last couple of days the figs on this mighty tree have been ripening, and everything is taking advantage of this ready food source! 

 

Yesterday we saw lots of birds, including species of Hornbill, flying into the upper branches. This morning, we caught a quick glimpse of a Bornean Gibbon before it swung swiftly away….which was probably due to the arrival of a troop of Pig-Tailed Macaques.  The Macaques managed to get right up into the highest branches, maybe 40 – 50 metres above the ground, and Tony filmed them as they skilfully moved through the branches and seemingly catapulted down the tree!

 

 

Despite being so perilously high above the ground, the Macaques are clearly far better adapted to life in the trees than we are!

 

Needless to say, as sat having dinner this evening (on the veranda outside because it never gets cold here), we all had smiles on our faces following another magical day in the jungle.

 

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Meals of rice, meat and vegetables are supplemented by the odd box of biscuits!

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Tom is blogging on behalf of Dan Capenter...

 

We have been in Maliau for just over a week now and we have achieved a lot in that time.  As in Danum, we are doing 8 plots in the forest, using each of the six sampling/trapping methods.  We have now completed the soil pits, leaf litter samples and dead wood samples in all 8 plots.

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A view out over the forest at Maliau

 

It has been quite hard work at times.  Getting to some of the plots is really challenging, trying to follow vague trails and coping with the rugged terrain.  It can get very tiring, especially with the heat and humidity to contend with as well. But we have been to some lovely forest and we have managed to get our plots more or less where we wanted them.

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The leaves are to keep the sun out of my face for filming – honest!


The sampling has gone really well.  We have been getting lots of invertebrates in the soil and dead wood; plenty of termites and ants, plus occasional beetles, woodlice, millipedes and scorpions!  The litter sampling seems to be going well too, there are plenty of invertebrates in the samples, but quite what is in there we won’t know until we get the samples home.

 

The trapping methods have been mixed.  The Malaise traps are working very well and collecting hundreds of individuals, mostly flies (Diptera), wasps and beetles, but also moths and a few other things in there as well.  The pitfall traps have struggled with the heavy rain in some of the sites, but they too are collecting some great stuff, including the whip scorpion pictured below.

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A pitfall trap in the forest

 

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A whip scorpion from a pitfall trap


The only traps that have been a little disappointing are the SLAM traps.  They don’t have much in them. It is hard to say why this is.  I suspect it is because they are too high to trap all the things that are flying around nearer to the ground, but not high enough to trap the things that are flying around in the canopy proper.  This is an interesting result however, as it tells us something about where in the forest most of the activity might be and where it isn’t.  Despite the small numbers of invertebrates, they still occasionally trap some interesting things, like a stick insect.

 

I have really enjoyed working in the forest at Maliau and today we had a real treat. As we were all heading out to our plots this morning gibbons were spotted in the trees as we were crossing the bridge into the forest.  We have heard gibbons calling every morning since we arrived in Maliau and sometimes they have been very close without us being able to see them. Today we were lucky though and saw them clearly, swinging through the trees.  It was a fantastic sight and definitely a highlight for me.

 

So we have two more plots to visit to take our traps down, one day to pack up all of our samples and equipment and then we leave Maliau on Friday to start our journey back to the UK. It has been a long trip and I for one am quite tired.  It has been hard work, a great experience, and we have done some fantastic science. But I am looking forward to getting home and getting started on sorting and identifying the material we have sampled. That is when the real work begins!

 

Dan Carpenter

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Tom is blogging on behalf of Dan Carpenter

 

I thought I would fill you in on some of the other work that is taking place here in Sabah during the trip. Soil biodiversity is not the only thing being studied. We have been accompanied throughout by Holger Thüs and Pat Wolseley, two lichenologists from the Museum.

 

Pat and Holger worked with us on our New Forest project surveying the lichens of both the terrestrial and freshwater habitats.  The collaboration was so successful that we were very pleased that they could join us on the Borneo trip.

 

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A lichen quadrat on a tree

 

They are using the same sampling technique here in Sabah as that which they used in the New Forest. In each plot (the same plot we sample invertebrates in) they select 12 trees and put a quadrat on the trunk. They then record the lichen species and their frequency on the tree.  They do this for four sides of each of the twelve trees.  Additionally they also collect five leaves from plants around each tree that have lichens on them.

 

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Lichenologists at lunch

 

They have used the same method in Danum, SAFE and Maliau, so they will be able to directly compare the lichens that they have found in each site.  This will tell them (amongst other things) what effect deforestation has on lichen diversity and how many species are in common between two primary forest reserves (Danum and Maliau) and how many are unique to one or the other. Combined with our invertebrate data this will gives us a lot of information about the three sites we have visited.

 

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A large leaf-like lichen

 

Many of you may be familiar with lichens from walls or trees that you have seen around your homes or places of work.  But closer inspection is a must to appreciate the delicate beauty of these organisms. They take myriad forms, such as a writing-like pattern, branching patterns, leaf-like lichens and even ones that look like small volcanoes. A good magnifying glass or hand lens will help you to see them more closely.

 

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Lichen frog

 

One of the joys of working with, and occasionally helping, Pat and Holger is discovering some of the animals that mimic lichens for camouflage.  I have included photos of a frog and an insect which I think is a member of Orthoptera (grasshoppers and others), but I have never seen anything like so I am not sure! We have also found a small spider hiding on one of the leaves Holger collected.  You can see how well they are adapted to life on lichen covered trees.

 

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Insect (Orthoptera?) using lichen camouflage


You will hear more about lichens via Charlotte’s Nature Live blog, so check that soon.

 

Dan Carpenter

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Tom is blogging on behalf of Tom Carpenter...

 

There are a lot of insects and other invertebrates in a tropical rainforest. All of them are beautiful in their own ways, but some have that wow factor. They come in all different shapes and sizes, from those barely the size of a full stop on this page, to those as large as the palm of my hand. Here are some photos of some of the more impressive invertebrates that we have encountered in Borneo.

 

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The magnificent male rhinoceros beetle

 

Many of the bigger insects we have seen come to the lights of the dining halls, both here at Maliau but also in Danum. This Rhinoceros beetle is a member of the Scarabaeoidea, the dung beetles and chafers. This magnificent male flew rather haphazardly into the dining hall at Maliau and crashed into the wall. It uses those large horns to grapple with other males to get the best spots for attracting a mate. Another frequent visitor to the dining halls of Maliau and Danum is the Lyssa moth. Its wingspan is about 20 cm.

 

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The moth is Lyssa zampa (Uraniidae)

 

This bizarre but beautiful creature is a member of the Family Fulgoridae, in the Order Hemiptera, the true bugs. It has a long nose, big eyes and is a beautiful green colour. Generally, Hemiptera feed on plants.

 

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A Folgorid bug

 

We have seen a couple of different types of millipedes. The first picture is of one I found on the road in Danum one morning on my way to breakfast. This one was as long as my foot!

 

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Millipede found on the road at Danum

 

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Pill millipede found at SAFE

 

The second is of one we found in one of our SAFE plots. This one can roll up into an almost perfect ball.

 

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Flat backed (Polydesmida) millipede

 

The third is a Polydesmid millipede and has a flat back. If you rub this one it smells like almonds due to a cyanide like poison it exudes from its back. One not to be licked!

 

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Camponotus gigas ants fighting over a cricket

 

This photos shows two members of one of the largest species of ants in the world, Camponotus gigas, fighting over a cricket. These ants are everywhere in the forest and quite happily wander over us and our equipment in search of food. They might look intimidating, but they are not aggressive and run away if you try and touch them.

 

I hope this gives a flavour of some of the more charismatic invertebrates of Borneo.

 

Dan Carpenter

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Tom is blogging on behalf of Dan Carpenter...

 

A five hour drive from the SAFE project area is the Maliau Basin Conservation Area. Maliau Basin is exactly that, a large steep sided basin, the centre of which has been eroded by several rivers. At its highest point it reaches 1650 metres above sea level. The height and form of the basin means several different forest types grow at the different elevations, from lowland dipterocarp forest to montane forest at the very top.

 

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The bridge into the forest

 

The main aim of our time here in Maliau is to sample in the lowland dipterocarp forest. Dipterocarps are a type of big forest tree that has winged seeds. This is the same forest type as at Danum and allows us to compare what we find in the two areas. We are interested in the extent to which the species in these two forest reserves are the same, or whether each reserve has species that are unique to it. We are also able to explore how varied each forest block is by sampling several times in the same area.

 

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The roots of a huge forest tree

 

We are staying at the Maliau Basin Study Centre. We feel as if we have arrived in a posh resort, given how comfortable and well equipped the centre is. We almost have the place to ourselves. Keiron is very pleased with the food, which has been excellent.

 

3.JPGOur Winkler bags hanging under one of the camp buildings

 

The forest is lovely. There are so many big trees which is wonderful to see after being in SAFE. The morning air is filled with the sound of gibbons calling from the tree tops. We haven’t seen as much wildlife here as the forest is so thick you can’t see very far at all at times. But we have heard lots!

 

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The laboratory building

 

We have started on our plots and it has proved challenging to reach them at times. The trail system seems a bit haphazard and there are no maps of where they all go, so we have been forging through the forest as best as we can. It has felt we are exploring new ground at times until we come upon another trail and find a much easier way back to camp.

 

5.JPGOne of our SLAM traps hanging in the forest.

 

We have just over a week left here at Maliau. Plenty of time to explore the forest further and to share with you some of the other things we have seen and done, so check back for more!

 

Dan Carpenter

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Tom is blogging on behalf of Dan Carpenter...

 

I haven’t posted for a few days now. This is mostly because we have been in the middle of nowhere without an internet connection. But now that I have access I thought I would update you on what we have been doing since we left Danum Valley Conservation Area.

 

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After a night in a very nice hotel in Tawau, we left for the SAFE project. The SAFE (Sustainable Altered Forest Ecosystems) project seeks to understand the effect of fragmentation and deforestation on biodiversity. The project is based in a large area of already logged forest. Much of the forest that remains is being turned into oil palm plantations. The project will retain forest fragments of different sizes to see what affect different fragment sizes have on biodiversity.

 

Our original plan was to spend our time in a satellite camp and sample in an area of logged forest that is acting as a control site for the fragments. We thought that the logging had already taken place, but in fact it hadn’t. So instead we decided to go to the main camp and sample in the plots that will become the fragments. This was a great opportunity for us to get some baseline data for how the plots are before the fragmentation occurs, so that we can return afterwards to see what has changed.

 

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This had the added advantage of meaning we stayed in the main SAFE camp, rather than the satellite camp, which had been described by seasoned field campaigners as ‘very leechy’. I was pleased not to have to experience just how leechy it was!

 

The main SAFE camp was rather nice if basic. It consisted of colourful tarpaulins stretched over wooden frames, which served as kitchen, dining room, laboratory space and sleeping areas. The beds were made by stretching a thick tarp between two poles with a mosquito net suspended above. It doesn’t sound much but they were very comfortable. I slept better there than I did at Danum, even if it did get quite cold at night. Washing facilities were great, a river and a scoop! It was lovely to wallow in the river after a hot day out in the field.

 

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The ‘forest’ was challenging to work in at times. We were driven to each of the plots by local research assistants who would show us the way from the road into the centre of the plots. This often involved a lot of walking along very steep and slippery trails. The plots were very disturbed due to logging, with few big trees and lots of undergrowth, including spiny rattans which have very sharp spines designed to make you stay put. New Zealanders call them ‘stay a-whiles’ and you have little choice if you become entangled in one.

 

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We spent ten days in SAFE and sampled in six 10-hectare plots. However, we were keen to move onto Maliau to get back into pristine old growth forest, which offers much more for both the lichenologists and soil biologists. And that is where we now are. There will be much more from Maliau, both from me and from the Nature Live team who arrived at the start of this week, so look out for it.

 

Dan Carpenter

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On Saturday 15 September, Andy Polaszek and Paul Eggleton were among the scientists asked to present their Borneo-based research to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their South-East Asian tour. Andy and Paul were able to explain to the Royal couple the aims of the Museum project, which clearly resonated with them. They were particularly interested in the educational and public outreach of the project, and it was satisfying to tell them about the different activities we have that link back to schools and the public in the UK with the Nature Live team.

 

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William-and-Andy-shaking-hands.jpgAndy Polaszek (check shirt) and Paul Eggleton (hidden) presents the research being performed in Borneo to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge
(Click images to see them full size)

 

As well as Andy and Paul representing the Museum, other organisations taking part were Raleigh International, Oxford University, Earthwatch, Imperial College and the local Sabah Foundation, Yayasan Sabah. The Royal visit was largely facilitated and organised by Danum Valley’s Senior Scientist Dr Glen Reynolds.

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Borneo-rainforest-700x463.jpgOver the course of late September and October many of the Museum's researchers will be in Borneo to study the flora and fauna on the island. The Museum has a history of leading several successful Borneo-based science projects and this time, we will be documenting the effort in this blog.

 

As the 3rd largest island in the world, Borneo is well-known as a centre of extreme faunistic and floristic diversity, and endemism (i.e. uniqueness to a defined location, such as an island). It is certain that the majority of that diversity and endemism remains to be discovered and documented, in particular the "microfauna", especially in the soils, the forest canopy and freshwater systems. Vast areas of the island are currently being irreversibly altered due mainly to timber extraction and cultivation of oil palm, these two activities often being connected.

 

A team of 15 biologists from the Museum are traveling to Sabah, Malaysian North Borneo, in September and October this year, to carry out field work in this major biodiversity hotspot. We will be studying and collecting insects, other invertebrates and plant samples using a variety of quantitative and qualitative methods. The qualitative sampling is designed to complement an ongoing 10-year study of soil biodiversity in the New Forest in England, and the Borneo work will provide valuable comparative data on the distribution and abundance of key organisms in tropical and temperate forest systems. In Sabah we will be sampling in the Danum Valley and Maliau Basin, as well as working with the Stability of Altered Forest Ecosystems (SAFE) project which is examining the effects of deforestation, extraction and palm oil (and other) cultivation on biodiversity.

 

Taxa collected will be a combination of relatively well-known species that can be identified, and less well-known groups that will require a combined morphology/barcoding/molecular probe approach to characterise. The data resulting will support all Museum quantitative inventory projects, in particular the aforementioned New Forest QI project, enabling direct comparison of landscape level biodiversity between tropical and temperate areas.

 

This trip is multidisciplinary, involving researchers from across the Museum’s Life Sciences departments and local collaborators, particularly from the University of Malaysia Sabah (UMS) in Kota Kinabalu. We are especially concentrating on public engagement, with the Museum’s Nature Live team involved in several live link-up events, including ones to UK schools in the Museum’s Attenborough Studio. In particular, Dan Carpenter’s team will be accompanied by members of Nature Live in October for broadcasts back to the Museum from the field.

 

We hope you enjoy following our trip to Borneo and you can also keep in touch with the Nature Live coverage (and read about their previous trips to the Bahamas and Costa Rica) in the Field work with Nature Live blog.

 

Andy Polaszek and Dan Carpenter

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On Friday and Saturday, I introduced everyone else who is going to the Bahamas, and now there’s only me left:

 

Being a Nature Live host, I have always worked closely with Museum scientists but I’ve never had the opportunity to accompany them on a field trip. I feel extremely lucky to be going to the Bahamas and it will definitely make a change from being in the Attenborough Studio at the Museum (see me hosting a recent session about the Bahamas with Adrian Glover here).

 

The really exciting thing for me about this field work trip is being able to engage our visitors with Museum science as it happens, live, on the other side of the Atlantic. Hopefully it will help people see we are much more than the ‘Dinosaur museum’!

 

Highlight?

A highlight for me would be to see sharks, even if it is through our eyes in the ocean - the remotely operated vehicle, REX. I also hope we find a new species of Osedax so that I can have first dibs on naming it! (I realise I won’t get the honour but a girl can dream!)

 

Anything worrying me?

I am a little worried about the possibility of getting sea sick. I don’t do well on boats – a fact I have kept to myself until now!

 

I hope you’ll follow our trip and check in for the latest on our journey...