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Tom Richards from the Museum's Life Science department is an author on a paper in Nature that explores the genome of one of the most abundant species of planktonic plant - the coccolithophore Emiliania huxleyi.  Coccolithophores occur in great numbers in the ocean: the chalk cliffs at Dover are made up of the remains of their calcium carbonate skeletons.

 

The World's oceans are tremendously complex.  Currents move over thousands of kilometres, some descending as they are cooled by weather systems, or mixing at the surface with fresh waters, sediments and nutrients from continental rivers.  Life is immensely diverse, ranging from corals to the deep-sea vent faunas.  The highest biomass of life is in the shallow seas near to land, but the open ocean contains a constantly shifting system of tiny planktonic organisms ranging from bacteria to single-celled plants to grazing zooplankton and their predators. 

 

These planktonic ecosystems change with currents, seasons, nutrient availability and predation. Their growth, population explosions, deaths and decline interact with the planet's cycling of carbon and other nutrients.  These interactions are important in understanding ocean productivity and climate: there are links to carbon dioxide fluctuation, for example, as the plants absorb it during growth and release some at death.  Despite the tiny size of the organisms, their huge numbers over two-thirds of the planet's surface means that their role in planetary systems is very significant.

 

E. huxleyi experiences huge population explosions in the open ocean - planktonic blooms. Some species of phytoplankton bloom under very particular conditions of temperature and nutrient availability, but E. huxleyi thrives in a wide range of conditions, occuring from the warm waters of the equator to polar regions.

 

NaturalHistoryMuseum_PictureLibrary_033355_Comp.jpgEmiliania huxleyi, showing the distinctive calcium carbonate plates that cover its exterior. 

These may have important protective and light-reflecting qualities for the organism.

 

The paper finds that E. huxleyi strains from different areas share a core genome - this gives them a robust abilty to resist the inhibiting and damaging effects of intense sunlight, together with genes that allow effective growth in low phosphorus conditions.  There are genetic differences between the strains that lead to distinct abilities to thrive in different nitrogen, ammonia and metal conditions.  It seems that this, and other characteristics, give E. huxleyi the ability to bloom in very different oceanic environments - it is described as a species complex because of its genetic diversity.

 

This work will enable scientists to understand better the responses and influences of this very widespread species, and to investigate the complex processes and systems of the ocean that determine productivity and influence climate change.

 

Read, B.A. et al. (2013) Pan genome of the phytoplankton Emiliania underpins its global distribution. Nature doi:10.1038/nature12221

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Deep Sea ID: creating an iPhone and iPad app for science

 

Adrian Glover

AQUID (Aquatic Invertebrates Division), Dep. of Life Sciences, NHM

 

Wednesday 19th June 11:00 Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)

 

Deep Sea ID is the first iOS (iPhone and iPad) app from the NHM science group, released in March this year. It is a field guide interface to the World Register of Deep-Sea Species (WoRDSS) that currently stores on your device (for offline access) the taxonomic information for over 20,000 deep sea species, over 350 high resolution photographs of deep-sea specimens as well as links to online taxonomic tools, sources and important references.In this talk and demo I will explain why we made this app, how we did it, the importance of open data and take you on a visual tour through some of the amazing creatures of the deep sea.

 

For additional details on attending this or other seminars see http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/seminars-events/index.html

 

64117_bathykurila-guaymasensis.jpgBathykurila guaymasensis


Credit: Adrian Glover.  http://www.marinespecies.org/deepsea/index.php  CC-BY-NC-SA

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Friday 24 of May 11:00
Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)

 

 

Octocorals of the family Xeniidae in Red Sea and beyond

 

 

Yehuda Benayahu - Department of Zoology, Tel Aviv University, Ramat Aviv, Tel Aviv,  Israel

 

 

Octocorals are common throughout the Indo-Pacific reefs and play an important role in the ecology of the ecosystem, yet they remain dramatically understudied. The seminar will deal with octocorals of the family Xeniidae, a highly abundant component of Indo-Pacific coral reefs, particularly in the Red Sea. Aspects concerning their life history and acquisition of symbiotic algae (zooxanthellae) at early ontogenetic stages will be addressed. Opportunistic Xeniidae are taking over degraded reefs but taxonomic difficulties force researchers to recognize them as a group whichprecludes detailed understanding of the reef environment and processes on impacted reefs by genera or even species. Our ongoing project deals with phylogeny of the family including provision of species identifications based on their morphological characters. Recent findings reveal that novel microstructural features of their sclerites might be critically important in resolving taxonomic difficulties. Such a study requires introduction of high resolution scanning electron microscopy at magnifications never used before by octocoral taxonomists. Insights on microstructural features of xeniid sclerites also enabled us to examine the effect of ocean acidification on these octocorals and understand the possible function of their living tissue in protection against deteriorating effects of acidic conditions.  It is anticipated that studies on xeniids will facilitate future surveys aimed at the maintenance and greater understanding of coral reef diversity and reef-environment function and sustainability.

 

For additional details on attending this or other seminars see http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/seminars-events/index.html

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Wednesday 22nd May 11:00
Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)

 

 

Polyembryony and unexpected gender roles in hermaphroditic colonial invertebrates

 

 

Helen Jenkins - PhD student, Aquatic Invertebrates, Dept. of Life Sciences, NHM

 

 

Polyembryony – the production of multiple genetically identical embryos from a single fertilised egg – is a seemingly paradoxical combination of contrasting reproductive modes that has evolved numerous times and persists in a diverse range of taxa including rust fungi, algae, plants and animals. Polyembryony is thought to characterise an entire order of bryozoans, the Cyclostomata. A molecular genetic approach was used to confirm this widely cited inference, based on early microscopy, and to test the apparently paradoxical nature of this reproductive mode in relation to cyclostomes, and will be reported here. Additional research, also presented here, has revealed further insights into the mating systems of this relatively understudied group of hermaphroditic colonial invertebrates. Mating  trials indicated a greater degree of female investment in the presence of allosperm in Tubulipora plumosa and produced evidence of separate-sex colonies in Filicrisia geniculata. If not a complete transition to gonochorism, the situation in F. geniculata indicates at least very pronounced gender specialisation. Further investigations into mating systems of this group may reveal more examples, with implications for our understanding of hermaphroditism and its related traits.

 

For additional details on attending this or other seminars see http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/seminars-events/index.html

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Friday 17 May 11:00


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

 

The Energetic Niche of Species: Lessons from the Deep Sea

 

Craig R. McClain, Assistant Director of Science, National Evolutionary Synthesis Center

 

Life requires energy. Biological organization—the culmination of life in all its forms—is determined largely by the flow and transformation of energy. Three distinct types of energy affect biological systems: solar radiation (in the form of photons), thermal kinetic energy (as indexed by temperature), and chemical potential energy stored in reduced carbon compounds (i.e. food). 

 

I contend and will discuss that much like organisms possess thermal niches so do they possess chemical energetic niches (CEN). Evidence from both local and oceanic scale studies of beta-diversity, i.e. species turnover, suggests unique suites of species inhabit different regimes of carbon availability.  The evolution of body size and life history strategies in molluscs appear to be linked to productivity gradients and may have promoted diversification in this group.  Thus, changes in ocean productivity as a result of climate change may greatly impact biodiversity by modifying available niche space for ocean species.

 

For additional details on attending this or other seminars see http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/seminars-events/index.html

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Wednesday 17 of April 11:00

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

 

Studying the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification on calcified macroalgae: why, how and what we have we found

 

Chris Williamson

Genomics & Microbes, Dept of Life Sciences, NHM and School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Cardiff University

 

 

Climate change and ocean acidification (OA) are causing increased sea surface temperatures and decreased pH / carbonate saturation, respectively, in the marine environment. Almost all marine species are likely to be impacted in some respect by these changes, with calcifying species predicted to be the most vulnerable. Calcifying macroalgae of the red algal genusCorallina are widely distributed and important autogenic ecosystem engineers, providing habitat for numerous small invertebrate species, shelter from the stresses of intertidal life, and surfaces for the settlement of microphytobenthos. Given the particular skeletal mineralogy of these species, i.e. high Mg-calcite CaCO3, they are predicted to be among the first responders to OA. A research project is therefore being undertaken to examine the potential impacts of climate change and OA on Corallina species in the northeastern Atlantic. An approach has been adopted to allow examination of potential impacts in the context of present day and very recent past conditions. This seminar will present information on the approach employed (use of herbarium collections, seasonal northeastern Atlantic sampling), methodologies used (X-Ray Diffraction, PAM-fluorescence, SEM, molecular techniques), and results gained thus far (seasonal skeletal mineralogy cycles, carbonate chemistry experienced in situ, photophysiology). Plans for the next stage of the project (future scenario incubations) will also be presented, highlighting how lessons learnt thus far will inform this future work.

 

 

 

Friday 19 of April 11:00

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

 

 

Forest understorey plant dynamics in the face of global environmental change

 

Pieter De Frenne

Forest & Nature Lab, Department of Forest and Water Management, Ghent University

 

 

Habitat change, eutrophication and climate change, among other global-change factors, have elevated the rate of species’ extinction to a level on par with historical mass extinction events. In temperate forests specifically, biodiversity is mainly a function of the herbaceous understorey community. Many forest understorey plants, however, are not able to track habitat change and the shifting climate due to their limited colonisation capacity. Their acclimation potential within their occupied habitats will likely determine their short- and long-term persistence. The response of plants to N deposition, however, diverges between forests and other ecosystems, probably due to the greater structural complexity and pivotal role of light availability in forests. A potential new pressure on forest biodiversity is the increasing demand for woody biomass due to the transitions to more biobased economies. Elevated wood extraction could result in increased canopy opening and understorey species shifts. To date, the outcome of climate warming and changing forest management (resulting in altered light availability) in forests experiencing decades of elevated N inputs remains uncertain. I will present our research on the (interactive) effects of climate warming, enhanced N inputs, and management-driven forest floor light availability on the growth and reproduction of a selection of understorey forest plant species, and (ii) the composition and diversity of understorey plant communities in European and eastern North American temperate forests.

 

 

 

For additional details on attending this or other seminars see http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/seminars-events/index.html

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Bryozoans are widespread aquatic colonial animals living both in the sea (sea mats) and fresh waters, with an extensive marine fossil record over almost 500 million years. Collaborating research groups in the NHM Departments of Zoology and Palaeontology represent arguably the strongest concentration of bryozoan research expertise anywhere in the world.

 

NaturalHistoryMuseum_026159_IA.jpg

 

Wilbertopora woodwardi (Brydone) from the Upper Cretaceous Chalk, Hampshire

 

Andrea Waeschenbach (NERC Postdoctoral Fellow, Zoology), Paul Taylor (Palaeontology) and Tim Littlewood (Zoology) have had accepted for publication the most comprehensive molecular phylogeny of bryozoans to date, using mitochondrial and ribosomal genes.

 

This has resulted in a well supported topology (the shape of the phylogenetic tree), providing unambiguous evidence for the interrelationship of the taxonomic classes.  It also provides strong evidence that several presently recognized taxonomic units at various hierarchical levels are each in fact of more than one origin in evolutionary terms - they are non-monophyletic (a monophyletic group has a single ancestor)

 

Using this topology, the work tried to establish the likely larval form and strategy of the ancestral bryozoans, but this gave ambiguous results.  It seems most likely that multiple shifts have occurred between different types of larval nutrition – dependency on yolk provided to the egg (lecithotrophy) and feeding by the bryozoan larva on phytoplankton (planktotrophy).

 

This result, combined with their long fossil record, promises bryozoans to be a suitable phylum to studying links between reproductive strategy and large scale evolutionary patterns, such as speciation rates. This paper is a significant contribution for assessing the interrelationships in a relatively neglected group that offers much promise as an evolutionary model. This work was funded by NERC (NE/E015298/1).

 

Waeschenbach, A., Taylor, P.D., Littlewood, D.T.J. (2011) A molecular phylogeny of bryozoans, Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ympev.2011.11.011

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There is considerable international interest in the impacts of invasive species on biodiversity.  Species are described as being invasive when they cause impacts on biodiversity outside their normal range as a result of introduction or spread as a consequence of human activity.  This impact can lead to loss of native species, spread of disease, impacts on native habitats or other effects.  They are often described as invasive alien species. In the marine environment this can happen as a result of transport by ships in ballast water, or migration through new sea routes such as the Suez Canal.


Recent work from the Museum provides more evidence that the flood of invasive Red Sea species entering the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal includes fish parasites.  Dr Hoda El-Rashidy (who obtained her PhD while researching in the Zoology Department at the NHM) and Prof Geoff Boxshall (Zoology) have described two more new species of parasitic copepods from Egyptian Mediterranean waters off the coast of Alexandria.

 

Their hosts, two species of Red Sea rabbitfish (Siganus luridus and S. rivulatus) have established populations in the Mediterranean. Invasive species often leave their parasites behind, due to the sampling effect of passing through a small founder population, but the continuing discovery of invasive parasitic copepods combined with the absence of any genetic evidence of a bottleneck in their host populations, highlights the remarkable scale of the faunal invasion of the eastern Mediterranean.

 

International concern and efforts to monitor and control impacts of invasive species are significant, with an EU Strategy,  a major focus from the Convention on Biological Diversity, and a UK Non-Native Species Secretariat.  Even on a city level here in London there is coordination on selected species such as Japanese knotweed and various invasive crayfish.


El-Rashidy, H.H. & Boxshall, G.A.  2011. Two new species of Parasitic Copepods (Crustacea) on two immigrant fishes from the Red Sea of Family Siganidae. Systematic Parasitology 19: 175-193. DOI 10.1007/s11230-011-9298-7


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How do new species form?  One key process is by genetic divergence following geographical isolation – allopatric speciation.  This can happen when different populations of a single species are separated, cease to have contact over time and no longer interbreed.  This separation, divergence and formation of new species will often be attributed to changes in genetic makeup as a result of adaptation to different environments or ecosystems, or simply to accumulated genetic changes - genetic drift.

When it's difficult for individuals from the population to cross geographical barriers, it's possible to explain how isolation of populations occurs, and therefore why speciation has happened. An example would be the different but related species found on islands separated from the mainland, where a few individuals managed to cross the water barrier and form a new population that eventually became a distinct new species.  Charles Darwin collected specimens of mockingbirds on the Galapagos, for example, that are related to mainland species but which have diverged from the parent population to become a separate species, living in a new and different environment.

In the sea, however, many animals have pelagic larvae – free-floating planktonic forms - that can be carried for many hundreds of kilometres in currents, even though the adults have limited mobility on the sea bed.  This pelagic mobility means that closely related species from different places are potentially connected over distances of 1,000 km or more, so it is unclear how allopatric speciation is achieved – the populations appear to be capable of connection in geographical terms.

Zoology PhD student Martine Claremont, together with her Museum supervisors Drs Suzanne Williams and David Reid, and university supervisor Professor Tim Barraclough, sampled populations of the intertidal muricid gastropod genus Stramonita (a marine snail) throughout the Atlantic Ocean and used statistical analysis of DNA sequences to identify the number of distinct species, their distributions and relationships.

 

For species in which the larvae spend only a short time in the plankton, it is possible for populations to be clearly isolated geographically by currents, island chains or other factors such as the immense flow of fresh water flowing from the mouth of the Amazon. However, Stramonita spends 2-3 months as a planktonic larval form, theoretically permitting genetic contact across the entire ocean basin, which might lead to expectations that a single population would be found around the Atlantic. 

 

cropFig8 small.JPG

Stramonita brasiliensis, the new species described in the work (E, Plymouth, Tobago, BMNH acc. no. 2341; F, holotype, Sao Paulo, Brazil, BMNH 20100324)


However, Martine and her supervisors found five distinct species in the Atlantic (one of which is described as new).  They suggest that this speciation might be attributed in part to past changes or interruptions in ocean currents, preventing free circulation and isolating populations for sufficient time to enable speciation.  Other factors that seem to be of importance are the ancient separation of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico and the development of ecological specialization.

 

Claremont, M., Williams, S.T., Barraclough, T.G., Reid, D.G. (2011) The geographic scale of speciation in a marine snail with high dispersal potential. Journal of Biogeography, 38: 1016–1032.

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Dr Adrian Glover (Zoology) has just returned from an oceanographic research cruise to the Bransfield Strait and Scotia Sea, Antarctica, both to the south of South America, near the Antarctic Peninsula.  He was working aboard the RRS James Cook,  one of three UK research ships operating as part of the Natural Environment Research Council's activities.

 

Adrian was searching for new hydrothermal vent ecosystems with scientists from the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton and British Antarctic Survey. The team also found the dead body of a whale on the sea bed.  This is a particular interest of Adrian's because such corpses are important sources of nutrition in the sea for specialist marine species such as Osedax mucofloris.

 

During the cruise, Adrian made three live voice links to Nature Live shows in the Attenborough Studio in the Museum's Darwin Centre, coupled with video clips and images that he had already sent over the ship's satellite system. The public and science staff in the audience were able to interact directly with scientists in the field in the Antarctic, and were some of the first people to see video of Antarctic hydrothermal vents at 2500m water depth in the Scotia Sea.

 

Adelie penguins.jpg

Adelie penguins - a photograph taken during Captain Scott's expedition in 1911-12

 

The audiences were spellbound with the live descriptions of passing penguins and albatrosses as Adrian gave a vivid account of the ups and downs of life as a research marine biologist on a research cruise. Given the size of the waves in the Southern Ocean, the ups and downs can be pretty extreme - if you can imagine living on a small rollercoaster for a week or two, you might have some idea of what it is like!

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The Mid-Atlantic ridge is the zone running north to south along the bed of the Atlantic Ocean where two major tectonic plates are gradually moving apart, causing volcanic and other geological activity.  As the plates separate slowly, the rock fractures and sea water becomes heated by contact with hot and molten rock below the surface.  This hot water dissolves minerals and contains highly concentrated levels of a range of chemical substances. 

In places this water is forced from hydrothermal vents on the bed of the sea, forming plumes of superheated hot water that rise into the ocean, sometimes carrying thick black particulates.  As the water cools slightly at the vent, various dissolved chemicals are deposited to make large mineral structures such as chimneys and other forms. Exploration of this environment has been increasing over the past forty years with the development of advanced equipment and remotely-operated vehicles: small submarines that carry sophisticated scientific probes and cameras.

The bottom of the ocean is not generally fertile in comparison to coastal seas, but hydrothermal vents are home to dense populations of animals, supported by bacteria that flourish in the chemical-rich waters. The high sulphur and mineral content of the water would make it toxic to most organisms, but some species have evolved to tolerate the temperature and chemical environment.  The animals either consume the bacteria (or one another) directly, or have, in the case of bivalve mussels, symbiotic bacteria in their gill tissue that enables them to use sulphur compounds to produce energy.  These environments are small islands of fertility on the ocean floor, of great evolutionary and ecological interest.

Dr Adrian Glover (Zoology) is part of a team of co-authors in an international team from Portugal, France and the UK who have recently described assemblages of animals from the 11m-high Eiffel Tower structure in the Lucky Strike hydrothermal vent field 1700 metres deep on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, just to the south of the Azores. Pictures of the Eiffel Tower can be seen on the IFREMER site.

They sampled temperature and sulphide were measured in the water at two different assemblages: one dominated by shrimps and the other by mussels. Temperature, rather than sulphide concentration, appeared to be the major environmental factor affecting the distributions of the resident hydrothermal vent species. The highest temperature variability and the highest maximum recorded temperatures were found in the assemblages visibly inhabited by alvinocaridid shrimp and dense mussel beds of large Bathymodiolus azoricus, whereas the less variable and more stable habitats were inhabited by smaller-sized mussels with increasing bare surface in between.

 

D Cuvelier et al. (2011) Hydrothermal faunal assemblages and habitat characterisation at the Eiffel Tower edifice (Lucky Strike, Mid-Atlantic Ridge). Marine Ecology (2011) doi:10.1111/j.1439-0485.2010.00431.x.

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The discovery of hydrothermal vents in the late 1970s triggered an  enormous biological interest in chemoautotrophic organisms dependant on  previously unknown symbioses with sulphide and methane oxidising  bacteria. Molluscs, particularly bivalves, are the most diverse and  widespread group of chemosymbiotic animals ranging from the intertidal  to hadal depths. Thirteen international speakers will review the  biology, diversity, evolution,host-symbiont interactions and habitats of  these molluscs.

 

The Malacological Society of London and Department of Zoology, The Natural History Museum, are organising a meeting 7 - 8 April 2011 Chemosymbiotic molluscs and their environments: from intertidal to hydrothermal vents at The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD

 

1000-1800h, 7 April 2011, Flett Theatre
1000-1300h, 8 April 2011, Sir Neil Chalmers Seminar Room

 

No registration fee but for catering purposes PLEASE LET US KNOW IN ADVANCE if you will be attending.

 

Organisers and contact: John Taylor and Emily Glover  j.taylor@nhm.ac.uk

 

 

Speakers and titles

 

  • Sarah Samadi (Systématique, Adaptation et Evolution, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris) ‘Mytilids associated with sunken wood shed new light on the evolution of Bathymodiolinae’
  • Sebastien Duperron (Systématique, Adaptation et Evolution, Université Pierre & Marie Curie, Paris) ‘Connectivity and flexibility of mussel symbioses: how to cope with fragmented and variable habitats?’
  • Nicole Dubilier (Max Planck Institute of Marine Microbiology, Bremen) ‘The unrecognized diversity of bacterial symbionts in chemosymbiotic molluscs’
  • Clara Rodrigues (Universidade de Aveiro, Portugal) ‘Chemosymbiotic bivalves from mud volcanoes in the Gulf of Cadiz: an overview’
  • Graham Oliver (National Museum of Wales, Cardiff) ‘Thyasiridae: the known and the unknown: setting priorities for future research’
  • Heiko Sahling (Geosciences, University of Bremen) ‘The geological and geochemical environment of vesicomyid clams’
  • Elena Krylova (Institute of Oceanology, Moscow) ‘Vesicomyidae (Bivalvia): current systematics and distribution’
  • Steffen Kiel (Geobiology, University of Göttingen) ‘The fossil history of chemosymbiotic bivalves’
  • John Taylor and Emily Glover (Zoology, NHM London) ‘Ancient chemosymbioses – contrasting diversification histories of Lucinidae and Solemyidae’
  • Olivier Gros (Université des Antilles et de la Guyane, Guadeloupe) ‘Codakia orbicularis gill-endosymbiont produces quorum-sensing signals of the AHLclass: putative impact on the bacterial population control in lucinids’
  • Caroline Verna (Max Planck Institute of Marine Microbiology, Bremen) ‘Lucinid symbiont diversity: influence of host selection, geography, habitat and depth’
  • Jenna Judge (Integrative Biology, University of California Berkeley) ‘Testing diversification processes in chemosymbiotic gastropods: a phylogenetic approach’
  • Adrian Glover (Zoology, NHM London) 'Chemosynthetic ecosystems of the Antarctic: a test of dispersal'
  • Paul Dando Marine Biological Association, Plymouth "Fjord thyasirid populations and sediment geochemistry"
  • Matthijs van der Geest (Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research) "Ecological importance of chemoautotrophic lucinid bivalves in the Banc d'Arguin (Mauritania) intertidal ecosystem"
  • Karina van der Heijden (Max Planck Institute of Marine Microbiology, Bremen) ‘Biogeography of Mid-Atlantic Ridge hydrothermal vent mussels and associated bacterial symbionts’
  • Graham Oliver & John Taylor 'First confirmation of bacterial symbiosis in Nucinellidae'
  • John Hartley (Hartley Anderson Ltd, Aberdeen) ’Chemosynthetic bivalve responses to oil contamination around North Sea wells and platforms’
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Charles Darwin spent much of his later life at Downe in Kent: thinking, writing and experimenting in an emphatically rural landscape.  But he retained an interest in marine animals, a fascination that developed in his early years at university and during his extended voyage around the world on HMS Beagle.


Professor Phil Rainbow (Keeper of Zoology) has published a keynote presentation in the journal Marine Ecology on the influence of marine biology on Charles Darwin - and the influence of Darwin on marine biology.

 

Darwin made his first forays into the world of marine biology as a medical student in Edinburgh from 1825 to 1827. He came under the influence there of the Lamarckian Robert Grant, and developed an understanding of the simple organisation of the early developmental stages of marine invertebrates. Yet Darwin could not accept Lamarckian transmutation - a complex set of ideas on evolution that preceded the idea of natural selection.  (Lamarck was a French scientist who, among other ideas, argued that a characteristic [such as larger muscles as a result of frequent exercise] acquired during an organism's life would be passed on to descendants and resulted in evolutionary change: Darwin's later development of natural selection as an explanation for evolution discredited Lamarck's ideas.)

 

The voyage of the Beagle gave him intense exposure to a wide range of marine environments around the world and led to Darwin's perceptive theory on the origin of coral reefs, an origin still mainly accepted today. This theory was linked closely to the uniformitarianism (gradual geological change over millions of years) of the geologist Charles Lyell, depending on the slow, gradual growth of billions of coral polyps keeping pace at sea level with slow sinking of land to produce an atoll.

 

Darwin's interest in variation in animals and plants led him to examine many different organisms, both wild and domestic. However, he was aware that his unusual scientific background meant that he had not developed a his reputation on the basis of detailed scientific study in a particular area.  Therefore, from 1846 to 1854 Darwin focused on barnacle diversity and revolutionised understanding of barnacles, producing the monographs Living Cirripedia that are still relevant today.

 

capitulum-mitella4_57395_1.jpg

Capitulum mitella

 

Darwin's barnacle studies gave him the credibility to pronounce on the origin of species; he found great variation in morphology, and a series of related species with remarkable reproductive adaptation, culminating in the presence of dwarf males. Barnacles laid out an evolutionary narrative before him, and contributed greatly to his qualification and confidence to write with authority on the origin of species by 1859.


PS Rainbow (2011) Charles Darwin and marine biology. Marine Ecology. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0485.2010.00421.x

 

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Adrian Glover (Zoology) and Helena Wiklund have also been awarded a Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship for Helena to work on deep sea biology.  This Marie Curie scheme, funded by the European Union, allows experienced EU researchers to work in other EU countries to develop skills and collaboration, producing high-quality science.  The NHM bids successfully for funds to a wide range of research funding agencies each year in the UK and elsewhere.

 

They will be working on worms in the deep sea: the last unexplored frontier on Earth, where in recent years many hundreds of new species have been discovered. We are familar with shallow coastal seas affected by tidal currents, richly productive and fertile.  In contrast, the deep sea has many areas where nutrients are scarce, cold and subject to high pressure, deep ocean basins over 4 kilometres below the surface.  The lives of organisms in the deep sea are often very different from those of related species near the surface.

 

A key question in deep-sea biology is that of whether and how deep-sea animals are able to disperse. Many organisms, such as worms, have limited abilty to move over any distance as adults: some have planktonic young that can be carried over distance by currents.

 

The dominant idea for the deep sea has been one of cosmopolitanism: that animals are relatively mobile at certain stages of their lfe cycle and have easy access to all ocean basins around the world. However, this has been recently challenged and for many species there may be barriers to dispersal in the form of substrate specialisation (the requirement to live in particular types of sediment) limited mobility or particular reproductive characteristics.

 

This study will target one of the most abundant and species-rich groups, the polychaetes. To answer questions of dispersal and evolution in the deep sea Helena will study three contrasting groups of polychaetes:one group with mobile planktonic larvae; a second group with direct-developing larvae, similar in form to the adults; and a third group, the newly discovered genus of ’bone-eating’ worms, Osedax, that are sessile (non-mobile) and exist on the most specialised of habitats – whale bones on the sea floor. (One of which, Osedax mucofloris, was a NHM species of the day in 2010)

 

osedax-sem_69101_1.jpg

Osedax mucofloris


The study will use molecular data (such as from DNA analysis) from material from several ocean basins to construct phylogenies (evolutionary trees) to evaluate the relationships within the three groups.  It will have great value in understanding species formation, population connections and the processes that drive biodiversity in the deep sea.