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Nature Live

February 2010
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Today the studio was taken over by lichen. Yes, lichen.

 

The first question for me (embarrassingly) was 'what are they…or it?' Turns out, pretty cool.

 

Pat Wolseley who works in our Botany department explained that lichens are actually two types of organisms living together, a fungus and an alga. They have managed to carve out an existence by working together in a symbiotic relationship. The fungus makes the body that protects the alga and the alga provides the food for the fungus. Who said nature is red in tooth and claw!

 

Fun fact of the day No. 2, lichens are hardcore. They have been found everywhere from the cold arctic and hot deserts to rocky beaches and inner-city gravestones. Not only are some very tough, others are very sensitive to air quality and this makes them perfect when it comes to monitioring air pollution.

 

In simple terms, if you see this fluffy greenish beard lichen on trees (Usnea florida) you can be sure the air is clean or getting cleaner. However, if you find trees and stones covered with the golden shield lichen (Xanthoria parietina) there is a lot of nitrogen about.

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Image caption: Usnea florida (above) and Xanthoria parietina (below)

 

Now you can tell the difference why don't you get involved in the OPAL air survey? Join the hundreds of people logging on and helping scientists answer questions about the quality of the air we breathe.

 

To help scientists collect data on the air quality in your local area visit http://www.opalexplorenature.org/

 

Happy surveying!

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Animal Attraction

Posted by Aoife Feb 17, 2010

Ah, Valentines Day. A day when red roses, gifts of chocolates, and lingering glances abound. Its all about showing the one you love, that you love them.

 

But what happens in the animal world?

 

There are lots of different ways that animals attract and win a mate. Some of them are similar to what humans, do, and others are..umm..slightly different.

 

In the deep sea, its so hard to find a significant other that when the male angler fish finds the lady of his dreams, he never lets go. Special nostrils help him detect her in the blackness down in the depths, then he gives her a little nip, latches on, and stays put. Over time, he actually fuses with her, sharing her blood supply and nutrients. Together forever!

 

The Adele Penguin inhabits one of the coldest regions on Earth: Antarctica! So when the males think they have found someone to snuggle up to, they will present them with some beautiful shiny stones, to build their nest with. Together, they will raise their family, but actually they don't see much of each other after wooing and mating; each takes turns watching the nest, so its only when they swap over that they meet up.

 

And finally; spiders! These amazing creatures have so many different ways of attracting and winning the lady of their dreams, and not surprising. Firstly, with so many thousands of species out there, you have to get it right. Secondly, its a dangerous game for the males - put a foot wrong, and they may end up a dinner for the lady! So some species will do a special dance, waving their colourful legs around, others like Tarantulas will soothingly stroke the females long, lovely, hairy legs, and other species give the spider equivalent of a box of chocolates; a nice big juicy fly wrapped in silk. Mmmmmm delicious!

 

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Spider curator Jan Beccaloni and Ana Rita.

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From today the Nature Live blog will become the Nature Live community. This means that we will still have regular blog posts, but we now have our own area on the website where you can discuss what’s happening with Nature Live, including questions or issues that are thrown up by our discussion events.

 

If you are attending a Nature Live in person you can now continue the conversation online. If you are too far away from London to attend a Nature Live you can put your question or comment on the forum instead.  Have a look at the discussions that have already started, or start your own. And don’t forget to vote on our current poll.

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Last Thursday museum scientist Paul Barrett (the man when it comes to dinosaurs) took part in a Nature Live event on Dinosaur Diversity.  We covered everything from the latest news about ginger dinosaurs to how we know what noise dinosaurs made.  We also talked about Oxford Street!!  More commonly associated with massive department stores and high street fashion, Oxford Street is currently home to some impressive animatronic dinosaurs!

 

As you can see from the photo below, Paul brought a few things from the museum collections with him.  Notice the large lower jaw on the left of the photo (next to Paul) - a cast from a T-rex specimen.  And, of course, there was the poo....dinosaur poo (hiding in the white box on top of the table and referred to as coprolites).  Believe it or not, it is possible to find fossilised dinosaur poo - it's pretty hard, and no longer smells (!), but it can still help scientists to understand more about these remarkable animals.

 

Brilliant stuff! 

 

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What fish have your eaten in the last month? If it includes Cod, Salmon, Tuna or Haddock, then you are not alone! These are the most commonly eaten fish in the UK, and our appetite for them is putting pressure on their survival.

 

We are often told we should eat two portions of fish a week, as it's a really nutritious food, but at the same time warned that some fish are severely over-fished, that their stock levels are dangerously low, and that several species should be listed as endangered!

 

So what are people supposed to do?

 

This was the focus or our Nature Live Nights evening event, on Thursday 28th January, also a 4SEAS event.

 

Well, there were lots of suggestions from our speakers. Oliver Crimmen, one of the foremost fish experts at the Natural History Museum, stated that there actually lots of different types of edible fish out there - by widening the types of fish we eat, and not just sticking to the same four main ones, that could help take the pressure off. However, we do need to have a good understanding of the ecology of our new choices.

 

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               Jo from the Billingsgate Seafood Training School prepared some delicious samples for our taste test - results up soon!

 

 

Tim Ferrero and Geoff Boxshall, also from the Zoology Department, talked about checking how your fish was caught, and also the aquaculture or fish farming option - with the global human population set to soar, could this be an answer?

 

Background to the quota system, and possible options at a governmental level were the focus of both Dr Kenneth Patterson from the European Commision, and Zoe Hodgson from DEFRA.

 

And finally, sustainability, eco labels, and how consumers can make a difference by Tom Pickerell, from the Shellfish Association of Great Britain. There are lots of different eco labels out there for fish - Tom recommends the Marine Stewardship Council stamp, as it takes into account lots of different considerations including stock levels, fish ecology, and how they are caught.

 

So next time you fancy some fish and chips, try a different fish (Coley was very popular in our taste test!) and check to see whether your fish has the MCS seal of approval.