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Our last day in the field arrived sunny and, with it, our last live-link to a Nature Live event in the Attenborough Studio. Mark Spencer, curator of botany and team leader of this field trip told us about why the Isles of Scilly are special for wildlife and why he wanted to bring curators of other specialities here to collect and enhance the Museum's collections.


Picture1.jpgAn example of the outstanding natural beauty of the Isles of Scilly


Of course, we also talked about very small flowers, the elm trees, and ate the three corned garlic live - all things that our readers might recognise by now. Scilly is also famous for farmed and wild flowers, Mark told us about both, and how the bulb farms are important not only to local people but also to other organisms. Wildlife thrives in these fields, and of course, our scientists have been collecting there, everything from insects to slugs.


picture 2.JPGLinking live to the Attenborough Studio at the Museum, with a audience of local people from St Mary's


As usual, we had an audience with us in Scilly, including a blub farmer. It was a pleasure to share our excitement at seeing the material collected already. They left us with a wave and a smile, looking forward to meeting the next scientists visiting the islands later on this year.


Ana Rita


On day 9 the sun was out, but it was complemented with rain showers and a strong wind, which meant the satellite link for Nature Live was indoors. Still, a great opportunity to show the table where we sort specimens in the evening, and to have a sneaky peak at what everyone has been finding.



In the Attenborough Studio we had Pat Wolseley, hosted by Aoife Glass, and here in Scilly, my colleague Tom Simpson was joined by curator of Lichens, Holger Thues.


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Holger’s smile and enthusiasm really shows how well this field work trip is going in terms of lichen collection. It’s the job of a curator not only to take care of the existing collections and provide access to researchers from around the world that want to use it, but also to enrich it and make sure any gaps in the knowledge are fully filled.


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Locals have been coming to our base, the Woolpack, to watch the Nature Live events and to have a cup of tea with the scientists. It’s an opportunity to show what we have been collecting, why we are here and to engage them with the amazing diversity of their own islands, what it means for science and what it can mean for them.


Ana Rita


It has been a great day for snails and slugs collecting - it's pouring with rain! Jon Ablett, who did the previous Nature Live satellite link, is happy that the land snails will be out and about, making the most of the wet weather.


For our event on day 8, we were joined by James Maclaine, curator of fish at the Museum, who showed some of the specimens he has found. James brought a list of the fish we already had in the Museum collection prior to the trip and is trying to match the species he finds on this trip to the ones on the list. It is important to collect at different times in the same location, to spot any changes. He's also blogging about his work on the trip and his first post is here.


picture 1 (Custom).JPGJames Maclaine and Rosemary Parslow (who in the 70s collected the fish and echinoderms from the Isles of Scilly for the Museum's collections)


picture 2 (Custom).jpgIn the Museum's Attenborough Studio, Charlotte Coales and Wai-Yee Cooper show some of the dry and wet specimens from the fish collection, while James and I listen in the background


The visitors asked some great questions about the different habitats of fishes, how to catch them and the route James took to become a fish scientist.


picture 3 (Custom).JPGAs well as the audience in the studio at the Museum, this live-link also featured an audience here in the Woolpack, headquarters of this field trip


We have also been inviting people from the town to come and see what the Museum scientists have been doing here on the Isles of Scilly. Quite a few came to chat with James about the fish while receiving - and giving - good tips to each other about where to look for more species and how to catch them. It appears to be paying off for James as you will be able to read later today on the blog.




7.30 am and the beginning of another beautiful day. While most of the scientists were preparing for a collection trip to the nearby island of Bryher, the molluscs curators were preparing to talk live via satellite link with visitors attending one of our daily Nature Live events in the Museum's Attenborough Studio.


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Meet the scientists: Jon Ablett (left) feeling the heat and covered in sun screen, me - Ana Rita (middle) - shivering in the mild climate of the Isles of Scilly, and Andreia Salvador (right) feeling confident before her first ever Nature Live.


In the Attenborough Studio, Miranda Lowe, Invertebrates Collections Leader and Senior Curator of Crustaceans, showed some gems from the Museum's collection: huge barnacles studied by Darwin himself, pretty shells from the Isles of Scilly collected more than one hundred years ago, and a cute hermit crab (that steals the shells of dead molluscs to live in). And, live from Scilly, we showed some of the highlights’ of what curators have been finding:


P1020629nl (Custom).JPGAmazing coloured marine snails, periwinkles, which paint the white sand with red, black, green, yellow


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Blue rayed limpets collect from the inside of very big kelp


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Dino-slug, a species that has been around since the time of T. rex, and still displays a small vestigial shell, that most species of slugs have lost


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Left: The garlic snail, which smells of garlic when disturbed. Right: The dinner table in the evening.


We also talked about the joy of the evenings in our field work headquarters, with scientists sorting out their catches of the day and preserving the specimens for the collections. Every evening Jon Ablett needs to overcome the challenge of trying to make his snails and slugs crawl across a special paper designed to preserve DNA from their mucous. Jon also deep freezes part of his land molluscs in a container at -200 degC, which is not good fun on very cold evenings ... but the vapours coming out of the container look really cool!


The visitors at the Attenborough Studio asked lots of interesting questions. From big, to slow and tasty slugs and snails and tips about what to look for in rock pools, to how to become a scientist and, finally, why and how collections at the Museum are used by researchers from all over the world - we hope that everyone has had a slugtastic and a shell of a good time!


P1170550 (Custom).JPGA moment's relaxation turns into an opportunity to showcase the size of a kelp




As you read this I will be flying back to London and I will have filled up on greasy food in Newark airport on the way… I have had a wonderful time; an experience that I will never forget and I hope you have enjoyed the blog so thank you for reading it!


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It's Oscars time so please forgive me but it has to be done... the trip would not have been possible without the following people at the Museum:


The Learning Department and specifically Honor, Abigail, Martin and Stephen for letting me leave the office for a couple of weeks. Thanks!


The Nature Live team, particularly Jo Kessler for hosting the live-video-link events so expertly, and Ivvet Modinou, Natalie Mills and Ana Rita Claro Rodrigues for your support and good ideas. Also, thanks to Museum scientists Erica McAlister and Gavin Broad for being in the Studio to help prepare the ground with the audience for the live-video-links.


Tony and Adam in Special Effects for training me to use the satellite phone and other kit, coming to the realisation that I was likely to break it yet still letting me take it into a remote area of tropical forest in a completely different country (I hope you now feel it has been tested properly!).


To Jonathan for posting my blogs every day (even at the weekend) and for providing a forum for the live-chats we’ve held with UK school children as part of Nature Live in the Field - and also thanks to them and their teachers for some great questions and comments!


To Grace for developing the schools side of the project and for keeping me busy


In Costa Rica, a huge thank you to:


Our porters and guides in the La Amistad National Park, and Frank Gonzales at INBIO for sorting out the logistics of the trip and for providing me with a filming permit.


The rest of the botany team: Holger Thues, Jo Wilbraham and Neil Brummit - I hope I have been at least a little bit useful and that I have not wound you up too much with endless questions?


Daniel Santa Maria for my new nick name!


Finally, to Alex Monro for organising the trip and my part in it. I have had a wonderful time and I am so thankful to you for giving me this opportunity to follow science as it happens in the field. Thank you!


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I asked the scientists what they thought….



P.S. This is not the end for Field work with Nature Live as, starting from the 7 March my Nature Live colleague Ivvet Modinou will arrive in the Bahamas with a team of scientists to report on a field trip exploring the life in our oceans. It should have some great footage as they'll be using a mini-submersible in their research!


Keep in touch with the Field work with Nature Live community and subscribe to the RSS feed for this blog and you will receive updates whenever a new post appears.


And remember, you can meet more Museum scientists every day at Nature Live events held in the Museum’s Attenborough studio at 14:30 (and also 12:30 every weekend and throughout the holidays).


I hope to see you at a Nature Live event soon!


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Tom Simpson, Costa Rica, 2012.




Note: Tom is currently on his way back to the UK, so I am posting his final blogs from Costa Rica on his behalf.
Jonathan - NaturePlus host


Today I had a meeting with the INBIO education department - they are doing some amazing things over here and I’m really looking forward to working with them in the future!


INBIO parque is a great place to visit - a botanical garden designed to reflect the whole (enormous) biodiversity of Costa Rica.


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They also have some really cool animals living in the parque – I saw this iguana crossing the car park!


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Over the past few weeks we have received some great questions from schools all over the UK, which hopefully we have answered! We received the following early on:


Hello everyone,


We are from a School in Camden, London. We have been working with Holger Thüs on an exciting project on air quality and lichen distribution in our local area. With help from Holger and Pat Wolseley from the Natural History Museum, we surveyed lichens growing on trees in the school grounds and adjacent Hampstead Heath.


We wanted to investigate the relationship between differences in air quality, particularly the levels of NO2 and the lichen species found. We monitored NO2 over 5 months with diffusion tubes placed along a transect either side of Highgate Road, which is a busy road and likely to be a major source of nitrogen pollution, and included locations in the school grounds and on Hampstead Heath.


We identified the lichens on trees within the vicinity of the school and on the adjacent Hampstead Heath. We tested and found evidence for our hypothesis that there was a correlation between the levels of nitrogen dioxide in the diffusion tubes and biological data from the lichens distribution.


Although, we managed to find and identify Nitrogen loving and intermediate lichen but we didn’t find any Nitrogen sensitive lichens. We are really excited about Holger being in Costa Rica and want to know if Holger has found Nitrogen sensitive lichens there. Are there many fructose lichens? Did you find any new species of lichens? Are the lichens really colourful and exotic?


We initially thought the NHM team was going to be somewhere really lovely and hot but Holger told us that although it would be lovely it would be very cold because they would be up in the mountains. The air must be very clean. We really want to know about the lichens there.


Good Luck with the rest of the trip.





And today we had a chance to answer in detail…



Back at INBIO I have been flicking through the photos I (and the others) took while in the park. It seems a common theme amongst my photos is food. Pictures of all of the meals I ate in the field - I can practically hear myself salivating over the camera. I’ve put them together in a film. Bon appetite!






Note: Tom is currently on his way back to the UK, so I am posting his final blogs from Costa Rica on his behalf.
Jonathan - NaturePlus host


We rose early and packed up all of our stuff for the short walk to the entrance of the park. It was a last chance to enjoy trekking in the forest and we had glorious sun and spectacular views all the way down.


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In dribs and drabs we arrived at the entrance to the park.


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It took a few hours to get everything sorted, we loaded up our truck and after a spot of lunch hit the road for the 5 hour drive back to Santa Domingo and INBIO.


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Soon we hit the pineapple plantations that border the park, and the road is dusty and dry.


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We are much lower down now and the air is hotter and it is difficult not to miss the cool of the forest.


Driving up to reach Santa Domingo we had to cross Cerro de la Muerte and we drove up through the clouds.


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Tomorrow, I am going to try and explore the herbarium at INBIO but, mainly, I am going to wash and sleep! Back in civilization I look a complete state…




Note: Tom is currently on his way back to the UK, so I am posting his final blogs from Costa Rica on his behalf.
Jonathan - NaturePlus host