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Field work with Nature Live

35 Posts tagged with the biodiversity tag
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What do you study at the Museum?

My main interest is deep-sea biology and in particular the diversity, evolution and ecology of the marine annelid worms - the polychaetes. These are incredibly diverse in the deep-sea, the least explored and largest ecosystem on the planet.

 

What are you most excited about seeing/finding on the trip?

Although our main science goal is the retrieval of a set of important colonisation experiments, I am secretly most excited about taking our little underwater robot 'REX' to its deepest depth rating - 200m. I would like to take it below the warm surface waters into the cooler, darker deep waters - the twilight zone - to observe the marine life using this new low-cost deep-sea approach that we are pioneering on this trip.

 

Where have you been previously been on field work?

I have been fortunate enough to be involved in field work all over the world. Mostly it has been in rather cold places (the Southern Ocean, the Antarctic and the North Sea). I am looking forward to a tropical trip for a change!

 

What is your best experience whilst on field work?

The best experience has been our first discovery of the enigmatic Osedax worms whilst on a sampling trip in Sweden. It was incredible to find these bizarre animals living so close to a marine lab, in shallow water. It reinforced to me how little we know even the accessible parts of our oceans.

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Now that Tom has returned safely from his botanical trip to Costa Rica, I'll be heading off to the Bahamas with scientists from the Museum and the University of Southampton. Our destination is the remote island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas and most of our time will be spent on a boat.

 

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(Click images to see them full size)

 

We’ll be using a Remotely-Operated Vehicle (ROV), called REX, to survey the fauna that live in this little explored part of the Caribbean. The really exciting bit is that in some cases this will be the first time that scientists have dropped a camera into these waters.

 

Aside from the observatory work, the team are also looking for a particular worm that likes to live on whale bones. Osedax worms have been found in every ocean in which scientists have looked for them, including the Antarctic, but will they also be found in the tropical waters of the Caribbean?

 

As part of the Museum’s Nature Live programme, I’m lucky enough be joining the trip and I’ll be sending back daily reports in the form of blog posts, pictures and videos. Get in touch with the field trip by using the comments section at the end of each blog.

 

For a chance to experience the trip come to the Museum's Attenborough Studio at 14:30 on 8, 9 and 10 March to see us in a live-video-link to the Bahamas.

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Ivvet Modinou

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Breakfast was sausages – yes! Salty and oily they took my good friends rice and beans to a whole new level.

 

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(Click the images to see them full size)

 

Today we set off from our hut, to the camp we are going to stay at for the next two days – N 09 08 09.4, W 082 57 38.4 are the co-ordinates: view on a map.

 

Our route took us along the river.

 

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We walked for a couple of hours before climbing up to a point called Jardin. This area is completely different from anything I have seen so far on the trip – it’s a peat bog and is dominated by tree ferns that have islands of mosses, lichens and sedges growing around them. It was a rare break in the forest canopy and there were some spectacular views.

 

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It was a really challenging crossing - impossible to know whether your next step was going to hold fast or leave you knee deep in the bog.

 

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We then dipped backed down through the forest – not so much a trail as a thrash through the bush!

 

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Once at the camp, I set up the equipment for sending you my post - solar charger and satellite phone - and made a little tour of the camp.

 

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On the way here I saw the first sign of a wild cat – this is Ocelot poo, apparently!

 

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Species of the day goes to Neil (though Alex is making a spurious claim!). It is in the genus Pilea (in the nettle family) and Alex thinks it may be a new species! He is a world expert in the nettle family and, in particular, this genus - although this looks similar to another species of Pilea it has a key difference in that the leaves are of equal size to each other as opposed to being different sizes.

 

If it is a new species Alex will be able to publish a description of it and give it a name, but he can only be sure that this is a new species once he has checked it against similar species housed in herbaria.

 

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This really highlights the importance of the trip and of collecting in general. In order to know exactly what is in the park and make as complete a check-list of the species as possible, we have to know what lives here. These specimens will be available for future generations, who may have other uses for the data they provide.

 

Of course, it is important not to collect too much, we rarely collect a whole plant and always make sure we don’t collect without the correct permits which are provided by the Costa Rican government.

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We have arrived in Costa Rica!

 

From a snowy North London...

 

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Via some beautiful skies over America…

 

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... to spending the night at INBIO (Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad) - the Costa Rican National Institute for Biodiversity.

 

And already my botanical education has got underway - this is Holger outside Newark airport...

 

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This is what he is looking at...

 

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... which is a moss (the green bits, that is). Holger says you can tell this is a new pavement and not just a very clean one because there are mosses but no lichens. Lichens are slow to grow, apparently! Here’s hoping for some more spectacular specimens in the tropics.

 

I'm off to bed as it's very late here in Costa Rica but tomorrow we will drive for most of the day to reach Altamira. If we get there early enough, we will climb to our first camp, otherwise we will have to wait until the next morning for our first hike.

 

See you again tomorrow.

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The trip to Costa Rica is led by Dr. Alex Monro who has his own blog where you can learn about his interests and research. But here is some information about the other scientists, and their expectations for the trip:

 

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Dr. Neil Brummit is Researcher in Botanical Diversity

 

Area of Botany you’re most interested in

My main botanical interest has always been in biogeography - working out why some distant areas of the world have the same plants, while other areas close to each other have different plants. Also, I study why some areas of the world have so many more plant species than other areas do, and try to identify these areas and the threatened species they contain accurately enough to help with plans for their conservation.

 

Best thing about being a Botanist

When you can see that your work has been useful to someone else, especially someone outside of botany, it gives you a sense that your efforts have been worthwhile. For example, a big project that I have been involved in for several years has estimated how many plant species worldwide are threatened with extinction, and when we announced results from this project in 2010, it was covered in hundreds of media outlets around the world and we also travelled to the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Nagoya, Japan, to make a presentation there. At the end of the meeting there was a renewed determination by the world's governments to take positive conservation actions in the next few years, and I did feel that, in our own small way, we were a part of the scientific response to the loss of global biodiversity that had helped to galvanise the political will to make that happen.

 

Previous field work

A little bit of everywhere; I´ve done fieldwork on each continent, but I´m always keen to visit new places. For me there is always something special about being in Africa, perhaps because that was my first experience in the tropics. I think once you´ve been collecting in the tropics, everywhere else seems a bit boring by comparison. I was still at school when I first went on a proper field trip, to Malawi with my father (who is also a botanist); I loved it, and remember thinking that he was paid to do this!

 

Favourite thing about working in the field

Seeing new plants, and thinking to myself "Wow, what on earth is that?". If I can attempt an identification that is somewhere close to what it is, even better.

 

Least favourite thing about working in the field

Leeches and mosquitos; Listening to rats running around you in the dark when you are trying to sleep at night; Never being clean; Missing being at home with my wife;

 

What are your hopes for this trip?

Hopefully I will have the opportunity for more fieldwork in Costa Rica, so for me this is a chance to experience the country but, perhaps more importantly, get to know the people working there and start to build relationships with them. I´m grateful to be going with someone like Alex who has already had a lot of experience there, and I´m looking forward to working in the field with him.

 

What one piece of advice would you give someone going on field work for the first time?

It´s hard work! Don´t expect too much, as all the best laid plans can go out of the window very quickly; be prepared to adapt.

 

 

Jo Wilbraham.jpgJo Wilbraham is Senior Curator, Algae

 

Area of Botany you’re most interested in

Non-flowering / cryptogamic plants, particularly bryophytes

 

Best thing about being a Botanist / Curator

Being able to spend time obsessing about your favourite plant group as part of your ‘proper job’ and being able to work with the wonderful collections here at the Natural History Museum.

 

Previous field work

My more recent fieldwork has been around the beautiful British coastline looking at seaweeds.  I’ve also been on fieldwork trips to Reunion Island, Ecuador, Belize and Sulawesi, so Central America is new territory for me.

 

Favourite thing about working in the field

Exciting times looking for plants (and no access to work email).

 

Least favourite thing about working in the field

Sharing a camping hut with vampire bats wasn’t very nice, but mostly I’d say missing the folks back home.

 

What are your hopes for this trip?

My underlying goal is to contribute more data to the question ‘what grows where’, hopefully increasing knowledge of rare / poorly understood species and the habitats they live in.  I will be collecting specimens for long term preservation in the NHM herbarium where they will be available to researchers around the world who are studying these groups – both now and in the future!

 

What one piece of advice would you give someone going on field work for the first time?

Remember to pack your sense of humour… and a hand lens!

 

Holger_LymeRegis.jpgDr. Holger Thues is Curator – Lichens

 

Area of Botany you’re most interested in

All the oddities traditionally studied by botanists but which are in fact not related to plants (eg. fungi, slime-molds etc.). Within “Green Botany” my current main interest is in lichenised algae (photosynthetic symbiotic partners in lichens) and particularly their compatibility with various lichens in different habitats.

 

Best thing about being a Botanist

I regard myself as a biologist. In my current role as curator at the NHM my focus is on lichenised fungi and their associated algae – this makes me a part mycologist / part botanist. Before I came to the NHM I was working partly as a researcher and partly as an environmental consultant. This included work with lichens, mosses and seed plants but also with various animal groups: from aquatic invertebrates, leafhoppers to hamsters and salmon. I like the constant change of the profession “biologist”  - although the fundamental questions have remained surprisingly similar over thousands of years: from the stone age to the time of worldwide industrialisation: biologists always look for answers to the questions: what to eat (and what not?)  what is harmful?  what is beneficial? And what does it all mean in a wider context? I can hardly imagine a more interesting profession!

 

Previous field work

Mostly all over Europe (particularly “rocky” habitats from coastal cliffs to alpine peaks – you can easily locate me in the field by the sound of my chisel). In the tropics so far two field trips to the Venezuelan part of the Andes (focussed on freshwater habitats in open areas with Paramo-vegetation).

 

Favourite thing about working in the field

Asking questions directly to the living organism in its environment, physical activity, absence of paperwork

 

Least favourite thing about working in the field

Travelling to the study sites, paperwork in advance of a field trip

 

What are your hopes for this trip?

As a curator my main hope is to collect a rich selection of fresh lichen material from little studied habitats and poorly known taxonomic groups which will become a relevant resource for further studies by researchers in Costa Rica, at our museum and for other collaborators across the world.

 

One personal research focus for me will be a comparison of the freshwater lichens in the Talamanca Mountains with those in streams of other tropical and temperate areas. For temperate areas lichens were shown to be valuable indicators of water level fluctuations and stream bed stability, but we still know to little on the species diversity and the distribution patterns of freshwater lichens in the tropics to make them useful tools for the assessment of streams in these areas as well.

 

A second area of interest is an assessment of the lichen diversity on rock outcrops and the light rich and open Paramo-vegetation at the highest elevations of the Talamanca Mountains. These habitat types cover huge areas in the South American Andes but occur in relative isolation and at a much smaller scale in Costa Rica, separated by large densely forested areas. Together with my research colleague Cecile Gueidan we want to find out how this isolation affects the diversity of lichens. This habitat type is also likely to be among the first to be affected by climate change.

 

What one piece of advice would you give someone going on field work for the first time?

Try to get in contact with local people, appreciate and follow their advice.

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