Skip navigation
0

Photographer and filmmaker Chrystel Lebas is working on a collaborative project to observe environmental change in the British landscape using the the Sir Edward James Salisbury Archive.

 

image-1.jpgChrystel photographed by Kath Castillo (Museum biologist and botanist) on their first research trip together in Culbin Forest in October 2013.

 

The Museum holds a beguiling collection of unexplored landscape images and field notes taken by British botanist and ecologist Sir Edward James Salisbury, who was Director of Kew Gardens from 1943 to 1956. The collection of over 1,400 works was orphaned – an anonymous assembly of Kodak boxes containing silver gelatine prints and photographic glass plates kept in two large cardboard boxes. The images record natural environments, capturing in particular botanical information in the United Kingdom and Ireland, to which specific annotations on the regions’ ecology were added.

 

Around two years ago photographer and filmmaker Chrystel Lebas was introduced to the collection by Bergit Arends (former Curator of Contempory Art at the Natural History Museum). Chrystel Lebas and Museum botanist Mark Spencer (Curator of the British and Irish Herbarium), began to trace this important collection, which was assembled in the first third of the 20th century.

 

image-2.jpgThe images include close-ups of plants and sometimes a foot appearing in the corner of the frame, presumably to indicate the scale of the specimen, or sometimes a subject, a woman standing amongst the forest trees.

 

Each of the boxes containing glass plates were scrutinised to look for clues that could indicate the author’s name or any information that could relocate the collection. And finally one day, and after a couple of months researching the collection, Chrystel found a glass plate negative with a handwritten name on it: E.J Salisbury, and of course this was the moment that made us realise that this particular collection was extremely valuable!

 

image-3.jpg‘Edward James Salisbury: Prophet and propagandist of botany’ New Scientist, 11 June 1959.

 

image-4.jpg

Chrystel began travelling to Scotland on her own, prior to the research being funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. She started her research in the field and recorded the landscapes.

 

The focus of this project is on the Scottish landscape through Salisbury’s images taken between 1925 to 1933 in the following areas:

  • Arrochar in Argyll and Bute
  • the Trossachs National park
  • the Rothiemurchus Estate, a privately owned Highland Estate within the Strathspey, northeast of the river Spey, in the Cairngorms National Park
  • Culbin Forest, which sits on the Moray Firth between Nairn and Findhorn

 

The research contributes to a comparative landscape and botanical study spanning nearly 90 years.

0

by Hayley Dunning, Science Web Editor

 

A species of nightshade  thought to be restricted to one area of Peru has been found in 17 other  locations with the aid of habitat modelling.

 

Museum botanists Dr Tiina Särkinen (now at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh) and Dr Sandra Knapp discovered the new species of nightshade, named this week as Solanum pseudoamericanum,  in 2012 in the Andes. When they first found it, they thought this  species only occurred in two river valleys in southern Peru. By using a  method known as species distribution modelling, they predicted other  regions of Peru where the plant might also be found, based on the  environmental conditions at the original collection sites.

knapp-combined.jpg

An example of the newly discovered Solanum pseudoamericanum, collected on 7 March 2012.

The flowers are on the left and the berries on the right.

 

A  collecting field trip to northern Peru the following year uncovered the  nightshade in 17 new locations predicted by the model. The success of  the project proves the method of species distribution modelling can work  in complex climatic regions such as the Andes, where there is an  abundance of undiscovered species and data coverage is generally poor.

 

Mapping species


Species  distribution modelling uses climatic data to help map the range of a  new species, speeding up the process of cataloguing it worldwide and  providing a way to accurately predict where that species might be found  again.

 

The approach may be particularly useful when dealing with critically endangered species, where there is an urgent need to find and conserve remaining populations.

The work is part of a larger project to map the distribution patterns of all the endemic Solanaceae species in Peru, and to look for components of rarity; what sorts of  things make plant species rare. With this information, researchers hope  to be able to better describe, and then conserve, plant diversity in  Peru.

 

Hidden diversity


Species  distribution modelling has been used successfully for vertebrates  before, but has not been widely tested in plants. Dr Knapp belives this  may be because collecting plants is seen as reasonably straightforward,  but this case study suggests that it is not always true.

 

Solanum pseudoamericanum was not originally collected because it looks a lot like a common weed.  ‘Collecting is extremely biased, and this raises the question of how we  deal with absences,’ Knapp said. The new species represents a category  of ‘hidden diversity’, where new discoveries can be obscured by their  physical similarity to known, common species.

 

Open data


The research, and all its associated geographical and specimen data, is published this week in the open-access journal PhytoKeys.  By publishing the results and original specimens as open data, said  Knapp, large specimen datasets can be combined by other researchers  globally to produce more general analyses of diversity.