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Hello again - I'm sure you'll be glad to hear that we have all arrived safely in Hanoi. It's a hot and humid 25 degrees here but there has been constant heavy rain since we arrived and it looks set to continue for the next week or so. Whilst this may not sound ideal it is great weather for collecting slugs and snails as the wet weather tends to bring them out of their hiding places in the soil and the leaf litter, making them far less difficult to find and collect.

 

 

jackie rain.JPGJackie and Jonathan walk back in the rain .. how Hanoi-ing (sorry I love a bad pun).

 

Our first visit of today was to the Vietnam National Museum of Nature where we met the new director, Profesor Nguyen Dinh Cong and other senior staff members, and were given a tour of the new and soon to be opened exhibition spaces.

 

The museum opened in 2004, and houses over 40,000 animal, plant, fossil and geologicical specimens. The staff are heavily involved in studying the biodivertsity of Vietnam and promoting its importance for science and conservation, as well as in educating the local community about the natural history of Vietnam, the research and the collections that it houses.

 

We spent the afternoon sorting out all our collecting equipment that we need when working in the field. It's a bit like moving house packing boxes, and labeling them so that we can find everything easily when we arrive. It's good to find that everything we needed has arrived safely but I'm a bit worried about how we are going to fit it all in to our van.

 

Expert collectors

 

This seems as good place as ever to introduce you to one of the members of our team, Sang van Pham, who has previously joined us on our collecting trips in 2011 and 2012. Sang works in the Vietnam National Museum of Nature, primarily on the preservation and preparation of specimens for the collections and exhibitions, but on our trips he has become an expert in finding the smaller species that are often missed by the untrained eye.

 

During previous visits we have been helping to train Sang in the collection, identification and preservation of land snails, and Sang's knowledge of the biodiversity and ecology of Vietnam has been a great help in helping us to plan where we should sample on our various trips in Vietnam.

 

sang-sorting.jpg

Sang van Pham sorting and preserving specimen in Vietnam in 2011.

 

The second member of our team I would like to introduce is Fred Naggs. Fred is the leader of the expedition and Biodiversity Officer at the Natural History Museum. His main area of interest is the diversity of terrestrial land snails in south-east Asia and India, and finding out how these species have spread over time and the factors which ave influenced their distribution.

 

Fred has a lot of experience in identifying and collecting snails in the tropics and always seems to know the best places to search. Although it seems to me that if this 'best place' is in an area that is hard to reach or excessively muddy it is me who is sent off to do the collecting whilst Fred stands in the dry shouting "left a bit" ... "no not that one" ... "just a bit higher" and other useful phrases.

 

fred-collecting.jpg

Fred Naggs collecting snails in Sri Lanka.

 

Tomorrow we have an early start as we are traveling to Cuc Phuong National Park, 100 miles south-west of Hanoi, where we can start our fieldwork proper. I'm a little hesitant as the constant rain means the likelihood of being intimately attached (literally) to the local leech population is a likely occurrence.

 

Food update

 

On a side note, as someone who is mildly obssessed with food, good things I have eaten in the last 24 hours include:

 

  • Bun-Cha: A Hanoian delicacy of grilled pork and noodles flavoured with mint, basil and a sweet sticky sauce.
  • Bánh xèo: A Vietnamese pancake of pork, prawns, bean sprouts and rice batter wrapped up in a lettuce leaf - messy but delicious.
  • Pho: Traditional beef noodle soup for breakfast, one of the (non-science) things I was most looking forward to on this trip (much tastier than cereal!).

 

Anyway, internet-availability depending, I hope to report back soon on our first day in the national park and let you know how our initial collecting went.

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Today I am heading off on a plane to Vietnam. Not for a sumptuous seaside sojourn or a historic amble around Hanoi, no instead I will be on fieldwork collecting terrestrial slugs and snails in the national parks of Vietnam.


I'm Jon Ablett, curator of non-marine Mollusca and Cephalopoda at the Museum. I've been on collecting trips to Vietnam before in 2007, 2011 and 2012, but I'm really looking forward to heading back there not only for the wonderful food, landscape and people (and did I mention the food?), but also for the interesting slugs and snails that we hope to find.

Picture1_forblog.jpgCollecting snails in Vienam in 2011; definitely not a competition to see who has found the best specimen.

 

Why Vietnam? Well, Vietnam is an amazingly diverse country with a broad latitudinal range - from north to south it is over 1,000 miles long. It also has a wide altitudinal range, from over 3,000m in the Hoang Lien Mountains in northern Vietnam, to coastal lowlands and the Mekong Valley.

 

The Annamese Mountains, which run north to south between Vietnam, Laos and NE Cambodia, are the most extensive limestone hill ranges in Asia. Snails require calcium to form their shells, and as a rule snail diversity increases as the amount of calcium in the environment increases. The rich calcium limestone in these mountains provides incredibly diverse habitats for a highly diverse range of molluscan species that, until now, have barely been studied.

 

Why snails?


Apart from the fact that I am the curator in charge of the land snail (and cephalopod...) collections at the Museum, there are more recorded extinctions of land snails than for all other animal groups combined. This makes land snails a key group for recognising why and where extinctions are taking place. It also means that snails could be used to demonstrate the effectiveness of various conservation measures, by acting as sensitive indicators of environmental change.

 

Also, since the Museum has a large historical collection of slugs and snails from Vietnam, by collecting specimens over a variety of timescales we can look at changes within and between species.

Cyclophorus for blog.jpgCyclophorus sp. in leaf litter. Notice the trap door like operculum by the tail.


The aim of our work in Vietnam is to collect new terrestrial land snail material to enhance the collections of both the Natural History Museum and the Vietnam National Museum of Nature, to provide tissue samples for molecular work, and to test new collection and storage techniques for our frozen tissue collections.

 

My colleagues and co-conspirators for our fieldwork include Museum staff and students as well as scientists from Nottingham University, the Zoological Society of London, the Vietnam National Museum of Nature and the Vietnam National Park Service. I hope that throughout my time in Vietnam I can tell you a little bit about the work that will be done by me and the team, explain some of the collection and preservation techniques we use and also a little about the trials and tribulations, highlights (and lowlights?) that occur along the way.

 

I'm just off to finish up packing up my collection equipment, suncream and mosquito repellent and hopefully the next time I blog I will be settled in Hanoi with a few new stories to tell.

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IMG_0065.jpgI am excited to announce the launch of Deep Sea ID, an app for the iPhone and iPad that provides taxonomic information on over 20,000 species, over 350 beautiful high resolution images of deep-sea specimens as well as links to online taxonomic tools, sources and important references. The app is completely free and I encourage interested users to download it here.

 

The deep sea is the largest yet least-explored ecosystem on the planet. Despite low temperatures, the absence of light and limited food availability, it is home to a remarkable diversity of marine life. Deep Sea ID is designed to enable faster access to important taxonomic information on these deep-sea animals and by including high quality specimen photos we are creating a field guide that can be used to identify specimens from collected samples or from video survey.

 

The app uses the species database at the World Register of Deep Sea Species (WoRDSS) which is itself a thematic database of the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS), the most up-to-date source of taxonomic information on marine life. When we update Deep Sea ID, changes from the WoRDSS and WoRMS websites will be automatically included.

 

The images in the app have been individually sourced and include many beautiful specimen photographs from both researchers and professional photographers. All copyright images are used with permission from the authors, and contact details for the photographers are provided with all images.

 

One of the most important features of the app is that all the data and images are available offline, and at high speed. This allows it to be used by deep-sea researchers during their long voyages at sea where internet access is limited. We plan to regularly update the app with more images as they become available, and we welcome any potential contributors to contact the team at the WoRDSS, the database that the app is built around.

 

The creation of this app would not have been possible without our partner organisations, including the WoRMS, and the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton. Funding has come from the International Network for Scientific Investigation of Deep-Sea Ecosystems (INDEEP). We are also extremely grateful to all those who have contributed images so far.

 

The taxonomic information held in the WoRDSS is sourced directly from the WoRMS, which is managed by an international Steering Committee, a Board of Editors and the IT team at the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ) in Belgium. Both the WoRMS and WoRDSS websites are hosted at VLIZ.

 

The species lists and images that are used to create Deep Sea ID are currently maintained at the Museum by me, Dr Adrian Glover, and at the University of Plymouth, by Dr Nicholas Higgs. At the National Oceanography Centre, Dr Tammy Horton is contributing to the species lists and co-ordinating the collation of taxonomic identification resources.

 

This is an ongoing project, and we plan regular updates to the app. We welcome corrections and contributions for the next version and if you are able to help, please get in touch.

deepseaimage600px.jpg

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