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The NHM Library will be providing access to a range of new journal content for 2014 (full list below).  The publications are core/relevant publications which have been identified via staff requests.

 

Details of how and where to access these publications is available via our Library catalogue (print content) and e-journal catalogue (online content).

 

Members of the public can join the Library and benefit from access to a range of these resources during their visit to our main reading room, please visit our webpages for more information. Please contact library@nhm.ac.uk if you have any requests for the Library collection to support your work.

 

In addition to these new subscriptions, we have increased our online access to archival journal content. The full backfile of published content is now available for the majority of our subscribed Wiley titles, from the first issue to the most recent.

 

Also newly available for 2014 is the complete JSTOR archival collection, comprising millions of articles and primary source materials across a range of subjects. Disciplinary coverage is broad, with strong coverage in journals across the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. See here for more detailed information about the titles and coverage dates of the JSTOR collection.

 

New journal titles for 2014:

 

Online-only access

     Acta Crystallographica B*
     Caribbean Naturalist*
     Crayfish News*
     Curator*
     Earth Science History
     Environmental Science and Technology*
     Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry*
     Ethology, Ecology & Evolution

     Freshwater Crayfish
     Global Change Biology*
     Integrative Zoology*
     Journal of Environmental Quality*
     Molluscan Diversity*
     Museum ID magazine*
     Nature Climate Change
     Nature Communications
     Nature Geoscience
     Plant Biosystems
     Studies in Conservation
     Sugapa*
     Terrestrial arthropod reviews
     Water and Environment Journal*

 

Print + Online access

     Archives of Natural History (backfiles from 1936 to current issue)
     Avian Biology Research*

 

Print-only access
     Alytes
     Annual journal of the Shropshire Caving and Mining Club
     Conchylia
     Current Biology
     Entomologia Africana: Hors Serie
     Fossiles: Revue francaise de paleontologie
     Geological Review
     International Journal of Paleopathology
     Le regne mineral: revue francaise de mineralogy
     Life the excitement of biology
     Malagasy Nature (missing back issues)
     Oreina
     Proceedings / Bristol University Speleological Society
     Proceedings of the …Annual Convention, Indonesian Petroleum Association

 

Online content is purchased in accordance with the Library’s online-only policy. Continued access to this content will depend on usage figures, their continued relevance to the collection, and financial considerations.

 

* Not yet active - estimated to be up and running by the end of March 2014

 

 

by Hannah Rausa, Serials Librarian

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Last week I was lucky enough to escape my office in London for a day out at the Museum in Tring. Just 35 minutes after boarding a train at Euston, I arrived at Tring station and was picked up for the 2-mile drive to Walter Rothschild's former home.

 

Of course Tring wasn't just Walter's home: it was home to his extensive private collection of natural history specimens, as well as a menagerie of live animals including cassowaries, kangaroos, tortoises and zebras. Many of those animals - after they had died their natural deaths - went on to become specimens in the Museum, which his family bequeathed to the nation following Walter's death in 1937.

 

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Kangaroos in Tring Park in the early 1900s (left), and now on display in the Museum (right).

 

Today, the Museum retains its unique Victorian character, and many of the 4,000 specimens in the galleries are still arranged in the very particular way Walter had dictated during his life. It really is a museum of a museum.

 

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A gallery photographed in 1910 (top), and many of the same specimens displayed in much the same way more than 100 years later (bottom).

tring-gallery-2010_700v2.jpg

 

During my day out at Tring I was treated to a guided behind the scenes tour of the specimen storage and preparation areas. From the spirit collection (which numbers around 17,000 jars; the oldest specimen being a Hawaiian honeycreeper collected by Captain Cook in 1772), to the room where flesh eating beetles clean up bird carcasses in readiness for storage in the skeleton collection (as can be seen on our YouTube channel here). I even got to take a peek into Walter's personal library, where the ironwork on the upper floor is modelled after the Eiffel Tower.

 

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Part of the spirit collection (top), and flesh eating beetles at work (bottom).

tring-flesh-eating-beetles-700.jpg

 

The scientists and curators I met proudly informed me that Tring boasts the largest ornithological library in the world, and holds the second largest collections in the world of bird skins (750,000 pieces, which represents 95% of all known species) and bird eggs (around 300,000 clutches, which represents 52% of all known species). Oh, and its collection of 4,000 bird nests is housed in the longest run of roller rack in Europe (15m).

 

tring-bird-skins-700.jpg

Prepared bird skins in the drying rack. The skins are wrapped around cotton wool and a popsicle stick.

 

Out from behind the scenes and into the public galleries, Tring is a marvel. Walter's original floor-to-ceiling, glass-fronted hardwood and iron cabinets are almost bursting with an overwhelming array of mounted specimens. And it is this sense of history, variety and eccentricity that make Tring such a special and wonderful place.

 

tring-sparkly-gallery-700.jpg

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Sopwith.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

By Lisa Di Tommaso

(Special Collections Librarian)

 

Thomas Sopwith (1803 – 1879) was an influential figure in the world of geology throughout the 19th century. Born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne to a family of cabinet-makers, Sopwith learnt the trade as an apprentice to his father, winning an award at the 1851 Great Exhibition after designing a desk where all drawers could be secured using one single lock. He discovered a natural talent for drawing and planning, and developed a keen interest in mineral collecting.

 

Largely self-taught, Sopwith kept a diary and notes about his life from the age of 19 until his death, which leaves us with a great insight into his career and achievements. He became a land and mineral surveyor, and later a civil engineer - his work requiring him to determine mining boundaries, undertake mapping for land-owners, and survey for new railways in Britain and abroad. He is credited for convincing the government of the day to establish the Mining Records Office, strongly advocating the importance of preserving mining records.

 

 

 

 

Sopwith's-models-in-their-presentation-box.jpgSopwith's-dedication-to-William-Buckland.jpg

 

 

 

Sopwith published a number of papers and treatises in relation to mining, geology and isometric (3-dimensional) drawing, often using his own engravings, which he taught himself to do. Throughout his career he collaborated with, among others, William Smith, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Adam Sedgwick, Michael Faraday, Roderick Murchison, Charles Lyell and Henry De La Beche. He also worked with George and Robert Stephenson on developing railways in France and Belgium.

Sopwith-models-spine-of-presentation-box.jpg

Having made a number of large-scale wooden geological models designed to demonstrate the positions of veins of coals and iron-ore workings in various locations, Sopwith identified a need to create smaller versions to use for educational purposes and to aid those in the mining industry to understand common structures in the field or underground. Ranging in size from 3 inches to 4 inches square, the models were released in sets of six or twelve in a specially made case designed to resemble a book. The models were accompanied by a detailed explanatory text. The price varied from £2 to £5 depending on the number and size of the models purchased. First produced in 1841, the models were re-released in 1875. The Natural History Museum Library holds a set of twelve models which had been presented to the eminent geologist Professor William Buckland by Sopwith in gratitude for his continuing support.

 

Sopwith-geological-models-IV.jpgSopwith-geological-models-V.jpg

(Above left) Model IV - Model to Show Fallacious Appearances. This depicts the scenario where from the surface an abundance of coal appears to exist, but there is actually very little quantity below.

 

(Above right) Model VShowing Dislocations of Coal Strata. This example indicates that while very little may appear at ground level, coal seams (subject to faults and dislocations) can be found below the ground.

 

The generic models weren’t representative of specific locations; they were depicting examples of strata containing faults or dislocations and showing inclines, helping to predict locations of coal seams and lead deposits in the faults and to explain the nature of certain geological features. They represented various and potential geological phenomena in relation to mining – those aspects which were difficult to explain in words or represent in drawings. Each of the models shows the topographic surface of the ground, and then depicts layers, inclines, folds, faults and strata beneath. Some can be moved about to show different variations in a fault, and in some cases at least six different drawings would be needed to show the same scenario without a 3D model. They highlight the difficulty of seeing from ground level what may or may not be below, and they proved to be of invaluable assistance.

 

In his lifetime Sopwith belonged to no less than twenty-six learned societies and advocated many social causes such as universal suffrage and the entry of working class Members of Parliament to the House of Commons. He died in London in 1879, leaving a lasting legacy and contribution to the mining industry in Britain and geology more generally.

 

Further reading:

Sopwith, Robert. (1994) Thomas Sopwith surveyor: An exercise in self-help, Edinburgh: The Pentland Press

Richardson, Benjamin W. (1891) Thomas Sopwith, London: Longmans, Green & Co

 

(Below left) Model IX Model of Undercut Strata. Showing how strata can be inclined at a steeper angle to the horizon than the surface of the ground.

(Below right) Model VI Model Showing the Intersection of Mineral Veins. Depicting a succession of veins formed by various dislocations of the strata.

 

Sopwith-geological-models-IX.jpgSopwith-geological-models-VI.jpg

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Greetings from a garden full of Spring promise! After an absence of several weeks, I recently left winter dormancy behind and have been welcomed by the optimism of spring from the Garden.

 

The productive work carried out by Larissa, Naomi and our wonderful volunteers these past few weeks is evident from the signs of coppicing, pollarding, pruning and propagating, as well as thinning out some of our most determined umbellifers - cow parsley, hogweed and ground elder.

 

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Coppiced alder (Alnus glutinosa)

© Derek Adams

 

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Seed propagation in preparation for our Spring Wildlife Event on Saturday 5 April

© Sue Snell


And the garden itself has a surprise around every corner. On the ground in the coppiced woodland habitat and beneath the mature lime, the daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) are in bloom.

 

2. .WLG_06032014-108 daffodils (Custom).JPGThe first of our native daffodils was recorded on 25 February nine days earlier than last year

© Jonathan Jackson

 

There's a fair sprinkling of primroses (Primula vulgaris) in flower, with many more buds yet to open.

 

3. WLG_06032014-058  primroses 6_3_14 (Custom).JPGPrimroses at the edge of woodland - first flower recorded on 18 February; just a couple of days earlier than last year

© Jonathan Jackson

 

A deeper shade of yellow is offered by the fluffy heads of coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) which brighten up the hedge banks.

 

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Coltsfoot, a plant typical of waste areas but welcome in our garden

© Derek Adams

 

Red dead-nettle (Lamium purpureum) along the path provides nectar for early flying insects, and other shades of pink include the occasional red campion (Silene dioica) and herb robert (Geranium robertianum).

 

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Red campion thrives in our Wildlife garden -  at least one plant can be seen in flower throughout the year

© Derek Adams

 

Sweet violet (Viola odorata) is in flower between hedge and pond and dog's mercury (Mercurialis perennis) is increasing its territory beneath silver birch and ash. We'll be contributing our first flower and animal sightings to the Woodland Trust's Nature's Calendar.

 

WLG_06032014-036 dog's mercury (Custom).JPG

Dog's mercury (Mercurialis perennis) - first flower this year was recorded on 13th January

© Jonathan Jackson

 

But what is most striking is the volume of bird song this week! After crossing the threshold of the Garden the traffic noise of Cromwell Road melts away and a symphony takes over inlcuding the medodic song of blackbirds and robins, rich trills and 'Tshews' from a flock of greenfinches, a medley of calls from blue, great and long-tailed tits, the occasional sound from our moorhen couple, and more.

 

There are flashes of red and yellow from goldfinches, and blue and yellow as blue tits whirr across our pathways. Territories are being established, courtship is in progress - and in some cases nesting material is already being transported to niches within ivy-clad trees:

 

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A female blackbird was observed building a nest in ivy this week but here the male is feeding up on ivy berries

The supply of rowan berries referred to in recent blogs is finally exhausted!

© Jonathan Jackson


And to nest boxes, and the eaves of our garden shed:

 

DSC_0674 (Custom).JPGA wren started building here this week, the site was then taken over by a robin and now is currently vacant...

© Larissa Cooper

 

 

But not to hedges where there is too little camouflage just yet:

 

DSC_0399 catkins (Custom).JPGCatkins amongst the bare branches of one of our laid hedges

© Jonathan Jackson

 

Hazel catkins broke hedge dormancy in early January and now white flowers appear on the bare branches of blackthorn (Prunus spinosa).

 

WLG_06032014-103 Prunus spinosa (Custom).JPG

Our first blackthorn flowers opened on 18 February

© Jonathan Jackson

 

This is our earliest flowering native shrub in the Wildlife Garden (and elsewhere). Clouds of white blossom are already visible in hedges in the countryside. One of the many country sayings relating to Blackthorn is that its flowering is said to coincide with a cold spell - but not this week. More blackthorn country sayings and uses can be found on Roy Vickery's website of Plantlore.

 

Blackthorn is a spikier relative of hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) - and an excellent hedge companion, quick growing and providing good nest sites amongst a network of spiny branches and thorns. And, in autumn, sloes are food for berry-eating birds.

 

But this shrub and hedgerow plant is beneficial to many other species: providing nectar for early flying insects such as the tree bumble bee (Bombus hypnorum), first sighted in the garden this year on 15 February; and buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) observed on 6 March.

 

It's one of the larval food plants for many beautiful moth species including sloe midget (Phyllonorycter spinicolella), tufted button (Acleris cristana), clouded silver (Lomographa temerata) and the brimstone moth (Opisthograptis luteolata), all of which have been recorded here. You can read more about moth recording in the Wildlife Garden, by Lepidopterist Martin Honey in the Spring issue of evolve - the Museum's quarterly magazine.

 

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Brimstone Moth - this particular specimen was caught in our light trap on 6 August and released the following morning

© Florin Feneru

 

This week also we were shown the concept plans for the redesign of the Museum grounds, some of which included some surprising suggestions for the Wildlife Garden - you can read about this competition at Malcolm Reading Consultants.

 

Its been a fine Spring week but March is a capricious month and country sayings about the blackthorn weather may yet ring true.

 

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Coltsfoot (again)

© Derek Adams

 

In the meantime we intend to hold on to our Spring optimism in the Museum's Wildlife Garden and continue to promote and conserve biodiversity here in the heart of London.

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This week we have 11 new book additions covering Zoology, General Natural History, Earth Sciences, Ornithology, Entomology and Botany. Download the PDF attached to the bottom of this blog to view this week's list.


If you wish to view these or any other items, please contact the library to arrange an appointment library@nhm.ac.uk or 020 7942 5460

 

The Library catalogue is available online and more information about the Library & Archives collections can be found via our website

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sea fan coral.jpg

 

 

Maria del Mar Soler Hurtado

University of Seville, Spain

 

Wednesday 12 of March 11:00

Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)

 

Although abundant, the Eastern Pacific octocoral fauna was considered poorly known by Bayer (1951), mainly due to the difficulty of identification and lack of taxonomic expertise.  In addition, the continuous nature of many of the morphological characters in the taxonomy of the Octocorallia has been a major problem for the systematic study of the group.  For this reason, some authors consider octocoral characters difficult to encode or to polarize, and it is necessary to implement in this family new sources of characters (in all available disciplines) to help us in the correct identification of units (species), in order to develop a more natural classification and phylogeny than that which currently exists, which is seen as clearly artificial yet still in use. In this context, the opportunity to review important collections of gorgoniid specimens deposited in museums, such as the collection available in the NHM, is for us a major step in the development and expansion of our research.  The examination of these type specimens, from a morphological and molecular point of view, will permit their comparison with newly-collected material from Ecuador, the delimitation of specific variability, the re-evaluation of the importance of morphological characters previously used, and the description of new forms where necessary.

 

 

 

 

For additional details on attending this or other seminars see http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/seminars-events/index.htm

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From newly-discovered species to common wildlife, a new free exhbiition showing the work of women artists over four centuries, opens at the Museum in the Images of Nature gallery. These women painted for pleasure, to generate income, and as Museum employees or scientists. The exhibition's unveiling on 8 March marks International Women's Day.

 

Today there are probably just as many women natural history artists as men, and they particularly dominate the contemporary botanical art scene. But in the past their contributions went largely unnoticed.

 

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This watercolour of owls, possibly spotted owlets, is by Olivia Tonge, c1908-1913, the daughter of an explorer who filled her sketchbooks with illustrations of flora and fauna on their travels. On show in the Women artists exhibition in the Images of Nature gallery.

 

'Women artists deserve to be celebrated in their own right, and this exhibiton seeks to do so. Even when they drew for pleasure, these women understood the importance of depicting their subjects with scientific accuracy. This has given us an incredibly rich collecton of artwork that is still used by contemprary scientists,' says Fiona Cole-Hamilton, Museum interpretation developer for the exhbition.

 

mandarin-duck-1500.jpgjellyfish-1500.jpg

Left: Mandarin duck by Sarah Stone, watercolour on paper c1788. Stone depicted specimens unknown to science and her works are important scientific records. Right: fried egg jellyfish, barrel jellyfish and moon jellyfish by G W Dalby, watercolour on board c1960.

 

More than 60 female illustrators are featured in the exhibition, from different periods, backgrounds and social classes. Are there any differences in subject or style between the male and the female visions of nature, I wonder? Some of the illustrations I've had a sneak peek at are executed with such intense pattern-like finesse.

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Various British seaweeds by Barbara Nicholson, watercolour on board c1970-1977. The image portrays the UK's ecology and biodiversity of the time. About 650 species of seaweed live in British waters.

 

Andrea Hart, Special Collections Librarian, who helped create the exhibition and the accompanying book, gives some background:

 

'Many of the artworks that we hold in the Museum collections by men were carried out on voyages of discovery or for scientific purposes and so to some extent there is quite a set way of drawing these. The Dutch floral painters were very similar in style regardless of their sex. So no, I don’t actually I think there is a visible difference (not with our Museum artworks) to say that they were completed by a male or female.

 

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Heathland by Barbara Nicholson (1906-1978). Watercolour on board c1970-1977. On show in the gallery's second rotation.

 

'It's also to do with what is required from the artist. Barbara Nicholson’s Heathland, pictured above, is beautifully intricate. But it was specifically commissioned by the Museum to show different types of ecosystems and habitats and not to focus on an individual subject like with most of the other artworks held.

 

'I'd say it's true that women did find it harder to achieve success or get their work recognised in the scientific arena especially during the 18th and 19th centuries. But others chose to work in obscurity or just draw for their own pleasure.

 

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Horse fly, c1906, by Grace Edwards. Watercolour and ink on paper. Edwards' work is part of the Museum library's collection of more than 100 illustrations of blood-sucking flies.

 

'My favourite is probably Grace Edwards' blood-sucking fly, which will be in a forthcoming rotation. Her watercolour has surprising detail and for such a small, but pain-inducing subject! We have more than 100 illustrations of African and oriental blood-sucking flies which Grace drew with immaculate precision on card no larger than 7 x 9 centimetres. I'm looking forward to the challenge of mounting 16 of them to go into the gallery for the fourth and final rotation to show in early 2015.'

 

The exhibition of women artists has four rotations in the Images of Nature gallery. The current pieces are displayed until the end of June when they will be replaced by new illustrations. Over the next 12 months the gallery will showcase more than 60 female illustrators. You can gain more insights into this collection in the accompanying book.

 

The Images of Nature gallery is located in the Blue Zone off Dinosaur Way.

 

Find out about the Women artists exhibition in Images of Nature

 

See more images from the first rotation in our highlights slideshow

 

Women Artists book

 

International Women's Day official website

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Auhtor: Megan Absolon

Date: 07/03/14

 

 

I’ve been very fortunate since arriving on the Ice to be working in the on-site conservation laboratory at Hut Point, which is situated directly behind Scott’s Discovery Hut (1901-04). Stefanie and I have been conserving food boxes from an internal wall made from stacked supply boxes. This wall was built during Shackleton’s British Antarctic Expedition (1907-09) when they used Discovery Hut as a staging point for depot laying. The Hut is described by various expeditioners as a dark and cold place to spend time and Shackleton’s men wished to enclose a cosy space around the stove to make the quarters more habitable. The supply boxes used were predominately Special Cabin Biscuits and Special Dog Biscuits made by Spratts Patent Limited of London, who also supplied the army and navy.

Meg documenting the supply box wall - Stefanie White (Small).jpg

Meg documenting the supply box wall

 

Every time we walk into the Hut we get the chance to imagine the many stories and desperate situations the men who passed through Discovery Hut experienced.  It’s incredibly exciting conserving the boxes that make up the internal wall in the Hut as we discover new and different details every day.

Special Dog Biscuit Box - Stefanie White (Small).jpg

Special Dog Biscuit Box

 

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Box with paw print

 

Dogs are also part of the amazing history of the Hut, with Scott taking 23 dogs for hauling sledges on his National Antarctic Expedition. In 1908, during Shackleton’s Expedition, three puppies ended up at Hut Point. It was decided to leave the puppies in the Hut for nearly a month while depots were laid for Shackleton’s push to the Pole. Dr Eric Marshal recorded that 24lbs of mutton was chopped up for the puppies as well as dog biscuits and snow left for their survival. The men returned to find the puppies had eaten all the mutton but not the biscuits.

 

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Tom Crean, with a litter of sledge dog puppies

 

The highlight of my week was discovering two puppy paw prints inside one of the boxes. The prints were made from seal blubber which was throughout the Hut at the time as it was used as fuel for cooking and warmth. Dogs are no longer allowed in Antarctica but we’d still love to have one to play with.

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On 13 Feb a new temporary exhibition opened here at the Museum entitled Britain: one million years of the human story. It includes some images of microfossils from our collection in the display.

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Scanning electron microscope (SEM) images of pollen grains from our collection that appear in the exhibition.

 

These and other microfossil collections housed behind the scenes help with dating the finds, reconstructing the environment, landscape and climate of these first human settlements in Britain and provide the climatic context for the recent discovery of the earliest human footprints in Britain on a Norfolk beach.

 

The AHOB Project and micropalaeontology

 

The exhibition highlights the work of the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain (AHOB) Project and its predecessor projects. The current project, funded by Calleva, is investigating the timing and nature of human occupation of the British Isles, the technology they used, their behaviour, the environment they lived in and the fauna sharing the landscape. The microfaunas and floras mentioned here were recovered by project researcher Mark Lewis and project associate member John Whittaker.

 

Mark is a palynologist and has used the distribution of pollen grains in the sediments surrounding the human finds to interpret ancient climates and landscapes. Pollen grains that range in size from 10-100 microns can be found in sediments millions of years after the plants that produced them have died and decayed.

 

The Museum collections

 

Mark regularly uses our collection of modern pollen and spores to interpret the pollen floras that he recovers as part of the AHOB Project. We recently transferred this collection from the Botany Department and the images in the exhibition were taken from the collection of SEM prints and negatives that accompanies that collection.

 

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Part of our modern pollen collection. Slides are housed in special plastic sleeves and arranged by plant family name.

 

John Whittaker spent his entire career as a researcher here at the Museum and is a now a Scientific Associate in the Earth Sciences Department as well as being an Associate Member of the AHOB Project. In a previous blog post I highlighted his microfossil finds from three key early human sites at Boxgrove about 500,000 years old, Pakefield about 700,000 years old and Happisburgh (prounced Haze-boro) about 900,000 years old. Many of John Whittaker's microfossil slides are deposited here at the Museum.

 

Ancient landscapes

 

The pollen grain illustrations from the exhibition were chosen because of their use and importance in reconstructing ancient environments, particularly the vegetation dominating the landscapes in which the ancient humans lived. The scanning electron microscope images shown above from left to right are:

 

1. Dandelion-type e.g. Taraxacum - this herb indicates dry grassland or disturbed open ground

2. Dwarf willow, Salix herbacea - characteristic of rocky, open ground as found during cold periods

3. Montpellier maple, Acer monspessulanum - currently native to the Mediterranean and central Europe, this tree was present in Britain only during the last (Ipswichian) interglacial about 125,000 years ago

4. Bogbean, Menyanthes trifoliata - shallow water inhabitant of bogs and fens during both temperate and cold periods

5. Common valerian, Valeriana officinalis - herb indicating either dry or damp grassland as well as rough ground

 

Environments of deposition of sediments


Ostracods and Foraminifera collected by John Whittaker from Boxgrove indicate a marine raised beach and a later terrestrial deposit with freshwater ponds below chalk cliffs.

 

Boxgrove_freshwater.jpg

The saltmarsh foraminiferal species Jadammina macrescens has been recovered from Happisburgh and is consistent with interpretations that the site is situated near the mouth of the ancient large river, possibly the River Thames.

 

070314-2.jpgThe foraminiferal species Jadammina macrescens is common in saltmarsh environments.

 

The microfossils were able to show that the Slindon Sands were deposited in a wholly marine high-energy environment, whereas the Slindon Silts were deposited in a shallow intertidal environment at the margin of a regressive sea. This sort of information is vital when interpreting the archaeological finds from the site.

 

Ancient climates

 

River sediments containing flint artefacts have been found on the coast of East Anglia at Pakefield. The oldest artefacts came from the upper levels of estuarine silts where both marine and brackish ostracods and foraminifera have been recovered.

 

070314-1.JPGReconstruction of a scene at Happisburgh about 900,000 years ago by John Sibbick. (copyright AHOB/John Sibbick)

 

Other evidence from mammal, beetle and plant remains suggests a setting on the floodplain of a slow flowing river where marshy areas were common. The river sediments were deposited during a previously unrecognised warm stage (interglacial) and the presence of several warmth loving plants and animals suggests that the climate was similar to that in present day southern Europe.

 

Ammonia_batavus_Palaeoclimate_blog.jpg

 

Pollen and mammal fossils recovered from Happisburgh suggest that the climate was similar to that of southern Sweden and Norway of today with extensive conifer forest and grasslands. The floodplains were roamed by herds of mammoth and horses. Foraminifera such as the species Ammonia batavus are characteristic of warmer climates.

 

Evidence of reworking of some sediments

 

The interglacial sediments at Pakefield are overlain by a thick sequence of glacial deposits which include till and outwash sands and gravels. These contain reworked (Cretaceous and Neogene) microfossils transported from the North Sea Basin by glaciers. This is important information as fossils found in these redeposited sediments could be give false indications as to the climatic setting and dating of any finds.

 

Dating deposits

 

The dating of the deposit at Happisburgh is provided by a combination of mammoth, horse, beetle and vole finds as well as the Middle Pleistocene ostracod Scordiscia marinae. Work by John Whittaker and the AHOB team at a number of other Pleistocene sites across the SE of Britain has increased the potential of ostracods as tools for dating these sediments.

 

Scordiscia_marinae.jpg

The extinct freshwater ostracod Scordiscia marinae has been found at both Pakefield and Boxgrove and is

characteristic of the Middle Pleistocene period. An example of a microfossil that is useful for dating sediments.

 

Earliest footprints

 

A flint handaxe recovered from sediments recently exposed on the foreshore at Happisburgh provides part of the evidence for the earliest human occupation of Britain. Several other Palaeolithic sites have since been discovered there including sets of early human footprints on the foreshore that made the national news at the time of the opening of the exhibition.


Bytham_Thames.jpg

A Palaeogeographic map of Britain the in Early Pleistocene showing the land bridge between Europe and the position of the Thames and Bytham rivers. (Courtesy of Simon Parfitt and the AHOB Project)

 

Pinus-Picea HSB_blog.jpgPine (Pinus) and spruce (Picea) pollen recovered by Mark Lewis from the sediments that preserved the Happisburgh footprints.

 

Pollen analysis of the sediments adjoining the footprints revealed the local vegetation consisted of an open coniferous forest of pine (Pinus), spruce (Picea), with some birch (Betula). There were some wetter areas where Alder (Alnus) was growing; patches of heath and grassland were also present. These all indicate a cooler climate typical of the beginning or the end of an interglacial recognised at other Happisburgh sites.

 

Come and see the exhibition

 

I would recommend that you come and see the exhibition Britain: one million years of the human story if you can, before it closes at the end of September. If you can't then there are a wealth of interesting items on the Museum website including a video showing the recently discovered footprints.

 

Quite rightly the artefacts and larger fossil materials collected from these early human sites in Britain dominate the exhibition along with the amazing life-sized models like 'Ned the Neanderthal'. Hopefully this post has shown that there are many other undisplayed collections held behind the scenes here at the Museum that are just as important in telling us how, when and where the earliest humans lived in Britain.

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This week we have 29 new book additions covering Zoology, General Natural History, Earth Sciences, Ornithology, Entomology and Botany. Download the PDF attached to the bottom of this blog to view this week's list.


If you wish to view these or any other items, please contact the library to arrange an appointment library@nhm.ac.uk or 020 7942 5460

 

The Library catalogue is available online and more information about the Library & Archives collections can be found via our website

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Dr Ian Wood

Senior Lecturer, Department of Earth Sciences, UCL

Tuesday 11 March - 4.00 pm

Basement, WEB 05, the previous Mineralogy Seminar Room

 

If we are to understand large-scale Earth processes such as the formation and evolution of the core, the magnetic field, and the transfer of heat through the mantle, it is essential that we know the physical properties of the minerals present in the Earth’s deep interior, i.e. in its lower mantle and core. However, as the core-mantle boundary in the Earth lies at a depth of nearly 3000 km, at which point the pressure and temperature are around 1.3 million atmospheres and 4000 K, direct experimentation is extremely challenging. A more effective route for determining the structures and properties of these deep-Earth phases is, therefore, to combine X-ray and neutron diffraction studies with computer simulations of both actual and low-pressure “analogue” systems. In this talk I shall concentrate on recent work on the FeSi – NiSi system, a possible inner-core component of terrestrial planets, and on studies of ABX3 analogues of MgSiO3 perovskite, with particular relevance to the perovskite to post-perovskite phase transition that occurs in MgSiO3 just above the Earth’s core-mantle boundary.

 

For additional details on attending this or other seminars see http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/seminars-events/index.htm

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Another year and another new theme and chance for the Library & Archives to show off and celebrate our wonderful artwork collections! Throughout the centuries women have made significant contributions to natural history art - all of whom shared a fascination and enthusiasm for the natural world. Drawn for a variety of reasons and using a rich mix of artistic techniques, the new theme of Women Artists presents another captivating cross-section of the artwork collections at the Natural History Museum.

 

Over the next 16 months, the specially designated cabinets in the Images of Nature Gallery will showcase the artworks of some of the best women natural history artists spanning the last four centuries. The work of over 60 different women artists, many on public display for the first time, will feature illustrations ranging from the delightful Tawny owls by Sarah Stone (ca. 1760-1844) through to the colourful Hawaiian fishes of E. Gertrude Norrie (active 1900s) and contemporary botanical artists such as Norma Gregory and Olga Makrushenko.

 

 

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The new theme also sees the publication of the fourth book in the Images of Nature series. Titled Women Artists, it features the artwork from over 100 women artists in the Library & Archives collections.

 

The exhibition opens on Saturday 8th March which also happens to be International Womens Day - a day which is celebrated in many different ways to recognise the achievements of women but also to raise awareness of the many social, economic, political situations worldwide affecting women.

 

Public access to the Gallery is free.

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From Canta, a road goes up the Río Chillon to Cerro de Pasco and the eastern side of the Andes – crossing over the high elevation grassland habitat called the puna. Several wild potatoes grow in these extreme habitats above or around 4,000 metres elevation – these were our targets for the day. We leave the tomatoes behind for the day - none grow this high!

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Looking back down the valley we saw Canta perched on its hill, plus the line of dusty, smoggy air from Lima and the coast... we were pleased to be up in the fresh air!

 

As we climbed up the switchbacks (ubiquitious in the Andes) we spotted our first Solanaceae of the day – and it was a new distribution record for the valley…

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Salpichroa microloba is endemic to central Peru but had never before been collected in this valley – Paul was excited – this genus is the topic of his Master’s thesis. He also managed to spot a hummingbird visiting the flowers…


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A colleague had told us that the diversity of insects above 1,000 metres elevation was poor – so here is a photo of the GPS (registering 3,327m elevation) and vial of insects to prove the point. Insect life teems at high elevations, and it is usually interesting and often endemic.

 

Further up the valley opened out, and the Río Chillon rushed through – along the banks we found Solanum amblophyllum, previously thought to be an endemic of Lima department, but recently found in neighbouring Ancash by our colleague from the Museo, Asunción Cano.

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Solanum amblophyllum is a member of the Geminata clade that I revised last in 2008 – there are several new species to describe (I wrote about some of these from Brazil last year), but it is great to see ones that I recognise in the field. It was VERY common along the river amongst boulders and grass…


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The Río Chillon is a typical mountain river, crashing through gorges and with extremely rapid flow. Along the banks we saw Andean torrent ducks – two males posturing to each other… the female was being swept downstream (apparently, although she was probably completely under control) and the males seemed too busy to notice.

 

We had a forced stop at the small village of Cullhuay where pipes were being installed – we had to wait about half an hour then drive across a ditch over two very narrow planks – Dan was the driver for the day and he managed with great aplomb. 

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Putting in the pipes involves a lot of manual labour – pipes in lengths of 5-8 metres being carried from the village below (by hand of course) and a lot of shovel work, but by the time we came down they were done and the ditch was all filled in!

 

Cullhauy was the last village on the road, further up there were only isolated houses and stone corrals where livestock are kept overnight. The whole grassy area operates like a common, where local people take their cattle or llamas out for the day to graze and then bring them back at night to protect them from pumas. Other exciting wildlife exists in these high mountains as well – much to our excitement we saw a huge bird circling the valley – an Andean condor – as big as the cattle on the slopes! So amazing – I have been to Peru many times and have never seen a condor there before…

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The picture is a bit fuzzy (sorry about that but it was a long way away across the valley) but the white collar and huge wingspan is unmistakeable – it was HUGE.

 

About where we saw the condor we found populations of our target potato species – so had a nice long collecting stop. The sun was still out so the insects were plentiful and Erica found that the aspirator worked a treat on the small, flat rosettes of these high elevation species. We were near the treeline, although the trees were long gone, mostly cut for firewood. These areas were at one time probably forested with small patches of Polylepis (a member of the rose family) woodland in sheltered valleys – very few of these forest patches remain in these populated valleys.

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Solanum acaule is a relatively common potato species at these high elevations – we have collected it before in southern Peru; the leaves hug tightly to the ground and the tiny flowers have big, bright green stigmas.


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We are not quite sure what species this is – the flowers are much bigger than those of Solanum acaule, and the leaves are different as well. When collecting it is important to keep things you think are different apart, even if they turn out to be the same in the end. This one is a different species though… I am sending a photo (and later the specimen) to my colleague David Spooner in Wisconsin to see if he can help!

 

Further up the road, the mountains proper began to show themselves – this range is called the Cordillera de la Viuda (Window’s Range - the name makes you wonder...) and the tallest peaks are all above 5,000 metres in elevation (the tallest, Rajuntay, is 5,475 m).

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Cordillera de la Viuda -  this range extends for about 50 miles and has several very tall peaks that are permanently snow-covered.

 

This high up there is little vegetation over a few centimetres tall, the plants are either grasses, or small and hugging the ground as rosettes or hidden in the shelter of rocks. The lack of vegetation cover allows one to really appreciate the complex and totally breath-taking geology of the Andes. The Andean mountain range is the result of the subduction of the Pacific plate under the continental margin and was pushed up and crumpled over the course of millions of years. The southern Andes are older than the ranges to the north – in Canta we were about in the middle. The range is between 10-30 million years old, relatively young in geological terms.

 

Driving along high mountain roads you can pass sections that are crumpled one way, then around the corner, other sections going in the opposite direction – this really brings home the dynamic and ever-changing nature of the earth we live on – it is not static and unchanging in the least!

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Paul, Dan and Mindy with nearly vertical strata behind…

 

The scenery in these high elevation habitats is not to be believed – I love the jungle and the dense forest, but the sense of space and openness at high elevation is special. At this point we were about 4,700 metres above sea level – the air is pretty thin up that high so running about is not to be recommended.

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The region in the Cordillera de la Viuda is peppered with tiny (and not so tiny) lakes with the most extraordinary colours and perfectly clear water.


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We were lucky to see viscachas – a lagomorph (rabbit relative) endemic to South America. This species is the northern viscachaLagidium peruanum) – known only from these high elevation habitats from central Peru to northern Chile. They look a bit like giant kangaroo rats, or gerbils. Again, like the condor, this picture is a bit fuzzy, they were hard to get close to!


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Sadly, even along this remote road you can still find the traces of humans – not just archeological remains, but more prosaic garbage. What in heaven’s name is a broom head doing far from the road amongst the cushion plants? In this climate it will be there for a long, long time…

 

The road climbed ever higher, but at about 4,800 metres it flattened out and began to go down – we decided to turn back – it was rumbling with thunder and began to hail. Erica and Dan had enough insects to keep them busy for hours and hours…

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The “pass” was more like a broad flat area; llamas and alpacas were grazing here, it was a bit high for cattle.

 

The hail on the top was a portent of things to come. The valley on the way back down was completely under cloud – in fact, it felt like we were IN the cloud, which I suppose we were in fact. At times the road wasn’t really visible, good job there was absolutely no traffic.

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The road was dirt and usually a single lane with drop-offs on one side and cliffs on the other, so the lack of traffic was actually a good thing. This is the view of the road (you can see it, can't you?) from the front seat. We saw several rock slides that I don’t remember from the way up… our mascot (San Martin de Porres I think) was clearly helping...


Back at the Hostal Santa Catalina Erica and Dan had several hours of insect prep to do, Paul, Mindy and I had the plants to prepare and put on the dryer – so we had a busy last evening in Canta. Tomorrow I return to Lima to fly out the next day back to London – the rest of the team is headed into the next valley north to go up again. That is travel in the Andes for you; up and down, up and down. They will drop me off on the Panamerican Highway near the coast and I will catch a bus or taxi back into Lima.

 

I wish I were going with them...

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As part of my job I often work with other curators and museum professionals. Part of having such a good network of colleagues is that we can learn from each other (us 'experts' don't know everything!).


Back in January (27th - 31st), I had the pleasure of the assistance of Alex Peaker who is a palaeontologist at Dinosaur Isle Museum on the Isle of Wight. Alex wanted to come to the Palaeontology Section to see how we document our specimens and deal with research visitors.

 

Here Alex tells us a bit about his job at Dinosaur Isle Museum and what he got up to during the week...

AlexPeakerCrop.jpgAlex Peaker ready to start his week with us at the Natural History Museum.


Dinosaur Isle is a museum that promotes the wealth of geology and palaeontology that can be found on the Isle of Wight. It displays a particularly fantastic collection of local dinosaur finds.

 

In a normal day's work I mostly deal with curation of the collection, spending much of my time documenting specimens into our electronic database, working with associated documentation, assisting with any enquiries, and facilitating research on our specimens.

 

Last year I had the fantastic opportunity to work for the museum with the Isle of Wight Destination Management Organisation, BBC, and 20th Century Fox, teaming together to work on promotion for the recently-released film Walking with Dinosaurs - the 3d movie. The result saw the creation of the Dinosaur Island augmented reality app, which has been a fantastic success in promoting the movie, the island, and our dinosaurs.

 

Recently I was given the chance to spend a week working at the Natural History Museum, which was greatly appreciated; the time that I spent there was absolutely amazing. The reason for the trip was to further my ability in curation, to work with people who have a wealth of experience in the area and to see how our practices compare to that of a national museum.

 

I spent the week working with Emma Bernard in the Fossil Fish Section, looking at:

  • documentation procedure
  • digitisation of the collection onto the Museum database (KE EMu)
  • general museum standards and policies
  • interpretation and outreach
  • display and storage of specimens

 

It was great to be able to work with such an amazing collection, and often with fossils that I have only seen in books. Virtually every drawer I opened seemed to have either a type fossil (the single specimen designated by an author to formally describe a new species), or something with an interesting history (e.g. donated by Sir Richard Owen). My personal favourites were a large Brychaetus (prehistoric bony fish) skull from the Isle of Sheppey, and a particularly large megalodon tooth (everybody loves a big shark, but even for megalodon this one was a real beast).

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Large Brychaetus skull (NHMUK PV P 3893), found from the Isle of Sheppey, UK.

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Megalodon tooth (NHMUK PV P 14534), found in Virgina, USA.


I was also given a chance to visit the Cephalopod and Brachiopod Section with Zoe Hughes, which was very interesting. I was shown some fantastic fossils including an amazing squid showing preservation of all of its soft tissue, and was even privileged enough to have a viewing of the 'Royal Brachiopod' (a fossil collected by Darwin on the Falklands that is often used as an example to royal visitors).

 

Thankfully the procedures set up at the Museum are very similar to those that I would work by at Dinosaur Isle but with some differences, most of which seem to derive from the size of the collections and slightly different collection policies (apart from a few comparative pieces, our collection holds exclusively Isle of Wight fossils whereas the Museum collects specimens from all over the world).

 

I learnt a lot in a week at the Museum with much of my newly-gained experience already having been a help at Dinosaur Isle. It was great to work with a fantastic group of people who were incredibly helpful and showed me a lot of great things.

I would like to thank the South East Museum Development Programme for the funding and making this opportunity possible.

 

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Alex photographing shark fin spines we brought back from Morocco.

 

Thanks very much to Alex for all his help during the week. He helped to document a lot of the specimens we collected whilst in Morocco and locate several specimens connected with our upcoming Sir Arthur Smith Woodward Symposium. I also learnt from Alex by discussing how he carries tasks out at Dinosaur Isle.

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Having survived the public transport ride up to the village of Canta and joined the rest of the team, we set off bright and early to look for more Solanaceae and their critters. Since Mindy, Dan, Erica and Paul had gone down the valley the day before, we decided to go up to the town of Obrajillo – worth a teensy mention in Dan’s guidebook as “oozing with colonial charm”.

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Definitely a colonial village, but pretty run down at the heels – this Merc was up on posts and had bags of grain in the front seat. There must be action here though during the foggy, cold season in Lima (September-October time) – hip hop is being advertised in the door behind the car!

 

We drove up beyond the town on a small dirt track that suddenly became a non-road – no harm done, but a bit of pushing was involved! The sun was shining and the insects were out – perfect conditions. Also perfect for sunburn… the sun at 2,900 metres elevation is pretty intense, and without sunscreen we pallid Europeans burn fast!

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Mindy and Paul looking for plants behind a somewhat random-seeming monument to the battle fought on the 2nd of May… Not in Obrajillo of course, but somewhere far away (in Callao on the coast near Lima in 1866 to be exact).

 

Since it had rained early in the afternoon the day before we decided to walk up spotting targets, then come back down collecting. The entomologists got to try out all their methods…

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Erica sweeping with wild abandon in a patch of potato wild relatives…

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Dan and Erica peering into their nets to see what they caught on the Solanum basendopogon that was creeping through the shrub on the right of the path…

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Erica sussing out just where to start suctioning up insects from a Jaltomata species growing against some rocks by the trail – the aspirator is basically a small, gentle hoover that sucks up anything on the leaves into a cup with a filter of gauze in the bottom, pop the top on and then sort it out in the evening!

 

One of the species we found here was Solanum habrochaites – a wild tomato relative – that the team had also collected from last year. This will be great for looking at the geographical distribution of insect communities on the same species – will the locality or the host species be the most important determinant of the insect communities association with the plants? Only by collecting from the same species in different localities (ideally at the same time of year) will we be able to start teasing apart these patterns.

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Solanum habrochaites occurs from Ecuador to central Peru and is quite variable in elevation and habit. It is an important wild tomato relative and has been used in the past to introduce new variation in the cultivated tomato for fruit sugar content. The sticky hairs all over the plant have a distinctive smell and could also be useful for plant breeders for insect resistance (the white dot on the flower is a white fly!).

 

About lunchtime a group of local people assembled in the valley below for a barbeque and dance/sing-along – Andean flute music and dancing. It was pretty atmospheric…

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The men on the rock in brightly colored ponchos did a sort of hand-waving dance – it looked good fun!

 

Well – it began to rain… earlier than the day before – so we headed back. Insect collecting with wet nets is just not possible. I begged though, and we went back to a spot we had seen a tomato relative not yet collected in the morning – it wasn’t actually raining (my logic ran…).

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Mindy showing just how big some of these tomato wild relatives can get – this one is Solanum corneliomulleri, a species that occurs in central Peru at higher elevations that we had not yet sampled from – so I was glad we had tried! We had collected this species in 2012, but no insects were collected on that trip…

 

Paul and Mindy pressed these last specimens and then we headed back to the hotel to sort the day’s catch, write up the notes, check our localities on Google Earth and otherwise get the plants onto the drier.

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Paul and Mindy emerging from the mist with the press full of solanums.

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The kind people in the hotel let us use the restaurant to sort out insects – amazingly even while other guests were ordering dinner…  we definitely recommend the Hostal Santa Catarina in Canta for biological field work!

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We set up our trusty gas plant drier (repaired by Tiina and Maria after our slight fire incident last year) in an unused communal bathroom… it works just a well as ever!

 

Tomorrow it is up to the puna – to find the high elevation potato wild relatives, and for me, to see if I can find some more interesting Solanum endemics… We will have to start out early to avoid the rain… can’t wait!