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A team of geologists from the Museum and Imperial College are in Mexico carrying out  fieldwork at two of the most active volcanoes in the world: Popocatépetl (Popo) and Colima. Catch up with their adventures in this series of blogposts.

 

Time flies – we've already been here for a whole week! While Popo was smoking and steaming like a champion, we dived deeply into the dirty, dark side of geology during this week: We sampled ash and pumice from the four large eruptions of the last 15,000 years. For hard-rock geologists like Chiara, Julie and me, this was a challenging task. So much dust, so few proper minerals! But if you want to understand how Popo works, this is simply what you need to go through.

 

Armed with shovels of various sizes, a tape measure, our geological hammers (you never know!), and, last but not least, a hoe (romantically referred to as the ‘mano de gato’ - ‘the hand of the cat’), we went out onto Popo’s flanks to search and exploit its volcanic deposits. Hugo, the Popo expert, unerringly navigated us to the top spots, where we then got to work. The following series of pictures reveals what this actually involved:

 

El Tronco.jpg

First of all, we need to get an overview about what we see. In this case, we are looking at the deposits of at least three large eruptions of the last 5,000 years. If you want to know more about such eruptions, just ask us!

 

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Next, we describe the different layers we see. This includes the size and properties of the clasts, the structures, and the thicknesses of the units.

 

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After that, we can start sampling. Sometimes it can be straightforward, sometimes you may need a helping mano de gato (‘the hand of the cat’) to clear the sampling site and guarantee a neat sample.

 

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Some or all parts of the layers might be covered with soil or debris. In this case, the shovels of various sizes come into play. This picture demonstrates that in doing so you may excavate more than rocks, such as the rubbish of what apparently was a big Mexican Fiesta (including diapers and mayonnaise).

 

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On other occasions, it might not be garbage, but a proper treasure that you dig out: A volcanic bomb! Hard-rock geologists, get your hammers and cameras ready!

 

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And this is what you get if you repeat the above steps for a whole week.

 

Now, this might have all been a bit nerdy, so I’ll finish this blog entry with an almost completely unrelated note. Of course we are not only interested in rocks, but also in Mexican culture. Naturally, when a worker in a quarry (we were there by chance, obviously) told us that there was a man in the nearby town San Nicolás de los Ranchos who would craft wonderful molcajetes (pestle and mortars), we went there immediately.

 

On the way there, Hugo explained to us that molcajetes are mortars especially designed for making salsa. Did I mention that they are made of rock? This is also why the salsa made using molcajetes tastes different than if you just use a simple blender – the sauce takes up the taste of the rock.

 

With this salsa-lesson learned, we were all quite keen to see these wonderful items. But how would we find the Molcajete Man in the village? It’s easier than you’d think: you just ask anyone on the street for molcajetes. He/she won’t be able to give you a helpful answer, but 3 minutes later the whole village will know about the lost tourists looking for molcajetes. Out of nowhere, a random girl will appear next to your car, offering to bring you to Molcajete Man. Being a lost tourist, you accept the offer and follow the girl for about 30 minutes through the village, which gives you the opportunity to take some tourist pictures:

 

San Nicolas 2.jpg

San Nicolás de los Ranchos is built on laharic deposits from Popocatépetl.

 

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Evacuation routes are signposted all around Popo.

 

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The presence of the volcano inspires local artists to draw their own conclusions on what happens in nature.

 

Finally, we reached the mansion of Molcajete Man. He looked different than I expected, but obviously he is a master of molcajeting.

 

Molcajete Man.jpg

Molcajete Man crafting a molcajete.

 

We would have really loved to get our own molcajete by that time, but these mortars are just way too big to transport to the UK. At least they are if you are already sending a garage full of pumice there.

 

Thus our pumice week has ended, and we enter phase two: rocks! I can already promise you it will be an exciting ride, so visit us again!

0

Hello Super-flies and Parasites fans!

 

We are back with all things nasty from the Parasites and Vectors division here at the Museum. There have been some exciting developments in the New Year, most importantly the launch of the Museum’s brand new website!

 

This is another ‘Forever Flies’ series of blog posts, bringing you news from the Museum'sforensic entomologygroup.

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Forever Flies is our forensic entomology blog series. This image shows a carrion-eating greenbottle blowfly.

 


Forensic Entomology

You will remember from my previous Forever Flies post that forensic entomology is the study of the insects and arthropods found at a crime scene. The most common role for Museum forensic entomologists is establishing a minimum time since death in suspicious cases, by analysing the carrion insects on the body.

 

2014-10-16 Gross maggots with adult.jpg   issue2forensic3_large.jpg

Blowflies use the bodies of dead animals to grow and develop. The rate at which they do this, going from egg to larva to pupa to adult fly, is pretty consistent and depends largely on ambient temperature. Forensic entomologists use this to determine the minimum post-mortem interval (PMImin), which helps crime scene investigators determine approximate time-of-death.


Thanks to entomological expertise (Greek – entomo = insect, logos = knowledge) scientists can collect insects from a corpse and/or crime scene, determine what stage in their life cycle the insects have reached and, using their knowledge on the duration of each stage of the insects’ life cycle, determine how long ago the parent insect laid her eggs on the corpse.

 

This gives an incredibly useful estimate of the minimum amount of time this body has been dead (minimum post-mortem interval - PMImin), which helps crime scene investigators determine approximate time-of-death. The more accurate this minimum post-mortem interval is, the more accurate the time of death can be. Knowing time of death can focus the police investigation and suggest the likelihood of a suspect’s involvement.

 

Scientists can also use these insects to determine if the body has been moved since death and how long a body was exposed above ground before burial.

 

Metamorphosis in pupae


Flies spend over 50% of their developmental life in the pupae stage, protectively encased inside a hard shell (called a puparium) where they slowly transform from a maggot into a fly in a process called metamorphosis (Greek again - Meta = change, morphe = form).

 

A puparium looks quite bland and boring but underneath there are all sorts of wonderful things going on. Scientists can remove the shell and, using traditional microscopy, take a look at the fascinating changes of metamorphosis. But this process does destroy the pupa sample, making it difficult to work out how long it takes for the pupa to go through the different stages of metamorphosis.

 

Scientists know that the length of time metamorphosis takes to complete really depends on temperature, the question is can we use our knowledge of the process to pinpoint a more accurate estimate of PMImin?  What forensic scientists need is a standardised method to work out:

  1. At what stage in the metamorphosis process is the pupa
  2. how long did it take to reach this stage

 

If these two points can be determined then scientists can provide a far more accurate PMImin.

 

The ‘MORPHIC’ project

 

Dr Daniel Martin-Vega, a forensic entomologist, has joined the Museum from the University of Alcalá in Spain to research carrion fly pupae and to develop a standardised protocol for aging pupae (as in determining their age) that can be used by forensic scientists. This project is called MORPHIC and is funded by the European Commission through a Marie-Curie fellowship.

 

It sounds all neat, logical and tidy but there is A LOT of work and dedication involved!

 

For this projectDaniel is raising two species of the carrion-loving blowflies, the greenbottle blowfly Lucilia sericata and the bluebottle blowfly Calliphora vicina. The flies live in netting covered cages, where they feed and reproduce whilst he monitors them.

 

Daniel feeding flies_resized2.jpgDaniel showing me the Diptera (insect) culture room. Each netting-covered box has a species of carrion blowfly in it. He is researching the pupae of these flies to see if he can improve the estimate of  PMImin and thus improve the information given to crime scene investigators.


He also has to collect the post-feeding maggots and place them in a box with some nice clean soil for them to happily grow until they are ready to start the metamorphosis process. These boxes are then placed in a cabinet kept at a specific temperature. Since the rate of metamorphosis largely depends on temperature it is very important the Daniel can control this environmental factor in order to document the rate of change at different temperatures.

 

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The maggot house! This is a comfy box with soil where maggots crawl around and prepare to pupate. When the maggots start pupating Daniel has to come in every 6 hours or so to monitor and collect them for his research

 

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Blowfly maggots and pupae.

 

 

Once the maggots start to pupate Daniel has to collect the pupae:

 

I come in every 6 hours when the maggots start to pupariate in order to collect blowfly pupae at 6-hour intervals during the first 48 hours after puparium formation (the period when the greatest morphological changes of metamorphosis occur). Luckily, I only do this from time to time. After that, the collection of pupae is just daily until the adult flies’ emergence.

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Daniel sieving out the pupae from the box.

 

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Maggots and pupae, oh my!

 

Watch those maggots wriggle about!

 

He then has to sieve out the pupae from the soil and carefully place them in a petridish labelled with the blowfly species name, the date collected and the time collected. These petridishes are also placed in the special temperature-control cabinet.

 

 

Fly puppa sorted_resized.jpg

Daniel has separated out the pupae of different species of blowfly. Each petridish with pupae has the species name, the date collected and the time collected.

 

where do you keep the maggots_resized.jpg

The petridishes are kept at a specific temperature. Since the rate of metamorphosis largely depends on temperature it is very important the Daniel can control this environmental factor.

 

Daniel uses the Museum’s wonderful micro-computed tomography (micro-CT) scanner to take detailed images of the inside of the pupae without destroying them. A micro-CT scanner is a type of X-ray scanner that produces 3D images, much like a hospital CAT scanner, but at a much smaller scale and a higher resolution. The results are like 3D microscope images! 

 

Thomas Simonsen and Daniel Martin-Vega analysing CT images of 5 pupae.jpg Thomas Simonsen and Daniel Martin-Vega operating Micro-CT scanner.jpg

Daniel with colleague Dr Thomas Simonsen using the Museum’s micro-CT scanner to look at 3D images of blow-fly pupae. The micro-CT scanner uses x-ray technology to produce 3D 'microscopy' images at high resolution without damaging the sample.

 

By using the Museum’s micro-CT scanner Daniel can take these detailed images at specific time points of the metamorphosis process.  He will then have a catalogue of images of the blow fly pupal development at specific temperatures. This catalogue of images will be used to develop a standardised tool to determine the age of blow fly pupae. Then when pupae are collected from a crime scene, they can be compared to this catalogue and scientists will be able to determine how long the fly has been in its pupal stage. Giving scientists a more accurate estimate of PMImin! Ta daaaaa!

 

C_vicina-48h.jpgC_vicina-216h.jpg

Micro-CT scanner images of a bluebottle blowfly Calliphora vicina pupa. The one on the left is at 48 hours, the one on the right at 216 hours. You can see the difference in development between the two pupa images.

 

Micro-CT scan of blowfly pupa.jpg

Dorsal micro-CT scanner image of a blowfly pupa.

 

I hope you enjoyed this post. If you fancy a stab at a bit of CSI work why not check out the Museum's Crime Scene Live After Hours events.

0

Adrian GloverDeep-Sea Systematics and Ecology Group, Department of Life Sciences

Wednesday 28 January 11:00

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


The deep oceans contain a vast and untapped wealth of minerals useful to humans. In geological terms, there is much known with regard the distribution of these minerals at different types of deep-sea environment. The first polymetallic (or manganese) nodules were recovered by the Challenger expedition in 1873, in the deep Atlantic. In the 1960s, the first estimates were made of the total mineral wealth of the oceans, and the first surveys undertaken. In 1978, the first fully integrated mining trials recovered several hundred tonnes of nodules from the central abyssal Pacific at depths of 5500m; in the preceding year, hydrothermal vents were discovered on the Galapagos rift. Since then, an average of 5 hydrothermal vent fields have been discovered every year, and 19 exploration licences for deep-sea minerals in both abyssal nodule and deep-sea vent environments have been issued by the United Naitons International Seabed Authority, 5 of these in 2014 alone. The United Kingdom government is sponsor to 2 exploration licence claims in the central Pacifc covering 267,000 square km, an area larger thant the UK itself.

Despite our accumulated knowledge of the mineral wealth of deep-sea ecosystems, our biological data remains extremely patchy. The central Pacific nodule regions have been well-sampled for nodules, but the majority of species are undescribed and fundamental questions such as the biogeographic distributions of animals unstudied. The diversity and ecological resilience of species to disturbance regimes are largely untested. At hydrothermal vents, critical data such as degrees of endemicity and gene-flow between vent fields is lacking.

The NHM is in a unique position to provide advice to industry and government, as well as academic research, in deep-sea mining from both the geological and environmental point of view. This has potential to be a key area in our Sustainable Futures strategy. In my research group, we have been working with an industrial contractor on the UK-1 deep-sea mining claim in the central Pacific for the last 18 months and are part of an EU FP7 deep-sea mining project. In this talk I will outline some of the history of deep-sea mining, the fundamental science at stake, our role in current projects, the importance of taxonomy, open data and bioinformatics and some of our plans for our forthcoming fieldwork (we sail for a 2-month trip on Feb 12).

 

More information on attending seminars at http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/news-events/seminars/

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Large centipedes and larger datasets

 

Dr Greg Edgecombe, Department of Earth Sciences, NHM

 

27th January - 4.00 pm

 

Earth Sciences Seminar Room (Basement, WEB 05, formerly Mineralogy Seminar Room)

                                         

Scolopendromorpha includes the largest and most fiercely predatory centipedes, totalling more than 700 species.  Subjected to phylogenetic analysis since the late 1990s, early studies drew on small sets of external morphological characters, mostly those used in classical taxonomic works.

 

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Scolopendra gigantea

 

In order to bolster the character sample, new anatomical data were worked up by systematically sampling the group’s diversity in order to formulate new characters from understudied structures/organ systems. Simultaneously, targeted sequencing of a few markers for a small (but growing) number of species provided the first molecular estimates of phylogeny.  These have resulted in stable higher-level relationships that predict a single origin of blindness in three lineages that share this trait, and are now backed up by transcriptomic datasets with high gene occupancy. Explicit matrices of morphological characters and fossils coded as terminal taxa remain vital to “total evidence” dating/tip dating of the tree.

 

More information on attending seminars at http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/news-events/seminars/

2

If you've joined us from our last blog post where we introduced the team, hello again! I'm really excited to be taking part in the Museum's newest citizen science project, The Microverse, that we launched at the end of 2014. This is a research project that will explore what microorganisms are living on UK buildings.

 

 

The research is being led by Dr Anne Jungblut, who studies microorganisms in extreme environments, exerting much of her research effort on the microorganisms that are found in Antarctica. Despite taking field trips to Antarctica, Anne is also very keen to explore the life that lives on buildings here in the UK, which - perhaps surprisingly - have received very little attention with respect to their microbiology to date.

 

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Cyanobacteria are the specific type of microorganism that Anne studies in Antarctica.

 

Like Antarctica, buildings are an extreme environment for life, exposing microorganims to extremes of wet and dry and - sometimes - high levels of pollution, while providing little access to nutrients. Anne approached Lucy Robinson and I to see if we could help her to recruit members of the public into collecting data (it would take Anne years if she collected the data from across the UK herself).

 

So we want to get 250 secondary schools to step out of the classroom and swab a local building.

 

Steveswabbing.jpg

Students will find a local building and collect samples from the wall using a cotton swab.

 

Throughout January and February, A-Level Biology students from across the UK will be swabbing buildings and recording data about the building's environment and form. The students will collect the samples on cotton wool swabs and post them back to the Museum in a preservative. Once here, Anne will then extract DNA from the swabs and sequence it, to reveal what types of microorganism groups are living there and how many different types.

 

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Samples are added to labelled tubes of DNA preservative to be sent back to the museum for analysis.

 

Schools will literally be contributing the genuine scientific research and to the Museum's collection, because Anne will use the data to publish academic research in a scientific journal and the specimens will be incorporated into our Molecular Collections Facility. This research project aims to determine the diversity of microorganisms on buildings across the UK and what types of variables are impacting on that diversity. It will form a foundation of knowledge from which more detailed questions can be asked.

 

If you are an A-Level Biology student or teacher, or you know of anyone that might like to get involved in The Microverse, there is still time to join the programme, just visit our webpage to find out how to take part. It's completely free and each school receives a pack with equipment and resources guiding both teachers and students through the method and the science. Data collection has already started in January and will continue throughout February, and the results will be returned to students by the end of March 2015.

 

Jade Lauren

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Meet the Museum's core citizen science team. First up, it's Lucy:

 

Lucy Robinson

Citizen Science Programme Manager

 

"Hello! As Programme Manager, I oversee all of the Museum's citizen science activities. My role is to update and promote our existing projects, and to work with our researchers, curators and public engagement staff to develop exciting new projects that support the Museum's scientific research.

 

DSC_2104 compressed.JPG

Lucy Robinson, worm charming for the OPAL soil and earthworm survey.

 

A key element of the citizen science programme is to support other citizen science practitioners to develop their own projects. We do this by producing knowledge exchange guides and publications, and I regularly represent the Museum at national and international citizen science conferences. I am a member of the global Citizen Science Association and the European Citizen Science Association, within which I lead a working group that aims to share best practice and build capacity in citizen science across Europe.

 

I've been working at the Museum in the field of citizen science for 7 years now, initially on the Big Lottery Funded OPAL project, and now as the Museum's programme manager. I love being at the interface of science research and public engagement, and am fortunate that my job means I'm working alongside world-class researchers. Over the past 7 years I've worked on citizen science projects studying earthworms, lichens, seaweeds, urban invertebrates, microorganisms and many other areas of biodiversity, and I love this variety in my role."

 

Jade Lauren Cawthray

Citizen Science Project Officer

 

"As Citizen Science Project Officer I am responsible for setting up and running citizen science projects here at the Museum. I work with staff from across the Museum, to define a research question, develop the data collection method, produce the resources that support participants in collecting and analysing the data, and communicate the results at the end of the project.

 

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Jade collecting leaf samples in the Bialowieza Forest, Poland.

 

Really important to furthering our work in citizen science is my role in advocating and communicating citizen science and the projects that we run. Not only do we need to communicate to the public what projects they can contribute to and how they might benefit from getting involved, but we also need to demonstrate to research scientists how working with citizen scientists can support them in fulfilling their research ambitions.

 

As both an ecologist and a science communicator, I combine knowledge from both fields to developing public engagement opportunities that support people in engaging with and better understanding nature.

 

I started working at the Museum nearly 3 years ago as a Science Educator, delivering the Museum’s learning offer to school and family groups. I then joined the citizen science team in August 2014."

 

John Tweddle

Head of the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity

 

"With a background in palaeoecology, I - like Lucy - also worked on the OPAL citizen science programme for many years as OPAL Project Manager. That time was spent developing and delivering new citizen science projects as well as coordinating the taxonomy, public events and exhibitions, and voluntary natural history societies aspects of the OPAL programme.

 

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John teaching identification skills to Cubs, out in the field.

 

I subsequently left my role in OPAL to become Head of the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity (AMC). The AMC forms a hub for partnership-based UK natural history engagement, training and research, and provides a focus for the Museum’s citizen science programme. Our mission is to inspire and support the development of existing and future naturalists.

 

Projects range from citizen science surveys, to answering public identification enquiries, provision of wildlife identification resources and training, and research into critical aspects of the UK’s biodiversity.

 

The AMC also acts as a free drop in resource centre where UK natural history enthusiasts of all abilities can further their interest by accessing UK reference collections, library materials, microscopes and expertise.

 

I am a founding Steering Committee member for the global Citizen Science Association and a member of the British Ecological Society Citizen Science Special Interest Group."

 

So, that's a quick introduction to each of us. In our next blog post, we’ll introduce you to our latest citizen project... see you there.

 

Jade Lauren

0

We introduced our new digital herbarium project in a previous post: with the herbarium of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, we are moving 70,000 plant specimens temporarily to Picturae, a specialist company in the Netherlands, so that the herbarium sheets can be imaged in the most speedy and effective way. 

 

The images will then be sent to Suriname for transcription of the typed and hand-written information on the sheets into electronic form.  The information includes the species identification, the place and date of collection and often the collector, that can link to field notebooks and other resources. The images and data will then be accessible via online databases to scientists and conservation biologists and others for research and better understanding of plant distribution and biogeography.

 

This is what it all looked like as we packed up and got ready to go - not many people see this, so worth showing:

 

NHM_JAJ_DSC_7974.jpgThe NHM herbarium compactors

 

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and the grey cupboards on the compactors

 

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Jacek Wajer removing specimens of Dioscoreaceae (yams and related plants)

 

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And wheeling them away on a trolley

 

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Steve Cafferty preparing the transport boxes for the specimens

 

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Jacek putting the specimens into the boxes

 

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with colleague Jonathan Gregson

 

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And Jonathan fitting the boxes onto the trolleys on which they will travel to Picturae in the Netherlands

 

 

More blogs to follow as the project progresses!  #DigitalHerbarium #NHM #Kew

 

 

@KewScience @NHM_Science

 


 


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Kew and the Natural History Museum are working together on large scale digitisation of their plant collections - #digitalherbarium #Kew #NHM

 

 

Trolleys containing green boxes.

 

Packing specimens at Kew. Kew is sending 41,000 specimens.

 

Plants preserved as herbarium specimens provide the evidence of what plants there are, where they grow and when they were collected. They provide the basis for modelling plant distribution over time, act as evidence that ensures plants are named consistently, and are a source of material for analyses of anatomy, disease and disease control, biochemistry and evolutionary relationships. Together, the herbaria at Kew and the Natural History Museum, London, contain more than 12 million specimens and are consulted by many visitors from around the world. Much of the information that these researchers need is stored away in cupboards, and is therefore not discoverable until a scientist visits the institution and looks inside. By providing images and data from these specimens online, anyone interested in plant diversity, for research or just for interest, can discover what our institutions hold and then access the information they need.

 

Recently some large European herbaria such as the Muséum National D’Histoire Naturelle in Paris and Naturalis in The Netherlands have had digital images made of their entire collections in order to make both specimen images and data about each collection available. Kew and the Natural History Museum have been working closely with Picturae, the company involved in the digitisation of the Naturalis herbarium, to develop cooperative workflows to make digital images and capture data from part of the two institutions’ collections.


packing.jpg
Jacek Wajer and Jonathan Gregson selecting specimens for packing at the Natural History Museum

 

We are embarking on the first stage of this adventure starting the last week of January. This first stage is a pilot to refine workflows and to gather information so we can plan larger scale projects in the future. We are focusing our efforts on several groups of economic plants, the genus Solanum (potatoes, tomatoes and aubergines), the St. John’s Worts (Hypericum) and the family Dioscoreaceae (yams). In all, approximately 70,000 specimens will be digitised using Picturae’s ‘digistreet’ methods. A ‘digistreet’ is essentially a purpose-built conveyor belt system that minimises manual handling of fragile herbarium specimens and captures high resolution images of each. After quality control and checking at both Picturae and the respective institutions, detailed information on where and when each plant was collected will be transcribed from the labels on the specimens by a team in Suriname.


Our objectives for this pilot phase are:


  • Image all Kew’s and NHM’s selected pilot herbarium specimens to an agreed common standard
  • Transcribe all the label collection data from these specimens to an agreed standard.
  • Incorporate all of the images and data into the institutions’ specimen catalogues to make them discoverable on-line.
  • Work together to refine accurate costing of mass digitisation using Picturae’s methods and develop joint workflows that will facilitate future work involving more partners across the UK.

 

This important pilot will lay the foundation for future collaborative work, with the eventual goal of providing access to the rich botanical collections held in UK institutions. We will share the results of our pilot with other institutions to help increase access to the wealth of information on global plant diversity held within the UK and to maximise the scientific and conservation impact of data held in plant collections worldwide. We hope that others will want to join in on this adventure!


picturae.jpg

The Picturae conveyor belt imaging system in Amsterdam.

 

 

The pilot began on the 19th of January with material being sent to Picturae in the Netherlands. We will be tweeting and blogging on the progress of the project as the specimens are shipped, imaged and transcribed - follow us on Twitter using the hashtags  #digitalherbarium #Kew #NHM

 

 

Find out more:

Picturae Digistreet

Natural History Museum: Digital Museum

Kew Herbarium

1

Two species of wasp have been identified as belonging to a whole new genus endemic to the isolated Atlantic island of St Helena.

 

St Helena, a British Overseas Territory, is home to more than 400 species that can't be found anywhere else. However, the wildlife is under serious threat from development and invasive species.

Napoleon complex

The new wasp genus, named Helenanomalon in honour of its home territory, belongs to a family of parasitoid wasps - those that spend a part of their lifecycle on another organism that they eventually kill. However, little is known about the specific lifestyle of Helenanomalon since only a handful of specimens are known to exist.

Helenanomalon-700.jpg

One of the new wasps species, Helenanomalon bonapartei

 

The most recent specimens came to the Museum following a collecting expedition in 2006 that included the former Head of Entomology collections at the Museum, Howard Mendel. On re-examining the specimens, and a couple of others at the Musée de l'Afrique Centrale, Museum hymenoptera curator Dr Gavin Broad assigned them to two different species in the new genus:

These little wasps belong to the family Ichneumonidae, a huge family with over 24,000 described species in the world, but with only six species known to have made it all the way to St Helena. That two of these species form a genus not known anywhere else in the world is remarkable.

One of the new species, Helenanomalon bonapartei, is named after St Helena's most famous exile, whilst Helenanomalon ashmolei is named after Philip and Myrtle Ashmole, who have led recent work in exploring and documenting the fauna of St Helena.

Lost giants

Islands like St Helena often host unique organisms that have evolved in isolation for millions of years. However, these species are also extremely vulnerable to changes such as introduced predators and habitat loss.

 

St Helena used to be home to the world's largest earwig, the giant earwig, which reached over 8cm long and lived in deep burrows. Only a few specimens of the giant earwig have been recorded, and several scouting trips since the 1960s have failed to find any living examples. It is now considered extinct.

Giant-earwig-700.jpg

St Helena giant earwig, Labidura herculeana

 

Says Dr Broad:

The extinction of the giant earwig was a sad reminder of how vulnerable island endemics can be. There is still much work to be done on assessing just how unique the St Helena fauna is, and Philip Ashmole tells me that they have collected other potentially new genera of insects and spiders but the taxonomy of the groups concerned is difficult and there are few people with the expertise.

 

The native vegetation has been massively reduced by the usual pressures of introduced goats, non-native species, inappropriate agriculture, and so on. Restoring the native vegetation, particularly the seriously denuded forests, is the most important step in conserving the unique invertebrates.

3

We are delighted to welcome you to our Popocatépetl blog, which for the next three weeks will be fed with facts, anecdotes, pictures and maybe even videos of our fieldwork at two of the currently most active volcanoes in the world: Popocatépetl (henceforth: Popo) and Colima (henceforth: Colima).

 

1 - First Popo glance.jpg

Our very first view on Popo, at dawn in Amecameca. Not yet convinced? Scroll down and prepare to be amazed!

 

But first things first: introductions. Our team includes Chiara, volcano-addicted petrologist at the Museum, Julie, passionate geochemist and lecturer at Imperial College, and me (Martin), their new PhD student. I'll be focusing all my energy on Popo in the coming years.

 

Together, we're setting out to shed light on what makes Popo erupt, a poorly understood yet very important issue, since there are more than 30 million people living around Popo – that’s about half the population of the UK! By analysing the rocks and crystals that Popo has erupted in the last 23,000 years, Chiara, Julie and myself are trying to find out more about how Popo works, which will hopefully help in forecasting future eruptions and keeping the people living there safe.

 

But to do all this, we first need rocks – a lot of rocks! And that’s exactly why we are in Mexico right now. Together with our local colleagues, Hugo and Guillem, we will spend our days at the volcano, looking for the freshest rocks around and putting them into plastic bags. As Popo is quite active in the moment, this is a quite exciting and dangerous task!

 

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Popo is in a steamy mood these days.

 

But before we dive into excitement and danger with you, we want to give you an idea of our experiences during the last 48 hours. We started in London Heathrow (25.3m above sea level) on Sunday night, arrived in Mexico City twelve hours later, went straight up to Paso de Cortes (3,400m a.s.l) to get a close grasp of Popo, then had a decent rest in our hotel in Amecameca, just to get up again at 5.30 the next morning for a 10-hour day of die-hard pumice sampling at almost 4,000m a.s.l.

 

Now we are a bit tired – so we thought we would give you and us an easy start with some Popo pictures, taken all around the volcano. You will surely agree that Popo is in good shape, and a truly admirable volcano – ‘a proper strat’, as Julie put it musically.

 

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Popo as seen from Paso de Cortes - preparing for the big bang?

 

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Volcanic eruptions are not the only danger lurking at Popo's flanks. Luckily Julie knows no fear and chases away the feral cow.

 

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After the cow-shock we seek comfort in some good old volcano stratigraphy!

 

If you want to know what Popo does next, how we deal with the thin air and the cows, and how fashionably we collect both hard and soft rocks, we urge you to come back here. Also, don’t be afraid to leave comments, questions, and general thoughts about volcanoes.

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Welcome to the Museum's new blog about citizen science! Before we get started, we should probably give you a quick outline of what citizen science actually is... here's a snippet from our official blurb:

 

'...the involvement of volunteers in scientific projects that contribute to expanding our knowledge of the natural world, through the systematic collection, analysis or interpretation of environmental observations.'

 

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Cubs learning about British natural history from one of the Museum’s experts at a Big Nature Day event in our Wildlife Garden.

 

And here it is in a little bit more depth... It's at its essence a type of volunteering for the Museum that absolutely anyone can get involved with. Each of our citizen science projects have a specific scientific goal and a flexible approach to participation - you can take part at a time that suits you, at a location of your choice, and either with your friends and family or on your own.

 

Anyone can take part in our projects and we have and have had a wide variety to suit any interest: our current projects include collecting samples of microorganisms for DNA analysis, reporting stranded whales and dolphins, transcribing hand-written registers that detail the Museum's collections, or recording observations of bluebells, orchids, seaweeds or invertebrates.

 

You can find out more about how to take part in our projects here and - of course - by following our new blog where we intend to show you what happens behind-the-scenes and what happens next when you have submitted your data to us.

 

Over the next few posts we'll introduce you to the team and, from that point on, we'll be sharing regular updates and news of exciting developments. We hope you feel inspired to take part and contribute to the Museum's scientific research!

 

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Naturalists sorting and identifying specimens in the field.

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SPECIMEN LABELS are very important because they provide information that will help with identification and provide useful scientific data (without this information specimens have not scientific value). Please feel free to adapt the specimen labels in the document attached

 

TIPS

1. Print specimen labels before you visit a locality, this will make collecting quicker and easier.

  • You can adapt the specimen labels attached and insert your name to save time and effort.What to include?
  • exact location: name of beach/field/garden/farm
  • Was it loose on the ground or dug up?
  • name of town
  • county
  • country

 

2. If you don't have a label, even a scrap of paper will do ....(I have inserted bus and train tickets which show the date and destination).


3. Keep specimen labels, a pencil and notebook handy along with plastic bags so you can wrap and label your specimens as soon as you find them.

 

4. Newspaper is very useful for wrapping specimens, which also prevents them drying out too quickly

 

 

THE FOSSIL COLLECTOR'S TOOLKIT:Always follow the Geological Code
THE FOSSIL COLLECTOR'S TOOLKIT:
  • hand lens
  • notebook, pencil and marker pen
  • newspaper for wrapping specimens, which also prevents them drying out too quickly
  • appropriate footwear and clothing
  • long-handed trowel, fork, long shoe-horn for overturning small nodules
  • camera
  • First Aid kit
  • hygienic wipes
  • water and a snack!

 

A hammer is useful, but do remember to wear goggles when splitting rocks.

Brushes and a sieve can be useful to avoid carrying unnecessary sand or clay

 

 

Always follow the Geological Code: http://www.rockwatch.org.uk/geological_code.html

The Scottish code may be found: http://www.scottishgeology.com/where-to-go/fossil-collecting/fossil-code/

 

Consider all aspects of heath and safety regarding the site and also from your perpective and the people with you. A useful place for fossil localities, the sorts of fossils that you might find, specific safety considerations and  may be found here. You THere is oftehttp://www.discoveringfossils.co.uk/locations.htm

 

IMPORTANT - Check the times of tides before the visit

 

The essentials of the Scottish Fossil Code:
  • Seek permission – You are acting within the law if you obtain permission to extract, collect and retain fossils.
  • Access responsibly – Consult the Scottish Outdoor Access Code prior to accessing land.

        Be aware that there are restrictions on access and collecting at some locations protected by statute.

  • Collect responsibly – Exercise restraint in the amount collected and the equipment used.
    • Be careful not to damage fossils and the fossil resource.
    • Record details of both the location and the rocks from which fossils are collected.
  • Seek advice – If you find an exceptional or unusual fossil do not try to extract it;
    • but seek advice from an expert.
    • Also seek help to identify fossils or dispose of an old collection.
  • Label and look after – Collected specimens should be labelled and taken good care of.
  • Donate – If you are considering donating a fossil or collection choose an Accredited museum,

                       or one local to the collection area.

 

The Code and associated leaflet may be viewed and downloaded from www.snh.gov.uk. - See more at: http://www.scottishgeology.com/where-to-go/fossil-collecting/fossil-code/#sthash.UjwF72sd.dpuf

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Interested in fossils, rocks and minerals and want to get involved?

The Geologists’ Association has its own club for young geologists and families, Rockwatch. For more information: www.rockwatch.org.uk.


More information and useful websites:
http://www.ukge.com/

http://www.discoveringfossils.co.uk/equipment.htm


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Leeds Museum Crinoid Geoblitz.

I thoroughly enjoyed a crinoid Geoblitz (systematic review of crinoids using Geoblitz criteria below) with the curator Neil Owen of Leeds Museum. There were some interesting specimens - I particularly enjoyed seeing the large slab of Woodacrinus crinoids - there were juveniles as well adult crinoids.

 

Stars were given GOLD= High (meets all four of he criteria), Silver and Bronze .

CRITERIA:
  1. Scientific – is of taxonomic or other research importance; including being cited or published.
  2. Historic – associated with a known collector, donor, locality, site, discovery, date or instiation; support research in a specific field
  3. Rarity/Uniqueness – internationally, nationally or regionally important; rare in museums collections and/or from an important local or SSSI site
  4. Public Engagement – has an interesting history, has good public engagement potential for display, events or publicity.

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BACKGROUND - Leeds Museum Geology Collection (over 24, 000 Minerals, Rock Types and Fossils from around the world)

The Geology Collection dates back to the 1820’s and has been awarded a “Designated Outstanding Collection” by the Arts Council England.

 

The fossil collection comprises (approx. 12,000 specimens – some were donated from well known collectors:

  • The Ethlered Bennett’s collection of rocks and fossils,
  • Ernest E. Gregory collection of rocks and fossils
  • Cyril P. Castell collection of fossils.

 

What is a Geoblitz? what is the aim?

 

  • To assess the collection and to identify individual specimens, therefore highlight specifica key taxa for star grading system.

 

This assessment/identification will be used to enable greater usage/engagement of the collection and promote Star specimens for :

  • Future events
  • Public engagements/Outreach
  • Research.

 

Fiona E. Fearnhead

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Answering questions about the collections and subject areas of expertise is a 'bread and butter' job for a curator that often goes unnoticed at end-of-year reporting. Since January 1996 I have kept notebooks recording details of all the external enquiries I have answered. In this post I look back over my enquiries books to choose some that gave me most satisfaction, made me sad, nostalgic, resulted in important discoveries, were smelly or just weird!

 

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My enquiry books with details of every enquiry I have answered since 1996.

 

I have been asked so many different things over the years. Here are some general themes with the most common listed at the top:

 

  • Can I visit the collections/micropalaeontology library?
  • Do you have a particular species in the collection?
  • Do you have material collected by so-and-so?
  • Do you have Cretaceous/Jurassic (or any other age) material from (substitute name of country/city/town/site etc)?
  • Can you provide an image of one of your specimens?
  • Can I borrow material?
  • Please can you provide a copy of one of your papers or an article present in the Museum Library?
  • Please can you peer review a manuscript for a journal/book/magazine?
  • Do you have any volunteer opportunities?
  • Do you have any job opportunities?
  • Can you identify my fossil? (Usually these are images for microfossils but I have on rare occasions received actual microfossil specimens by post)
  • Who do I contact to gain access to the dinosaur collection?
  • Can you provide information about techniques to collect, process and illustrate microfossils?
  • Please provide a letter of support for our grant proposal to fund a project that will use your collections.
  • Can you provide a reference for a job application by one of your former volunteers or staff members?
  • Can you carry out some commercial work to date a rock sample?
  • Can you present an evening lecture at our local geological society?
  • Please provide information about UK stratigraphy or microfossil collecting sites.
  • Please provide advice on curation policies and procedures.
  • Please comment on these museum display/book figure captions.
  • Can you provide career advice?
  • Can you value or provide advice on how to value museum objects?
  • Can you provide information for a press article?
  • Can we film you?
  • And finally... Tell me all you know about micropalaeontology (yes, I was once asked this).

 

Who asks the questions?

 

Most questions come from academics or students, but we also deal with commercial enquirers, local amateur groups, artists, general members of the public, media and personal contacts. My post on who visits our collections and why? looks at this in more detail.

 

Have the types of enquiries changed over 20 years?

 

When I first arrived at the Museum many enquiries came from contacts I had made prior to coming to the Museum and were often requests for literature or details of my PhD work. At the time I was in charge of the Former BP Collection. Nobody knew we had it and BP had placed some restrictions on access so very few of my enquiries related to collections access.

 

As my career progressed I became responsible for larger parts of the collection until in 2011 I became responsible for the entire microfossil collection and now receive at least one enquiry per working day of the year and five times as many enquiries per year as I did at the start of my career.

 

What enquiry gave me the most satisfaction to answer?

 

Looking back it was particularly satisfying to see enquiries that led to visits that started major research projects or resulted in key publications. In a previous post I mentioned a visit by Paul Pearson of Cardiff University that initiated a long term research project on exceptionally preserved material from Tanzania.

 

Which enquiries made me most nostalgic?

 

These would have to be ones where I made first contact with people who subsequently became colleagues or long term collaborators. For example I was amazed to read that I first met Dermeval do Carmo when he visited in 1997. He recently invited me to Brazil to give a course on managing collections. Another enquiry from the late 1990s was from another Brazilian - Martha Richter who wrote a paper with me, subsequently applied for a job here at the Museum and later became my boss!

 

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Part of one of the ichthyosaurs on display in Waterhouse Way at the Museum and the outline of an ichthyosaur used elsewhere in the display.

 

What was my smelliest enquiry?

 

When I first came to the museum in 1993 there used to be a desk in the department foyer where enquiries officer Vie Wasey sat and members of the public would bring specimens for identification. When she was away we took it in turns to stand in for her. One time a member of the public brought a shoe box in which he said there a was an ichthyosaur skull he'd found on the beach at Lyme Regis. As he unwrapped the specimen a terrible rotting stench filled the room and I sent him quickly off to the Zoology Department as it turned out to be a dolphin skull!

 

What enquiry made me saddest?

 

I was once standing in for my boss and as a result I received a detailed enquiry relating to a specimen in a collection managed by one of my colleagues. Shortly afterwards the enquirer sent me an irate e-mail asking why I could not immediately locate and give advice on a specimen in another part of the Museum collection that they wanted to cast/borrow/prepare. 'Surely anyone should be able to do this?' was their response. That particular correspondence prompted me to write a blog post entitled Do we need specialist curators?

 

What was my strangest enquiry?

 

In the very early days of email correspondence I was contacted by someone who was convinced that I was witholding information about microfossils present in the stones at Stonehenge. It took some time before they stopped asking me for details. They even asked if they could visit to see the collections as they did not believe me.

 

Did any enquiries lead to important discoveries?

 

In 2006 I was sent a sample of limestone to analyse by an oil company in Oman. They wanted me to recover conodonts to date a rock formation. The rock contained no conodonts but it did contain tiny fragments of some of the oldest fossil fish ever discovered. Since then I have visited Oman twice to collect more and I have been sent much more rock from Oman to analyse that has yielded both conodonts and fish and has led to several publications.

 

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Reconstruction of the early fish Sacabambaspis (with permission from Ivan Sansom, University of Birmingham) and a scanning electron microscope image of a Sacabambaspis scale from the Ordovician of Oman.

 

My job is changing over the next few months to 'Collections Manager of Micropalaeontology, Petrology and Ores'. This means that curators under my management will have responsiblity for answering many of the types of collections enquiries I have listed above. I have decided to stop keeping my enquiries book but I shall continue to blog!

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Deep Diving, New Species Discovery and the Greatest Library on Earth

 

Special Science Seminar on communicating how biodiversity is the Earth's most valuable asset

 

Richard L. Pyle

Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii

   

Wednesday 14 January, 4pm Flett Theatre, NHM London

 

Preceded by coffee & tea in Flett Foyer from 3:15pm

    

The number of species on planet Earth that remain unknown to science exceeds (perhaps vastly) the number of species that have so far been discovered, let alone formally documented. Earth's biodiversity, which represents a library of accumulated information shaped by nearly four billion years of evolution, is arguably the most valuable asset on the planet for the long-term survival of humanity. Within the global biodiversity library, we are at this point in human history like toddlers running through the halls of the Library of Congress, largely unaware of the true value of the information that surrounds us. At the current pace of species discovery and documentation, in the context of what appears to be the dawn of the sixth great extinction, we are losing the race to document this enormous wealth of information before it is lost forever. Taxonomists are the librarians, developing new tools to build the card catalog for the Greatest Library on Earth. The tools include new research and means to access and integrate information. What we accomplish within the next twenty years will impact the quality of life for humans over the next twenty thousand years. 

 

Rich Pyle is globally recognised as an ichthyologist exploring extreme deep reef habitats, a bioinformatician and an ICZN Commissioner, a SCUBA re-breather engineer and and a two-time, two-topic TED Speaker. Here’s his TED blurb:

  • Ichthyologist Richard Pyle is a fish nerd. In his quest to discover and document new species of fish, he has also become a trailblazing exploratory diver and a pioneer of database technology.  A pioneer of the dive world, Richard Pyle discovers new biodiversity on the cliffs of coral reefs. He was among the first to use rebreather technology to explore depths between 200 and 500 feet, an area often called the "Twilight Zone." During his dives, he has identified and documented hundreds of new species. Author of scientific, technical and popular articles, his expeditions have also been featured in the IMAX film Coral Reef Adventure, the BBC series Pacific Abyss and many more. In 2005, he received the NOGI Award, the most prestigious distinction of the diving world.
  • Currently, he is continuing his research at the Bernice P. Bishop Museum, outside Honolulu, Hawai'i, and is affiliated with the museum's comprehensive Hawaii Biological Survey. He also serves on the Board of Directors for the Association for Marine Exploration, of which he is a founding member. He continues to explore the sea and spearhead re-breather technology, and is a major contributor to the Encyclopedia of Life.