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LIFE SCIENCES DEPARTMENT SEMINAR

 

 

Bees.jpg

 

 

Taxonomic background information is essential for bee conservation

 

Denis Michez

Laboratory of Zoology,  University of Mons,  Belgium

 

Friday 31 of January 11:00

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


Bees are a monophyletic group of largely pollenivorous species derived from among the predatory apoid wasps. Their extant diversity is estimated to be about 20.000 species worldwide, with 2000 species known from Europe. Many European bee species are in strong decline and several working groups are currently analyzing potential drivers of range contraction. Here I would like to address the importance of clear taxonomic background information to correctly characterize bee decline and to develop a conservation program at global scale.

 

 

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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LIFE SCIENCES DEPARTMENT SEMINAR

 

British Butterfly.jpg

 

 

 

Using the NHM collections to track the long-term seasonal response of British butterflies to climate change

 

Steve Brooks

Department of Life Sciences, NHM

 

Wednesday 29 January 11:00

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

 

 

Changes in the emergence dates of British butterflies have been documented from observational monitoring data which mostly date from the 1970s. Few data, however, are currently available to extend the baseline to the period before the onset of rapid climate change. An important, but neglected, source of information is available in the NHM collections, which can extend this record to the mid-19th century. Our results show that British butterfly collection data reflect phenological responses to temperature. First collection dates of museum specimens advance during warm years and retreat during cold years. Rates of change, however, appear to be slowing in some species, when compared to recent observational data, suggesting some species may be approaching the limits of phenological advancement. Steve Brooks will discuss the potential  of the NHM collections to study the response of animals and plants to recent climate change.

 

 

 

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

1

At this time of year we are watching for the first signs of life on the ground, and in this exceptionally mild winter the glossy green spikes of bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) leaves had already started poking through the leaf litter in late December followed by the curled leaves of dog’s mercury (Mercurialis perennis). And in a small corner, the blue-green tips of snowdrop have been gently pushing through the soil.

 

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) were not planted in the Garden and do not belong in the woodland plant communities that we're trying to create, but when a single snowdrop flower first appeared a few years ago I didn't have the heart to remove it and I have watched it reappear each year with steady but increasing vigour. Its first flowering date has varied by a few days to a week - the latest being 4 February last year - a harsh winter. We found it in flower at lunchtime today - 27 January -  though there were plenty of earlier sightings elsewhere in the country as reported in The Woodland Trust's Nature's Calendar.

 

Wildlife%20Garden%2027Jan2014_037[1] copy-700px.JPGSnowdrop in the Wildlife Garden - lunchtime on 27 January

Jonathan Jackson

 

But is it or is it not indigenous to Britain? Museum botanist, Fred Rumsey, tells us more about this dainty flower and how it arrived in this country:


Snowdrops are so familiar to us and are so ubiquitous in those areas around where we live that it has been natural to think of them as native.

 

2.+2533%20Galanthus%20nivalis%20at%20Woollard_1[1]+(Custom).jpg

Common snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) in drifts in a wooded Somerset lane

Fred Rumsey

 

However, this isn’t the case and although we know that they were present in British gardens by 1597, the first records from a wild situation were not made until 1778. Clues to their true status can be gained by looking in detail at where they appear in our landscape and in which habitats.

 

In most cases it is apparent from where the plants have escaped as most plants grow near gardens, when in wilder places they usually appear with other plants of garden origin; seed-set is often poor and most spread is by gradual division of the bulbs. This clonal spread is often most apparent where the double flowered ‘flore pleno’ forms have been planted.

 

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Galanthus ‘Blewbury Tart’: found in St. Michael’s churchyard, Blewbury, Oxon. in the 1970s - it has upward facing rather spiky double flowers

Fred Rumsey


People often don’t realise that there are actually quite a few species of snowdrop (genus Galanthus). Views differ on how many, but most authorities currently recognize 20. These are distributed from southern-central Europe, through the eastern Mediterranean, down to the mountains of the Middle East but with the highest concentration of species and diversity in Turkey and the Caucasus.

 

4+Galanthus%20ikariae%20Warley%20023[1]+(Custom).jpg

Galanthus ikariae: a broad green-leaved snowdrop from the Greek Islands. Plants now sold as this are usually the similar G. woronowii from the Caucasus. It has a smaller green mark.

Fred Rumsey

 

While all rather similar in appearance subtle differences help differentiate them. The key points to look at are the arrangement of the leaves when they emerge: are they separate and facing each other, or does one wrap round the other? Are the margins flat or neatly folded under?

 

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Supervolute vernation: the inner leaf wrapped by the outer, as shown by Galanthus elwesii and very different from that shown by G. nivalis

Fred Rumsey

 

What colour are they: grey, greeney-grey or green; matt or glossy? The flowers too differ: when are they produced, from Autumn to late spring, and in their form - the shape and colouration of the three smaller, inner perianth segments being most useful to tell the species apart.


Much of the horticultural interest in these plants though is not centred on the wild-type species but on the selected cultivars of them, many of which are of hybrid origin. The return of soldiers and tourists from the Crimean wars with floral souvenirs in the shape of the more robust and free-seeding Galanthus plicatus (pleated snowdrop) brought excellent breeding stock back into British gardens. These when mixed with the common snowdrops in our gardens have given rise to some of the most garden-worthy and persistent snowdrop cultivars.

 

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Galanthus ‘Wasp’: a popular cultivar with narrow outer perianth segments and strong markings on the inners which together give its waspish appearance

Fred Rumsey


In recent years these plants have been experiencing a huge surge of interest with many more gardeners overcome by ‘Galanthomania’ - the demand for new and interesting named cultivars pushing prices up to stratospheric levels.

 

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  Galanthus ‘Hippolyta’: a very neat double flowered hybrid raised by H.A. Greatorex in the 1940s

Fred Rumsey

 

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Galanthus elwesii ‘Grumpy’

Fred Rumsey

 

Each year during the brief season some bulbs change hands on internet auction sites for many hundreds of pounds. Flowers in which the green colouration normally just found on the tips of the inner segments occurs over much of the flower seem particularly sought after and fought over, as are those with more peculiarly shaped flowers with all of the segments similar in shape and colour - my favourites of these are ‘Trym’ and ‘South Hayes’.

 

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Galanthus ‘South Hayes’

Fred Rumsey

 

Thank you Fred, and for the beautiful photographs.

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This week we have 27 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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DS3988_Evolve18_COVER.jpg

 

 

Another bumper EVOLVE edition (Issue 18 Winter 2014) for the Library & Archives collections and staff!

 

Women Artists

Andrea Hart (Special Collections Librarian) gives us a prelude to the forthcoming exhibition in the Images of Nature Gallery which begins in March. Over the following 16 months the work of numerous female artists will be featured, in display cases whose contents will change every 4 months. This exhibition is FREE. A book to accompany the exhibition will be published in February.

 

The Importance of Trifles: Sir William Flinders Petrie

Karolyn Shindler (L&A Associate) explores the fascinating life of this Egyptologist and archaeologist.

 

The Museum's War effort

Daisy Cunynghame (Archivist) discovers the impact that World War One had on the Museum's life and how the staff contributed to the national war effort. 

 

Hereward Chune Dollman

Hellen Pethers (Reader Services Librarian) looks at the life and work of this British Entomologist, and his collections housed in the Library & Archives and Science Departments.

 

Evolve is available to purchase via the Museum website, in the shop or members

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NEXT EARTH SCIENCES DEPARTMENT SEMINAR

Thermopolis archaeopteryx.jpg

False colour image of the Thermopolis Archaeopteryx.

 

 

Synchrotron-based imaging of zoological and paleontological samples

 

 

Dr Phillip Lars Manning

University of Manchester

 

28th January- 4.00 pm

Earth Sciences Seminar Room
(Basement, WEB 05, the previous Mineralogy Seminar Room)

 

Biomolecules have been identified within living organisms that utilise metals to help mediate or catalyse chemical transformations of organic molecules and/or perform key biological functions e.g., iron in hemoglobin and magnesium in chlorophyll. Trace metals such as copper, zinc and nickel are also essential for routine metabolic functions, performing specific roles dependent on the tissue-type in which they are occur. Therefore, the ability to resolve elemental inventories and their distribution within fossil organisms might provide valuable information pertaining to the biology, function and evolution of a species. However, in order for original biochemistry to be resolved, it must be clearly shown that the observed fossil chemistry has not been derived through geologic/taphonomic processes and that the trace elements are detectable. Commercially available techniques (such as scanning electron microscopy and electron microprobe) lack the ability to chemically image large areas and/or lack the sensitivity required to investigate the trace metal chemistry preserved in fossils. Given the dilute concentrations of such trace-elements in biological tissues, the only reliable way to spatially resolve such inventories is through the application of synchrotron-based elemental imaging techniques. Synchrotron Rapid Scanning X-Ray Fluorescence (SRS-XRF) is a uniquely optimized method that can simultaneously detect elements in trace amounts, accommodate sizeable specimens (up to 1m2) and scan large surface areas in short time periods (~30 s/cm2) at high resolution (~2-100 microns). Complementary X-Ray Absorption spectroscopy (XAS) can also indentify the oxidation state of elements within a fossil and help determine whether they are organically derived. A series of unique fossil samples have already been mapped using SRS-XRF, including a 50 mya reptile (cf.  Bahndwivici ammoskius), 120 mya bird (Confuciusornis sanctus) and a 150 mya bird (Archaeopteryx). Results from both SRS-XRF and XAS clearly show endogenous bioaccumulated trace-metal chemistry can be preserved in fossils after tens of millions of years. The results provide a unique insight into the preserved biochemistry of these extinct organisms.

 

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

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EARTH SCIENCES DEPARTMENT SEMINAR

 

Vredefort_Dome.jpg

(Image from Wikipedia)

 

 

The Vredefort impact structure, South Africa: witness of a planetary catastrophe, gold deposit and world heritage

 

 

Uwe Reimold

Natural History Museum, Berlin


Thursday 23rd January - 4.00 pm
EARTH SCIENCES SEMINAR ROOM

 

The Vredefort impact structure in South Africa is, at some 250 km diameter and 2.02 Ga age, the oldest and largest currently known impact structure on Earth. It encompasses the entire Witwatersrand Basin of great economic geological significance. Because of the great geological age of this impact and the complex multi-stage metamorphic history of the target terrane the recognition of evidence for impact has long been controversial. Shock microdeformation and the genesis of massive pseudotachylitic breccias and enigmatic impact melt rock deposits
will be discussed, as well as the more recent history of Vredefort as a World Heritage Area.

 

 

    

 

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

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LIFE SCIENCES DEPARTMENT SEMINAR

 

NHM Expedition to Sabah, Borneo: Report from the Freshwater Team

 

Sabah.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

Mary Spencer Jones, David Bass, Hanna Hartikainen, Beth Okamura

Department of Life Sciences, NHM

 

Wednesday 22 of January 11:00

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

 

Borneo contains some of the oldest rainforest in the world and is characterised by exceptionally high biodiversity being the centre of evolution and radiation of many species of plants and animals endemic to the region. Endemism in freshwater organisms has been particularly demonstrated for fishes, amphibians and some aquatic invertebrates (especially insects), but the diversity of aquatic taxa is poorly understood relative to that of the terrestrial flora and fauna. An even more incomplete understanding characterises what is known of the diversity of parasitic groups in this region and most particularly of those groups that are poorly known overall. The aim of the NHM Sabah Expedition Freshwater Team was to undertake a combination of environmental and targeted sampling to explore the diversity of parasitic groups across a range of sites and habitats. A key component of our work involved adopting environmental sampling to significantly improve on discovery rates of novel endoparasitic lineages and thereby avoid the necessity of finding parasites within host organisms. A second objective was to gain better understanding of the diversity of freshwater bryozoans (Phylum Bryozoa, Class Phylactolaemata) and their myxozoan parasites. We will provide a summary of our activities and results thereby demonstrating how our programme of work is revealing novel biodiversity of aquatic life.


 

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

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This week we have 32 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

0

Time for a guest blog from Mike Rumsey, to tell you all what the Mineralogists got up to on the days they split up from the Palaeontologists.

 

Having another geological commitment to attend I arrived in the middle of the night a couple of days after everyone else had settled into the Morrocco fieldtrip – a long taxi drive by darkness and a rough couple of hours sleep and then it was off into the field with the other mineralogists. (We split up so the palaeo people and the min people could get as much done as possible). First up was the amazing abandoned mining town of Angil, nestled in a steep valley once mined for its copper and lead content.

 

 

Looking over partially abandoned town of Aouli.JPG

Looking over a town in the valley.


Although an incredible vista, the many hundreds of steps leading up to the top of the valley was difficult in the heat and having only had a few hours sleep – it was a real fieldtrip wake-up call! We found some representative material with our local guide and then moved onto the main important task for the day – Mibladen.

 

The Mibladen area is famous for beautiful bright red crystalline specimens of vanadinite, which are probably the best in the world, and as such Mibladen is well known to most mineralogists and it was great to visit such a famous locality. Vanadinite from here has been known for a long time, but most of the material that ends up in the UK is poorly located and is often just labelled vanadinite from Mibladen, Morocco - this is not really fit for some of the scientific purposes of the museum, so we wanted to collect material directly from a number of different outcrops, mines and workings so we could record exactly where subtly different specimens of vanadinite occurred.

 

Vanadinite picture.jpg

Vanadinite


Another feature of the material that reaches the UK on the commercial market is that it has often been heavily prepared. This might involve cleaning in acids or selective trimming or removal of other less aesthetic mineral species that get in the way of the bright red vanadinite crystals. This is unfortunate as we are losing geologically relevant information when this happens, so I wanted also to obtain some ugly, fresh material that might have all sorts of natural alterations, erosion crusts and associated minerals combined that could tell us or future geologists something a little extra about this place than the readily available specimens.

 

After a few hours of driving between localities and getting some quick representative samples the day was complete before I knew it, but I had lots of samples and was happy - we met some really interesting people and saw some incredible hand-dug mines and pits in the middle of the desert where prospectors had been searching for vanadinite.

 

On the second split day from the palaeo guys, we mineralogists visited the area of M’fis and Taouz, M’fis is a famous area for barite specimens and Taouz is another area famous for its vanadinite. Both these places were really out in the middle of the desert and it was very, (very!) hot - a specific locality called the wulfenite vein at M’fis – was so open and exposed, it felt a bit like some horror film where we might have been abandoned in a desert oven.

 

Hot desert in M'fis.jpg

The hot desert in M'fis


Still we got to it and collected some really interesting specimens from some more off the beaten track spots in M’fis including areas that have never really been written about or documented in any systematic fashion. At the main site of M’fis we picked up some good representative barite specimens and saw some pretty scary mining operations that I’m certain you would not see in the UK.

 

H&S in Vanadinite area.jpg

An example of scary mining operations

 

At Taouz we didn’t collect much as I had been lucky enough to visit the locality the previous year. However, we did get some nice specimens from the local miners and we got a quick tour inside the mine workings to see some of the vandinite in situ, both of which we documented to better illustrate the geological environment of the finds from my trip to Taouz the year before.

Analysis of the minerals is still ongoing, but it seems successful so far, with a few species being identified and/or documented for the first time at specific localities and in one case, possibly the first documented occurrence in Morocco… and perhaps the first even for the planet, which considering there are only 4800 known minerals is a fairly rare occurrence.

 

Huge thanks to Mike for writing this so I could share his experiences of Morocco!

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A little while ago my department (having recently moved into a new office) had a "get to know you" afternoon tea with the members of the other offices on our floor of the building.

 

Over warm drinks and homemade cakes a few of us did some team building through paper craft, courtesy of educational resources brought over by visiting Japanese colleagues. I made a water flea, Daphnia sp. In Japan, the activity is used to show children that the tiny planktonic crustacean they can view flat on a microscope slide is actually a 3-dimensional creature.

 

About a week after that afternoon tea I was out visiting the micrarium at Grant Museum of Zoology, and from the hundreds of back-lit slides of microscopic organisms on show, I spotted a water flea!

water-fleas-700.jpg

My paper craft water flea (L), and the water flea slide in the Grant Museum micrarium (R).

 

Then (in a nod to the rule of three principle) while reading Richard Fortey's book Dry Store Room No. 1, I came across this little snippet about the naming of species. The passage resonated with me, as well as being interesting in its own right, so I thought I would share it with you:

A whole dictionary of gods, goddesses, nymphs and satyrs has been recruited to label the natural world.


Daphne is a flowering shrub, Daphnia is a water flea; Daphne herself was a water nymph pursued by Apollo, who changed into a bay laurel tree.

 

The bay itself is Laurus nobilis, "noble" because the aromatic leaves were used to crown the brows of heroes.

daphne and daphne 700.jpg

Daphne mezereum, from Carl Lindman's Bilder ur Nordens Flora (Pictures of Northern Flora), 1905 (L), and Apollo and Daphne by Antonio Pollaiuolo, painted in the late 1400s (R).

 

So that is how a flower is like a water flea - they are both named after the Greek nymph, or naiad, Daphne, thanks to the nomenclature convention of taking species names from Latin and Greek classics.

0

LIFE SCIENCES DEPARMENT SEMINAR

 

biofouling1.jpg

 

 

Unappreciated Invertebrates Causing Engineering Nightmares

 

Timothy Wood

Senior Scientist, Bryo Technologies (USA)

 

 

Friday 17 of January 11:00
Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)


In the 21st Century it is somewhat astonishing to find that biofouling invertebrates routinely shut down power plants, disrupt water supplies, and create other kinds of expensive havoc. While biofouling is generally well managed on ships at sea, in fresh waters it seems to take everyone by surprise. This is despite the fact that incidents of freshwater biofouling are increasing in frequency and severity, due mostly to eutrophication and misguided infrastructure design. Most people are unaware of these problems, industry is oblivious, and engineers are clueless. The cost of cleaning, repairing, or replacing damaged structures is staggering, not to mention the loss in productivity.  Solutions to these problems are usually not complicated nor very expensive, but implementation faces a wide range of institutional hurdles.

 

 

 

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

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I have moved to the Royal Botanic Gardens on a two-year secondment and during this time my blog posts will be made through the following portal: http://tropicalbotany.wordpress.com/

 

On my return to the Museum I will resume my posts here! Many thanks! Alex

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Homo arrivus in What's new at the Museum

Posted by Rose Jan 13, 2014

The arrival of two naked male models at the Museum just before Christmas, unsurprisingly, caused a stir among staff. Cameras to hand, a few in the know caught some early glimpses as our unclad guests were bustled in at dusk. Now we release official photographs of them and a film about their brief yet prehistoric beginnings as the publicity revs up for the show they will appear in.

 

models-together-2.jpg

Meet the Neanderthal (1m 55cm, in his 20s, European origin) and Homo sapiens (1m 75cm, in his 50s, European origin) stars of Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story. These life-size models were created by Dutch artists Alfons and Adrie Kennis. Homo sapiens stands taller, the darker-skinned male who chews a tool used to adorn his body with ink. Select images to enlarge.

 

The models were made by the Dutch duo, Alfons and Adrie Kennis, in their studio in the Netherlands for our next major exhibition, Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story, opening here on 13 February.

 

The Kennis brothers specialise in creating scientifically accurate sculptures of ancient humans and animals. The specially commissioned models blend scientific and aesthetic interpretation uniquely. They pose proudly, faces full of character - and some speculation as to which famous personalities might have been the inspiration - and are sure to attract attention when they take pride of place in the exhibition gallery.

 

kennis-brothers-arnheim-3.jpg

Adrie (left) and Alfons (right) Kennis in their studio, creating our two ancient men of silicon. Watch the short film of their work in progress below.

 

 

 

Our male models will share the limelight in the exhibition with striking graphic recreations of Neanderthal women and children and Homo sapiens family members, amidst more than 200 rare and intriguing archaeological specimens and objects. The story of our beginnings and how we have become what we are today, is one that touches us all.

 

neanderthal-child-1700.jpg

Graphic of a Neanderthal child reconstruction. Few Neanderthals lived beyond their late 20s. © PS Plailly/E Daynes/Science Photo Library

 

Elin Simonsson, the exhibition's interpretation manager, gives us the latest on its progress:

 

'Opening is only a month away and the exhibition build is now nearly complete. Walls are up and painted, cases and graphics are in place and our two life-size models are now in the gallery, wrapped up and waiting to be revealed. This week we will start the installation of specimens and objects in their display cases, which will really bring the whole exhibition together.'

 

For one lucky person, there's a chance to win a pair of free exhibition tickets and an exhibition book by entering our free prize draw online.

 

Britain_NHM_cover.jpg

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This week we have 32 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

0

Day three was the day I was most excited about. The Palaeontologists and the Mineralogists split up and went to separate places. You can read about what they got up to in the next blog, a guest post from Mike Rumsey. The Palaeontologists were heading to an area known as Goulmima. The reason we were heading there was primarily to explore the fish and ammonite fauna to be found (there are also marine reptiles). These animals are from the Turonian stage of the Late Cretaceous. This means that these fossils are approximately 90 million years old! Being the curator of the fossil cephalopods and a particular fan of ammonites I was very excited!


Before we left our hotel we visited the fossil and mineral shop they had to have a look and see what there was. There were some very impressive large items but I was most impressed by the heteromorphic ammonites and spiny trilobites.

 

hotel shop.jpg

Some of the wonderful ammonites on sale at the hotel.


We left our hotel and drove south, heading towards Goulmima. On the way we stopped in a town called Rich, where we visited another fossil shop. The owner of this particular shop knows the Goulmima area which we were interested in very well, he also had a lot of fossils from the sites there.  Knowing that we wouldn’t be spending very long at the site at Goulmima, and also that the Museum is working to expand its collection of ammonites from the region I spent some time having a look for the rarer species not represented in our collections. In the end we came away with some very nice ammonites.

 

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Me searching through a pile of ammonites.


After our detour we continued on the way to Goulmima. The drive there was filled with spectacular scenery as the landscape became more filled with the typical desert scenes you would expect from Morocco.  As we got closer we were driving along a river bed with spectacular cliffs and lush vegetation. On arriving we had lunch in the shade under a date tree (more fantastic tuna sandwiches!).  During our 300km drive south it had gotten noticeably hotter, I was definitely grateful for my sun hat and factor 50 suncream!

 

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Magnificent landscapes we travelled through on our way south through Morocco. 1 of 3

 

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Landscape 2 of 3

 

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More of the wonderful geology we passed on our drive south 3 of 3.

 



Once we had eaten our lunch we went to the first of two sites in the Goulmima area known as Asfla 1 (another town nearby). The more adventurous of the group scrambled up a very steep cliff to investigate what could be found. Lower down we found evidence of shell beds containing  lots of bivalve shells. After half an hour or so there we had found a few scrappy bits of ammonite and no fish so we got back into the jeeps and headed off to the second site; Asfla 2.

 

Asfla 1 image 1.jpg

View of site Asfla 1.

 

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The view from site Aslfa 1. Photograph courtesy of Martha Richter.

 

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Can you see my collegues on the cliff at Asfla 1?


On reaching Asfla 2 we hopped out of the jeeps and headed up towards the site. On the way up we found pieces of plesiosaur. Martin found a lovely specimen of an ammonite genus known as Mammites at this site.

 

Asfla 2.jpg

Site Asfla 2.

 

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Me and Emma Bernard at Asfla 2.


Our next stop before heading towards a place called Erfoud and our hotel was a small settlement near Goulmima. We were taken here by our guides as the local people make living excavating fossils from the area. We made a couple of stops, one of which being to a man who specialised in collecting the ammonite fauna. I spent another happy few minutes having a look through a pile of ammonites. In the end I came away with a good selection of specimens, some very rare which may never have been found here before!

 

Goulmima village.jpg

The village we visited. Photograph courtesy of Martha Richter.


The last stop before our hotel was a brief stop in another fossil shop. As we were now in Erfoud an area with much older Palaeozoic rocks, this was starting to be seen in what the shop was selling, with goniatites and trilobites which are much older alongside the more recent Cretaceous fauna.  While we were here Mike, Emma and Helena; the mineralogists met us so we could head to our hotel and a comfortable bed after a long and busy day.

 

Keep an eye out for the vertebrate perspective on day 3 from Emma Bernard, and a guest post here from Mike Rumsey about what the mineralogists were up to.

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Tyrannosaurus rex NHMPL 002915.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

Although Neave Parker (1910-1961) had artistic ambitions from an early age, he was dissuaded from pursuing them by his father and was not allowed to attend art school. Instead, he took up employment in a bank but after just one disasterous week, he was firmly but kindly advised to seek another profession.

 

After working as a surveyor for a short while he then went on to serve in the Royal Air Force during World War II, working in the Photographic Unit. It was not until Parker was discharged that he finally was able to pursue art as a career. After making the acquaintance of Maurice Burton (1898-1992), a Scientific Associate at the Natural History Museum, London and also Honorary Science Editor at the Illustrated London News, he began a collaboration with Burton to produce animal illustrations for a non-technical audience. The first of his drawings of prehistoric animals appeared in the Illustrated London News on 30 September, 1950.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Burton then introduced him to Dr William Elgin Swinton (1900-1994), a palaeontologist at the Museum, and it was through this collaboration that Parker completed numerous dinosaur illustrations. These featured in a range of publications including The Dinosaurs (1970) and Dinosaurs: their discovery and their world (1961). He was also commissioned by the Museum to produce a series of reconstructions which were sold as postcards.

 

Pterodactyl NHMPL 0029147.jpgHypsilophodon NHMPL 004087.jpg

 

Protoceratops NHMPL 004093.jpg

 

Parker pioneered the art of restoring entire palaeo-environments of dinosaurs and was highly regarded by his scientific associates at the Museum. His drawings in monochrome gouache and wash drawings became trademarks of his distinctive style, which vividly represented the formerly held opinions of how such creatures appeared.

 

Parker's other passions in life was food, beer, pistol shooting (he was a British Open Champion), photography and films. It was in a cinema that he suffered a fatal heart attack in 1961.

 

Learn more about our art collections and see some great examples via our Library & Archives pages.

 

Further reading:

 

Debus, Allen A. (1987) 'Neave Parker: vertebrate palaeontology's masterful necromancer', The Earth Science News, vol. 38, No. 11 pp.21-24

Debus, Allen A. and Debus, Diane E. (2002) Paleoimagery: the evolution of dinosaurs in art, Jefferson N. C.:McFarland & Co., Publishers

 

Paracyclotosaurus NHMPL 004091.jpgCetiosaurus NHMPL 002917.jpg

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COLLECTION MANAGEMENT SEMINAR

 

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What?
Microscopy and Imaging at the NHM in the 21st Century – how state of the art instrumentation can be used to image and analyse irreplaceable Natural History and Cultural Heritage specimens.

 

When?
Thursday 23rd January 2014, 2.30pm-4.00pm

 

Where?
Flett Lecture Theatre, NHM, South Kensington

 

Who? Speaker: 
Alex Ball, EM Unit manager, Science Facilities NHM.

 

What’s it about?
Microscopy and Imaging is a rapidly evolving discipline and the Museum’s Imaging and Analysis Centre is very much at the forefront of the practical technology for Natural Sciences and Cultural Heritage research. This talk is an attempt to give you both a roundup of the facilities available at the NHM and also to demonstrate some of the ways they have been used at the Museum and to compare them to either “state of the art” applications, or to some of the more eye-catching, media friendly research that has been performed recently.
As a researcher with a background in microscopy, 3D reconstruction and analysis and now over 20 years’ practical experience in electron microscopy applications, I travel regularly to international microscopy conferences and talk frequently with lab managers from other institutions. Staff at the Museum are in a privileged position; not only do they have access to some of the world’s finest natural history collections and libraries, but this is backed up by Science Facilities that are literally world class and free at the point of use (at least for microscopy and analysis). I would like to use this talk to inspire our users to be inventive, to look beyond what is current in their own fields and try to see what might be applied from other fields to their own research.

 

Who should come?
The seminar is open to all interested members of the museum, particularly

 

Science Group: All senior departmental managers & collection management staff.
Public Engagement Group:  Any staff who work with and use collections or manage staff who work with collections.

 

We also welcome colleagues from other institutions who would find the seminar of interest. There is no booking fee and only large parties need to notify the organiser for catering purposes.


Tea and coffee will be available in the lobby area after the talk.

 

Suggestions for seminar speakers are always most welcome. Please contact the organiser Clare Valentine (c.valentine@nhm.ac.uk)

 

 

 

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

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EARTH SCIENCES DEPARTMENT SEMINAR

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(Image from Wikipedia)

 

 

Unique PGE-Cu-Ni Noril’sk deposits: geology and origin

 

Nadezhda Krivolutskaya

Vernadsky Institute of Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry RAS, Moscow, Russia

 

 

Tuesday 14th January - 4.00 pm

EARTH SCIENCES SEMINAR ROOM

 

Thanks to their uniqueness in the extensive class of magmatic Pt-Cu-Ni deposits (their setting in the flood-basalt province, young age, and the vast thickness of the ores related to the relatively thin intrusive bodies), the Norilsk ore-bearing massifs continue to attract keen interest of researchers during more than five decades. The paramount impact of the discovery of the Talnakh deposits on the world's economy still puts forth the problems of the genesis of such ores. Solving these problems will facilitate in optimizing exploration for such unique ores.

Although the Norilsk deposits have been studied for a long time, several issues of their genesis remain obscure until nowadays. A principally important problem is the mechanisms that concentrated metals in the uniquely large deposits. Several hypotheses were suggested to explain this phenomenon. Some researchers explained the unusual structure of the deposits by their origin from unusual ore-bearing magmas, others argued that the deposits were produced by tholeiitic melts during their long-lasting ascent to the surface. Practically all of the genetic models attach much importance to the assimilation of rocks, first of all, anhydrite, which provided sulfur for the system.

Our study of geological relations between basalts and intrusions in the Norilsk Complex and on their major- and trace-element compositions (6 - 7 wt % MgO in the volcanic rocks and 10 - 12 in the intrusions, relatively low Ti concentrations and La/Yb ratios in rocks of the Norilsk Complex) and isotopic composition (first of all, sulfur isotopic composition δ34S from +1 - +5 to +18‰ for the basalts and intrusions, respectively), the conclusion was drawn that the ore-bearing intrusions have no comagmatic volcanic rocks and were produced by a separate magmatic pulse in post-Nadezhdinsky time. There is much less evidence that the magmas of the Norilsk Complex were emplaced in post-Morongovskoe time and, perhaps, even after the whole volcanic pile was formed (Malich et al., 2010; Ivanov, 2011).

We were the first to widely apply a new approach to estimating the composition of the parental melt of a given rock based on data on melt inclusions in the early liquidus phases (olivine and pyroxene). In particular, we have demonstrated that the ore-bearing massifs were produced by highly magnesian (up to 8 wt % MgO) melts that contained olivine and plagioclase phenocrysts and had crustal characteristics: negative Ta-Nb and positive Pb anomalies and did not contain elevated concentrations of base metals. The melt contained 0.5-0.7 wt % H2O with low concentrations of Cl (0.2 wt %) and CO2 and its characteristics were close to those of lower crustal rocks (εNd = 0 ± 1.5; 87Sr/86Sr = 0.706 ± 0.1) that are are reasonable suitable candidates for the source of the Norilsk parental magmas. The possibility of melting is uncertain.

The two-stage scenario for the genesis of the sulfides seems to offer a more efficient mechanism for metal concentrating than a single-stage process.

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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This week we have 25 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

2

The answer is in the world’s first foraminiferal sculpture park in Zhongshan City, China. Remarkable Chinese scientist Zheng Shouyi has gained international recognition for her work on the Foraminifera of China and was responsible for encouraging the building of this sculpture park.

 

Just before Christmas, a book chapter written by myself and entitled 'A brief History of modelling of the foraminifera from d'Orbigny to Zheng Shouyi' was published in a Special Publication of the Micropalaeontological Society on 'Landmarks in Foraminiferal Micropalaeontology, History and Development'. This post highlights the remarkable work of Zheng Shouyi who has shown publically what is hidden behind the scenes of many research establishments like the Museum and touches briefly on some of the microfossil model collections we have here at the Museum.

 

sculpture_Pseudononion_auriculum_H-AandE_blog.jpg

Zheng Shouyi writes 'Foraminifera are shelled marine protozoa about 1 mm in size, with a geological history of five hundred million years. There are 40,000 known fossil species ranging from Cambrian to Quaternary and some 6000 species living in the world oceans. In allusion to the role they play as excellent bioindicators of past and present marine environments used in many scientific disciplines, the foraminifera have been dubbed tiny giants of the great seas by Wayne Brock (1977).'

 

The sculptures are magnified between 750 and almost 9,000 times, with some based on species for which we hold the holotype specimens. The example above shows Pseudononion auriculum (Heron-Allen and Earland, 1930) while other sculptures represent species described by Brady from our Challenger Collection.

 

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Zheng Shouyi in front of some foraminiferal sculptures at the Sanxian Foraminiferal Sculpture Park, Zhongshan City, Guangdong Province, China (photo courtesy of Bilal Haq)

 

114 large stone sculptures of Palaeozoic to modern foraminifera have been sculpted from marble, granite and sandstone over 5 years under the guidance of Zheng Shouyi. 32 locations and establishments in China, Austria, India, South Korea and the Philippines, have copies of Zheng Shouyi’s models and sculptures.

 

The idea for a sculpture park was first suggested by Bilal Haq of the National Science Foundation in USA when he saw Zheng Shouyi’s models in her office in the Institute of Oceanology in Qingdao, China. Zheng used her local political influence to persuade authorities in her home town of Zhongshan to create “Sanxiang Foraminiferal Sculpture Park” that opened in 2009. The Smithsonian Magazine has listed the park as one of its top 10 Evotourism sites.

 

 

forampark3_blog.jpgSanxian Foraminiferal Sculpture Park, Zhongshan City, Guangdong Province, China  (photo courtesy of Bilal Haq)

 

Zheng Shouyi was born in the Philippines to Chinese parents in 1931 and moved to China following her university education. She discovered foraminifera during her graduate studies and reports 'love at first sight of the beautifully diverse tests of Foraminifera'.  She was assigned to work on the taxonomy and ecology of Recent Foraminifera of the Chinese seas, using some 1700 water and sediment samples collected from 1958-1960 by the National Comprehensive Oceanographic Investigation from sampling sites ranging from the cold temperate northernmost Bohai Sea to the South China Sea.

 

She was presented the 2003 Joseph A. Cushman Award for outstanding contributions to foraminiferal studies in recognition of a career that established her as the foremost Chinese Foraminiferal micropalaeontologist. In 2009 she was the only woman to be honoured as one of the top ten outstanding returned overseas Chinese.

 

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Palm sized foraminiferal models made by Zheng Shouyi including Pseudononion auriculum (Heron-Allen and Earland, 1930) above. We are looking to acquire a set of these for our collections (photo courtesy of Zheng Shouyi)

 

Inspired by the famous French pioneer of foraminiferal studies Alcide d’Orbigny (1802-1857) and the models he used to illustrate his work, Zheng has also created plastic palm-sized models of 250 species of foraminifera belonging to 192 genera. Zheng Shouyi's models would look amazing in our public galleries and showcase some of the Museum science and collections not normally reflected by the displays at the Museum.

 

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Some of the models of foraminifera from our collections made by d'Orbigny in 1826. Yellower models are based on living species while fossil species are modelled in white plaster of paris.

 

I am currently in negotiation with Zheng Shouyi about acquiring a 120 piece set of Zheng Shouyi's models to complement the microfossil models, like those of d'Orbigny that we have in our collections, support ongoing research into modelling foraminifera and to go on display to illustrate Museum science and collections.

 

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The front cover of 'Landmarks in Foraminiferal Micropalaeontology' features some microfossils from our collection and the final chapter illustrates many of the microfossil model sets we have behind the scenes.

 

If you would like to find out more about Zheng Shouyi, Alcide d’Orbigny or Heron-Allen, arguably the man responsible for the nucleus of the Museum’s amazing micropalaeontological collections, then the book entitled 'Landmarks in Foraminiferal Micropalaeontology, History and Development' is now available.

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by Hayley Dunning, Science Web Editor

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

Mapping species


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

 

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

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

 

Hidden diversity


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

 

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

 

Open data


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

 

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New Years Eve Invitation & Menu NHMPL 056867.jpg

 

 

One of the gems of London's history that you can still visit today (and for free), has to be amongst the trees and bushes of the small islands at the southern end of Crystal Palace Park, Sydenham, London.

 

Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (1807-1894) was the natural history artist and sculptor, whose partnership with Sir Richard Owen (1804-1892) produced the dinosaur reconstructions that you can see today in the park.

 

Hawkins was born in London and was an established artist displaying his work between 1832-1849 in prominent institutions such as the Royal Academy. His skill was demonstrated in the plates for publications such as 'Illustrations of Indian Zoology' (1830-35) and 'The Zoology of the voyage of HMS Beagle' (parts 4/5, 1838-43).

 

 

 

 

 

Pre historic creatures NHMPL 046678.jpg

It was his collaboration with Richard Owen, first Director of the Natural History Museum, London and distinguished vertebrate palaeontologist, that is arguably his best known legacy. He was appointed by the Crystal Palace Company to create thirty three life sized concrete models of extinct animals and dinosaurs (funding cuts meant only around half were produced). These were to be part of a geological time zone in part of the park, which housed the relocated great glass exhibition hall.

 

Owen estimated the size and overall shape of the animals, but left Hawkins to sculpt the models, under his direct supervision. Together they produced the first public display of life sized reconstructions of prehistoric life. They are a representation of the scientific knowledge of that time, unveiled to the world in 1854, five years before Charles Darwin published 'On the origin of species'.

 

To celebrate the near completion of the project Hawkins held a dinner party for Richard Owen and twenty distinguished scientists of the time. Dinner was held in the partially finished mould of the largest sculpture, the Iguanodon.

 

Icthyosaurus & Plesiosaurus NHMPL 011937.jpgPlesiosaurus NHMPL 046677.jpg

 

The NHM Library & Archives hold a collection of original Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins material, including watercolour and pen and ink sketches, showing his thoughts and designs for his geological creations. Also included is an invitation and menu from the unique New Years Eve party. In the Museum's scientific collections are a handful of surviving minature versions of the models that Hawkins produced prior to embarking on the final full sized ones.

 

Hawkins went on to live a life of many highs and lows, including a number of years working and lecturing in America. He returned to England in 1879 where he remained until his death in Putney on 27th January 1894.

 

Crystal Palace itself was destroyed by fire in 1936 and the models are his unique (and slightly haunting) legacy to London and a must see for all!

 

Further reading:

 

Bramwell, Valerie (2008) All in the bones: a biography of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, Philadelphia: Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.

Iguanodon Model NHMPL 004699.jpgCrystal Palace Dinosaurs NHMPL 043503.jpg

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So, I have been back for almost a month and only now have had a chance to settle in. Field work is fantastic, but sometimes re-entry can be a bit of a challenge! But it is great to be back and in the collection again – lots of ideas from being out in the forest that need checking in the herbarium – I spent a good few days just re-identifying things and generally tidying up the Brazilian Solanum collections.

 

Just after I returned, an interview I did for the Global Plants project (where I am a member of the current Steering Committee) was posted on their website. I felt quite nostalgic for summer as it poured with rain in the London winter – it was HOT in New York City when we were filming!

 

 

The Global Plants project began as the African Plants Initiative, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, whose objective was to provide African botanists with access to images of type specimens of plants from Africa. The project expanded over the years (you can read the history on the Global Plants website) and with generous funding from the Mellon Foundation and logistical support from JSTOR has become one of the indispensable resources for botanists worldwide.

 

The Museum has been participating in the project since the early years, and our type specimens are scanned to become part of the Global Plants resource. When I began as a botanist in the 1980s, to see a type specimen you either had to borrow it (but they often weren’t available on loan for security reasons) or travel to many different collections to see the real things.

 

The importance of type specimens

 

Type specimens are critical for scientists like me – they are the specimens to which names are tied. They are usually not typical (one of those funny English words that gives the wrong impression), but instead are used to determine what name to apply to a particular species concept.

 

Imagine you have a stack of specimens – you sort them into piles, those are the species, then figure out into which pile each type specimen goes. Then, to figure out what species name each pile should be called by, the type specimen of the first published name takes priority, the rest are synonyms. So – if the types specimens for Solanum corumbense (described in 1895) and Solanum tumescens (described in 1986) fall in the same pile – Solanum corumbense is the correct name for the species and Solanum tumescens becomes a synonym.

 

To be able to compare type specimens online at the click of a button has truly changed the way in which we do our science – I cannot know imagine life without a resource like Global Plants!!  Thank you, Mellon Foundation... I can even check types in the field (so maybe next time I needn't come back at all!! - although I'd miss South Kensington...)

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The berry season has been spectacular this year, and continues, in green (ivy), in black (tutsan and privet), and more seasonally, in many shades of red and orange. Clusters of red fruit remain on our rowan trees and it’s easy to spot feeding birds within the bare branches. This morning I watched 2 plump mistle thrushes gorge themselves while blackbirds fed on a neighbouring tree - so no surprise that we have so many rowan seedlings throughout the garden.

 

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A morning feast - mistle thrush and blackbird on neighbouring rowans.

 

Butcher's-broom (Ruscus aculeatus) brightens dark corners of woodland together with the maligned stinking iris (Iris foetidissima) - it doesn't smell bad!.

 

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Butcher's-broom (Ruscus aculeatus).

Derek Adams

 

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Stinking Iris (Iris foetidissima).
Derek Adams

 

Bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara) dangles its ripe red berries over fences and through hedges where a few bruised rose-hips and the occasional pink of an unripe blackberry can also be found. But it is the holly (Ilex aquifolium) that steals the show; its scarlet berries looking luscious amongst the dark shiny leaves.

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A holly tree (Ilex aquifolium) in the Wildlife Garden.

Jonathan Jackson

 

Holly is a rich source of food for birds and crucially will be available when most other berries have been exhausted. Blackbird, mistle thrush and redwing - all members of the family Turdidae (the thrushes) - will compete with woodpigeon and squirrels for the fruit. Our Christmas card icon, the robin, very occasionally feeds on these berries too.

 

Holly berries are resistant to the extreme cold and stay well preserved for several months, but another reason for their longevity is the mistle thrush.  Barbara and John Snow who spent years studying the ecological interaction between birds and berries*, observed that some holly trees are fiercely defended by mistle thrush.

 

By preventing other birds from feeding on the fruit, mistle thrushes can conserve the berries as a long-term food supply which may last all winter through to spring. And as they suggest, this conservation of hollies by mistle thrushes is one of the reasons there are always holly berries around on some trees for our festive decorations. 


Roy Vickery takes up the seasonal story of holly:

“Although it seems that in earlier times a variety of evergreens were used in Christmas decorations, for many years red-berried holly was the most important one. Indeed, in some parts of  England it was known simply as ‘Christmas’. Before computer-generated posters became common, holly leaves, which even artists with few skills could draw, inevitably adorned notices announcing Christmas events.

2.c  holly hedgeWildlife Garden-171220013-366 (Custom) (Custom).jpg

Hedge holly in the Wildlife Garden.

Jonathan Jackson

 

Although growing holly trees were usually considered to be protective, and therefore should not be cut down, it was sometimes considered unlucky to bring branches of it indoors before Christmas Eve. There are even occasional records of holly being considered inauspicious during the Christmas period.

 

However, most people tried to get sprigs of holly, with its bright red berries and dark green glossy leaves, to decorate their homes. Thus the gathering of holly provided a useful supplementary income for farmers who had trees growing on their land, and gypsies who gathered it wherever they could. In 1980 it was estimated that holly sold at Christmas came equally from these two sources. In some areas, notably Cornwall, Christmas trees were traditionally hollies rather than the more usual conifer trees.

 

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More holly in our garden.

Jonathan Jackson

 

In recent years holly seems to have become much less popular, at least in London. Little was available for sale in 2012, although it appears to have made something of a come-back in 2013. Presumably holly, which tends to soon dry up and lose its leaves in warm conditions is unsuited for display in centrally heated homes, although holly wreaths, usually of natural leaves and wired-on artificial berries, are still commonly produced for decorating graves and attaching to front doors.

 

holly wreath (Custom).JPG

Christmas wreath on the door of the Wildlife Garden shed, made by Larissa from willow stems, yew, juniper and holly - nothing artificial here!

 

To a certain extent more easily manageable poinsettias and stems of the deciduous North American holly, known as winterberry (Ilex verticillata), have replaced the hard to arrange holly twigs which were once sought in British hedgerows.

Ilex DSC_0315 ilex (Custom).JPG

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) on sale this weekend in a market in Kent.

 

In the past, outside the Christmas season, chilblains were cured by beating with holly twigs until they bled, branches were pulled down chimneys to clear them of soot, bird-lime used for trapping small birds was extracted from its bark, and an abundance of its berries were believed to foretell a severe winter.”

 

Partly down to the mistle thrush?

 

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Winter holly in the Wildlife Garden in 2003.

Derek Adams

 

* Snow, B and J. 1988. Birds and Berries. T & AD Poyser

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This week we have 36 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

1

Author: Nicola Dunn

Date: 23 December 2013

 

 

 

It’s hard to believe that in early November Sy, Lizzie and I made the trip from Scott Base to our new home which is just a short walk along the beach from Scott’s Terra Nova hut at Cape Evans (built for the 1910-13 British Antarctic Expedition). Travelling in a tracked vehicle known as a Hagglund we headed out across the sea ice following the route frequently taken by members of both Scott and Shackletons expeditions around the shoreline below Mount Erebus. Behind us we pulled sledges of supplies to sustain us for 3 months, and the historic artefacts that we are returning to the hut after conservation treatment.

Hagglud & Sledges at SB.jpg

The Hagglund and sledges on the sea ice outside Scott Base being prepared for the trip to Cape Evans

 

 

Our camp is basic but comfortable and we soon settled in and now feel quite at home. Whilst we each have our own tent for sleeping other areas are made up of converted freight containers towed over the ice and left on site from year-to-year. Two adjoining containers are used for cooking, eating and warming-up and the kitchen area has a diesel fired stove on which two pans are constantly melting snow for our water supply.  The views from the windows over the sea ice are spectacular.

 

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Our tents on the beach at Cape Evans with cloud formations around Mount Erebus in the background

 

 

We have all the basic staple foods for cooking and Sy has constructed an ice block freezer outside for our meat, cheese and vegetables that need to stay frozen when the temperatures edge above zero during the summer. The kitchen has a gas stove and oven, a breadmaker which I love using, and a yoghurt maker. We carefully sort and label our rubbish and the poo from the bucket in the little toilet block before sending it back to Scott Base and NZ for disposal.

 

We can communicate with the outside world by radio to Scott Base and by a satellite phone to the rest of the world.  The electricity for computers and charging batteries is provided by solar panels.

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The camp at Cape Evans with our tents in the foreground, the green accommodation containers, red and black conservation laboratory and Terra Nova hut in the far distance

 

 

Working in Scotts hut we find ourselves asking questions about the daily lives of the men that lived there, and these often echo questions asked by friends and family as they try to imagine our camp set up. If you have any questions about how we live – just ask.

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I love a good war hero story: my great uncle was a flying ace in the Battle of Britain and I relished hearing about his feats of daring (... and will gladly recount them given the slightest prompting). However, my tale today is of the wartime exploits of Museum entomologist Graham Howarth. They might not be grand in the combat sense (though he was awarded a medal for saving a senior officer during the Blitz earlier in the war), but in the scientific and curatorial sense, they are as bold and heroic as any you will probably hear.

 

During WWII Howarth was enlisted for army service in Southeast Asia. He was stationed in Singapore and tasked with identifying the breeding grounds of malarial mosquito species and disrupting their habitat in the hope of eradicating the tropical disease. As a result of his work, Howarth says it was 'safe to say that Singapore was a malarial-free zone'. But, in February 1942, Singapore surrendered to the Japanese and Howarth was taken as a prisoner of war. He recalls:

'The war was over as far as I was concerned, but a new one, a much more insidious affair, was about to begin. A war against boredom, starvation, pestilence, and death.'

 

He was held prisoner for three years, first at Changi and then Jinsen, Korea. But, ever the entomologist, Howarth - known as 'The Prof' to his fellow captives - maintained his scientific curiosity by collecting insects. He says:

'(Collecting) gave me something to think about rather than the boredom of being confined to an area with a hell of a lot of other people, with nothing very much to do. We weren’t worked too hard. And as long as you exhibited a certain amount of respect for the guards, and didn’t stick your head above the parapet too often... Of course, with a butterfly net, I would tend to be a bit conspicuous, but I didn’t flaunt it, shall we say.'

 

He had fashioned a net from a piece of galvanised wire and some mosquito netting, and if he saw ’a butterfly or a living insect or a flying insect'  he would catch it, kill it, paper it and put it in an empty cigarette tin. His most important and remarkable find came in July 1944 when he spotted a caterpillar in the POW camp's garden.

'We had a flowering cherry in the garden, and on one occasion I looked up and there was a little caterpillar and I collected that. I didn’t recognise it, being something foreign to me. I found some more and I took them in and fed them on the cherry and bred them out. And (when I got home and properly identified them) it turned out to be a new species.

 

That's right: in between the forced labour and subsisting on meagre, weevil-infested rice rations as a prisoner of war, Graham Howarth discovered a never-before-documented moth.

'It was nice to discover a species new to science in, shall we say, rather difficult circumstances.'

 

On his return to the Museum he described his discovery as Apatele cerasi, after Cerasus, the scientific name for the cherry on which the larvae fed.

 

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Apatele cerasi documented by Graham Howarth in the Proceedings and Transactions of The South London Entomological and Natural History Society 1949-50.

 

But, aside from finding the larvae, breeding it out, recognising it as something different and keeping his collection below the radar of the guards, it was the getting it all back to the Museum that was another feat in and of itself. By the time he was liberated, Howarth had amassed about 1,500 specimens and he had to beg kit bag space from his comrades to help bring it all home.

'(When I got back to the Museum) I set them and documented them, and they’re still there, 1,500 of them.'

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Part of the Graham Howarth POW collection, which fills 13 trays and includes 1,115 Rhopalocera, 347 Heteroera and nearly 100 specimens of other orders. And, of course, Apatele cerasi.

 

The Museum's Lepidoptera collection consists of around 10 million specimens stored over four floors and curated by 5 scientists. Butterfly curator Blanca Huertas says it is the largest collection in terms of time and geographical range, represents 65% of all known species and contains more type specimens than any other museum. You can discover more about the collections and how they are maintained in Alessandro Giusti's Curator of Lepidoptera blog.

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This is a special additional blog written by our fossil preparator Mark Graham, who was part of our group who went to Morocco. Here Mark tells us  why he was excited to visit Morocco and what we found at the famous Kem Kem beds...

 

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Mark happy to be at the Kem Kem.

 

While I am fascinated in all aspects of palaeontology, it is the vertebrates of the Mesozoic Era that have always been the main focus of my interest, whether collecting, preparing, or just reading about specimens. The fauna of the Late Cretaceous worldwide includes some truly amazing creatures and one of the iconic locations is the Kem Kem beds of Morocco.

 

Our visit to the Kem Kem was, for me personally, the part of the recent fieldtrip that I was most looking forward to – although I knew that every location would be fantastic.

 

In my mind’s eye, I was picturing the red exposures and imagining the wonderful fossils that we might find: Carcharodontosaurus saharicus, the fearsome theropod dinosaur and apex-predator of the region at that time, the sail backed Spinosaurus aegypticus, a relative of our own Baryonyx, massive sauropods like Rebbachisaurus – not to mention dromaeosaurs, crocodiles and pterosaurs!

 

It was very exciting as we neared the steep exposures and got our first glimpse of the upper layers, where local collectors dig triangular-shaped caves into the cliff face and work their way many metres in without the benefit of any supporting rafters.

 

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Mark Graham at the entrance to one of the mines at Kem Kem.

 

The climb up got all of us puffing but happily there was good footing so plenty of grip (unlike some other exposures that we had climbed). Here they pick at the rocks and drag them outside the cave-mouths to form spoil heaps and it was on one such mound that Zoe Hughes and I scraped away and found what looked like two jaw pieces, about 15cm long. There was a lot of the sandy matrix still attached, so identifying what they are will require some preparation in the lab.

 

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Mark Graham with a piece of jaw (Zoe Hughes found another piece).

 

All too soon we were out of time, back in the cars and off to the next (non-vertebrate!) location. I wish that we’d had more time at Kem Kem, but the trip encompassed many other important locales and we were cramming in a whole lot of geological and road time.

 

It’s difficult to single out the ‘best part’ of the fieldtrip as we were finding important materials to enhance the collections everywhere we went. The stromatolite exposures were incredible, but so too was collecting mantle xenoliths with mineralogy colleagues on the side of an extinct volcano and visiting echinoderm miners in the Sahara.

 

But the Kem Kem – ‘there be dragons’…   

 

I have to say I felt similar visiting the Kem Kem beds. I grew up being facinated with dinosaurs and hearing things about Spinosaurs, so being able to visit the place where some of these ferocious beasts once roamed the land was a special treat. I have to say I was slightly jealous of Mark and Zoe's find! We also collected some sediment from the Kem Kem which is being sieved and we are sure to find some more interesting fossils!

 

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Me at the entrance to one of the mines at the Kem Kem.