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Science News

October 2011

Birds of South and Middle America – recent advances in knowledge


Joint British  Ornithologists’ Club/Neotropical BirdClub/Natural History Museum free one-day  symposium


29 October  2011, 10.30-17.00, Flett Lecture  Theatre, Natural History Museum, London SW7 5BD


Key contact:  Robert Prys-Jones ( - if you wish to attend, please email in advance: places are limited.




10.30-11.00   Coffee/tea


11.00-11.45    Nathalie Seddon (Edward Grey Institute, Oxford University)  Why birds sing at dawn


Communal displays of acoustically and visually  signalling  animals include some of the great spectacles of the living world.  Many  of these spectacles involve large communities of different species   signalling in concert, often just before sunrise. Though perhaps best   documented in birds, dawn choruses occur in a wide diversity of other  animals,  from primates and frogs, to lizards and insects. These  signalling events have  long fascinated humans, but despite a century of  speculation, there is little  consensus as to their adaptive  significance. Drawing on a recent study of the  largest dawn chorus of  all, that of the singing birds of Upper   Amazonia, to discuss how  ecology, social interactions and  evolutionary history drive birds to  synchronise their songs at daybreak.


11.45-12.30     Huw Lloyd (Manchester Metropolitan   University) Conservation of High Andean forest birds in Peru

The  loss and degradation of high-Andean Polylepis woodlands is of particular international concern because of its highly   fragmented distribution, the inadequacy of its protection within  national  reserves, and the high levels of habitat-restricted endemism  amongst its  threatened bird communities. This talk will discuss some of  the most  recent ornithological findings from southern Peru, that could  lead to the  development of effective and realistic habitat restoration  strategies for  populations of these severely threatened bird species.


12.30-13.15    James Lowen (Bradt Travel Guides) Wildlife of the Pantanal, South   America’s Serengeti

The world's largest wetland and the aquatic heart of South  America showcases some of the most breathtaking  gatherings of birds,  mammals and reptiles you could ever hope to see. The  author of a new  book to Pantanal wildlife and travel treats us to a visual  celebration  of the region's wildlife spectacles, with a particular focus on the   region's avian specialities and their conservation.


13.15-14.15    Lunch (not provided)


14.15-15.00    Cristina Banks-Leite (Imperial College  London) * Understorey bird responses to deforestation in  the Atlantic Forest of Brazil

The  Atlantic Forest has been reduced to only 15 per cent of   its original area, whilst much of the extant forest is degraded and  fragmented.  Such altered conditions pose a great threat to the  persistence of a highly  endemic and diverse avifauna; however, our  ability to build effective  conservation measures is impaired by an  imperfect understanding of how  communities respond to deforestation.  Through the analysis of a dataset consisting  of over 7000 birds from  140 species captured in the Atlantic Forest of Brazil,  the speaker will  show how the understory bird community responds to habitat loss,   fragmentation and degradation at multiple spatial and temporal scales.

15.00-15.45    Robert Prys-Jones (Natural History   Museum) Project BioMap: documenting the global museum  resource of Colombian birds for research and conservation

Project BioMap, a tri-national initiative between  British,  Colombian and United    States institutions, began in late 2001. The   project aim was to digitise and verify all Colombian bird specimens  deposited  in natural history museums around the world. A total of  217,802 Colombian bird  specimens in 88 museums were databased and  georeferenced (whenever possible)  and made available online.  My talk will present a  temporal and spatial breakdown of the  information available, highlighting  strengths and weaknesses, and  discuss its use in research and conservation.


15.45-16.15                Coffee/tea


16.15-17.00    Thomas Donegan (ProAves) Exploring, studying and protecting  the world's most diverse national avifauna

The publication in 2010 of a new field guide  for Colombia is  a  good point to take stock of recent advances in knowledge in the   world's most diverse country for birds. Explorations and discoveries   facilitated by the improving security situation and the increasing  capacity  of national researchers and institutions have resulted in  significant recent  findings (new species, splits, lumps,  new records, etc.), many of  which will be discussed.  An illustrated  discussion of some of the steps  being taken to conserve Colombia's   birds and their habitats will also be presented.



Collection Management Seminar



Integrated Pest Management on the other side of The Pond


Rachael Perkins Arenstein, A.M. Art Conservation, LLC
Laura Smyk, Canadian Museum of Nature
Patrick Kelley, Insects Limited
Christopher Norris, Yale University Peabody Museum of Natural HistoryWhere?

Wednesday 26th October 2011

Neil Chalmers Seminar Room (DC. LG16),


The Natural History Museum, London has been a leader in making Integrated Pest Management a priority in collections care and NHM staff have participated in the ongoing work of the Integrated Pest Management Working Group (IPM-WG), a group of collection managers, conservators, entomologists and other professionals who have worked since 2002 to facilitate development and implementation of IPM programs in the broader museum/cultural heritage community.  Today, three North American members of the IPM-WG will present short talks on their work in the field.


Rachael Perkins Arenstein is a conservator in private practice and Co-Chair of the IPM-WG.  She will discuss the development of the group, the progress made to date on promoting and facilitating good IPM practices through the on-line distribution of standards, resources and ideas, and how this working model can be seen as a way to tackle other difficult preventive care issues.  Mention will be made of how NHM staff have participated in this effort and ways in which the IPM-WG can continue collaborating with colleagues in the UK.


Laura Smyk, Conservation Technician at the Canadian Museum of Nature (CMN), will evaluate the efficacy of the IPM features that were incorporated into the CMN’s Natural Heritage Building when it was designed and built 12 years ago to house the institution’s collections, research labs and administrative offices in one central location.  She will share experience on which features worked and how the IPM program has changed since the facility’s opening.

Patrick Kelley is Vice President of Insects Limited, Inc. which develops pheromones and trapping systems for insect pests as well as provides IPM consultation and training for cultural heritage institutions. He will present a case study based on his experience working with U.S. institutions.

After the presentations the three speakers will be joined by Christopher Norris another leader of the group and all four individuals will be available for questions on their work with the IPM-WG and IPM in their home institutions.



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

Suggestions for seminar speakers are always most welcome. Please contact the organiser Clare Valentine (



For additional details on attending see


Zoology Seminars

Diversification of Carnivorous Marine Snails


Department of Zoology, NHM


TUESDAY 25th October

Neil Chalmers Science Seminar Room (DC.LG16)

12:00 -13:00



Diversification in the marine realm is thought to be driven primarily by the allopatric processes of vicariance and dispersal. However, there is
increasing evidence that ecological specialization may also play a role generating observed patterns of phylogeography. To test the relative
importance of these processes, I construct the first comprehensive molecular phylogenies of two cosmopolitan, ecologically important but taxonomically
complex subfamilies of carnivorous neogastropods including complete or near-complete species-level phylogenies of three genera. Despite unusually
wide dispersal and presumably high gene flow, speciation in these groups appears to have been primarily allopatric, as has been shown in many other
marine taxa. Many species in these subfamilies are highly specialized predators (prey includes corals, polychaetes, sipunculans, even fish). Thus,
dietary specialization has been predicted to be an important ecological influence on diversification. However, I find no evidence that dietary
specialization has played a role in speciation in these groups. Instead, I suggest that the important ecological dimension of speciation in these
subfamilies is habitat, rather than diet.



For additional details on attending this seminar see


Palaeontology Seminar


How to interpret the Schöningen Palaeolithic archaeozoological record – facts and speculations

Thijs van Kolfschoten
Faculty of Archaeology,Leiden University
The Netherlands


Monday 17th October
Dorothea Bate Room, Palaeontology Department,
11:00 - 12:00


In the past two decades a number of Palaeolithic sites and horizons in the Schöningen lignite mining area (Germany) have been excavated. Spectacular finds include a number of 300-400,000 year old wooden hunting spears associated with butchered large mammal bones. During the past 2-3 years most of the excavated finds (e.g. > 20.000 large mammal remains) have been identified and recorded. It is now time to work on the interpretation and to unravel the complex history of the sites. This talk summarizes the preliminary results and presents interpretations of early human behaviour at the sites.


For additional details see


Palaeontology Seminar


The origin of sponges and the Cambrian explosion


Dr. Jonathan Antcliffe

Department of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol


Thursday 13th October
Neil Chalmers Seminar Room (DC2, LG16)

16:00- 17:00



Sponges are widely considered to be the animal group most likely to have evolved in the Precambrian. However reanalysis of all fossil candidates for Precambrian sponges shows that the oldest hitherto accepted specimens, Mongolian silica hexacts from c.545Ma, are abiogenic arsenopyrite crystals while all older candidates are abiogenic artefacts, microbialites, or variants of the Ediacaran biota. There are reliable sponge remains from the basal Cambrian represented by spicules from the Soltanieh Formation, Iran, reported in detail for the first time. Deep Precambrian divergences of Metazoa and particularly sponges have however been predicted based on molecular data. Yet the Ediacaran fossil record is abundant in soft bodied remains and does not yield any convincing evidence for sponges. Further geological data shows that chemically precipitated cherts and crystal fan fabrics are common and therefore the Ediacaran ocean is actively precipitating silica, and sponge spicules are not absent because of an unsuitable taphonomy as some have suggested. Sponges are complex organisms that require interactions with other animals in order to survive, a result of 540Ma of complex co-evolution with other animals. There is no reason why they should be thought more likely to be able to live outside of this context at a time before these ecosystems evolved that any other animal group. Sponges probably evolved at approximately the base of the Cambrian Period. Studying such problems can teach us general principles about how to analyse and thereby correctly interpret enigmatic fossils upon which so much macroevolutionary weight can be placed.


see for additional information