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Science News

January 2012

Palaeontology Department Seminar


Microbialites & environmental change at the Permian-Triassic boundary:  past & future?

Dr. Stephen Kerhsaw,

Institute for the Environment, Brunel University


Thursday 2nd February
Neil Chalmers Seminar Room, DC2,  NHM

16:00 - 17:00



Permian–Triassic boundary microbialites (PTBMs) are thin (0.05–15 m) carbonates formed after the end- Permian mass extinction. They comprise Renalcis-group calcimicrobes, microbially mediated micrite, presumed inorganic micrite, calcite cement, and shelly faunas. PTBMs are abundant in low-latitude shallow-marine carbonate shelves in central Tethyan continents but are rare in higher latitudes, likely inhibited by clastic supply on Pangaea margins. PTBMs occupied broadly similar environments to Late Permian reefs in Tethys, but extended into deeper waters. Late Permian reefs are also rich in microbes (and cements), so post-extinction seawater carbonate saturation was likely similar to the Late Permian. However, PTBMs lack widespread abundant inorganic carbonate cement fans, so a previous interpretation that anoxic bicarbonate-rich water upwelled to rapidly increase carbonate saturation of shallow seawater, post-extinction, is problematic. Preliminary pyrite framboid evidence shows anoxia in PTBM facies, but interbedded shelly faunas indicate oxygenated water, perhaps there was short-term pulsing of normally saturated anoxic water from the oxygen-minimum zone to surface waters. In Tethys, PTBMs show geographic variations: (i) in south China, PTBMs are mostly thrombolites in open shelf settings, largely recrystallised, with remnant structure of Renalcis-group calcimicrobes; (ii) in south Turkey, in shallow waters, stromatolites and thrombolites, lacking calcimicrobes, are interbedded, likely depth-controlled; and (iii) in the Middle East, especially Iran, stromatolites and thrombolites occur in different sites on open shelves, where controls are unclear. Thus, PTBMs were under more complex control than previously portrayed, with local facies control playing a significant role in their structure and composition.



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Recent NHM Research Publications

Posted by C Lowry Jan 24, 2012

Publications for last 4 weeks (Search done on 12th January.)


(Search on the basis of ‘Nat SAME Hist SAME Mus* SAME Lon*
Web of Science)



Davis, A.P., TOSH, J., Ruch, N. & Fay, M.F. 2011. Growing coffee: Psilanthus (Rubiaceae) subsumed on the basis of molecular and morphological data; implications for the size, morphology, distribution and evolutionary history of Coffea. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 167(4): 357-377.  [Externally funded]


Fiz-Palacios, O., SCHNEIDER, H., Heinrichs, J. & Savolainen, V. 2011. Diversification of land plants: insights from a family-level phylogenetic analysis. BMC Evolutionary Biology, 11.  [Core funded]

GUEIDAN, C., THUS, H. & Perez-Ortega, S. 2011. Phylogenetic position of the brown algae-associated lichenized fungus Verrucaria tavaresiae (Verrucariaceae). Bryologist, 114(3): 563-569.  [Core funded]


HAWKSWORTH, D.L. 2011. Biodiversity and conservation of insects and other invertebrates. Biodiversity and Conservation, 20(13): 2863-2866.  [Scientific Associate]


KNAPP, S., McNeill, J. & Turland, N.J. 2011. Changes to publication requirements made at the XVIII International Botanical Congress in Melbourneuwhat does e-publication mean for you? Cladistics, 27(6): 653-656.  [Core funded]


Souffreau, C., Verbruggen, H., Wolfe, A.P., Vanormelingen, P., Siver, P.A., COX, E.J., Mann, D.G., Van de Vijver, B., Sabbe, K. & Vyverman, W. 2011. A time-calibrated multi-gene phylogeny of the diatom genus Pinnularia. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 61(3): 866-879.  [Core funded/Scientific Associate]


Wei, Y.G., MONRO, A.K. & Wang, W.T. 2011. Additions to the Flora of China: seven new species of Elatostema (Urticaceae) from the karst landscapes of Guangxi and Yunnan. Phytotaxa, 29: 1-27.  [Core funded]




BLACKMAN, R.L., Sorin, M. & Miyazaki, M. 2011. Sexual morphs and colour variants of Aphis (formerly Toxoptera) odinae (Hemiptera, Aphididae) in Japan. Zootaxa(3110): 53-60.  [Scientific Associate]


Castillo, C., Saaksjarvi, I.E., Bennett, A.M.R. & BROAD, G.R. 2011. First record of Acaenitinae (Hymenoptera, Ichneumonidae) from South America with description of a new species and a key to the world species of Arotes Gravenhorst. Zookeys(137): 77-88.  [Core funded]


KUHLMANN, M., Gess, F.W., Koch, F. & Gess, S.K. 2011. Southern African osmiine bees: taxonomic notes, two new species, a key to Wainia, and biological observations (Hymenoptera: Anthophila: Megachilidae). Zootaxa(3108): 1-24.  [Core funded]


Sorokina, V.S. & PONT, A.C. 2011. Fanniidae and Muscidae (Insecta, Diptera) associated with burrows of the Altai Mountains Marmot (Marmota baibacina baibacina Kastschenko, 1899) in Siberia, with the description of new species. Zootaxa(3118): 31-44.  [Scientific Associate]




KNIGHT, K.S. 2011. Structural and thermoelastic study of the protonic conducting perovskite SrCe(0.95)Yb(0.05)O(xi) (xi similar to 3) between 373 K and 1273 K. Journal of Electroceramics, 27(3-4): 143-153.  [Scientific Associate]


McKeown, N.K., Bishop, J.L., CUADROS, J., Hillier, S., Amador, E., Makarewicz, H.D., Parente, M. & Silver, E.A. 2011. Interpretation of reflectance spectra of clay mineral-silica mixtures: implications for Martian clay mineralogy at Mawrth Vallis. Clays and Clay Minerals, 59(4): 400-415.  [Core funded]


STEELE, R.C.J., Elliott, T., Coath, C.D. & Regelous, M. 2011. Confirmation of mass-independent Ni isotopic variability in iron meteorites. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 75(24): 7906-7925.  [PhD student]




Hutchinson, J.R., DELMER, C., Miller, C.E., Hildebrandt, T., Pitsillides, A.A. & Boyde, A. 2011. From Flat Foot to Fat Foot: Structure, Ontogeny, Function, and Evolution of Elephant "Sixth Toes". Science, 334(6063): 1699-1703.  [Core funded]


Nitsch, E.K., HUMPHREY, L.T. & Hedges, R.E.M. 2011. Using Stable Isotope Analysis to Examine the Effect of Economic Change on Breastfeeding Practices in Spitalfields, London, UK. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 146(4): 619-628.  [Core funded]


Paterson, J.R., Garcia-Bellido, D.C., Lee, M.S.Y., Brock, G.A., Jago, J.B. & EDGECOMBE, G.D. 2011. Acute vision in the giant Cambrian predator Anomalocaris and the origin of compound eyes. Nature, 480(7376): 237-240.  [Core funded]


TAYLOR, P.D. & Zagorsek, K. 2011. Operculate cyclostome bryozoans (Eleidae) from the Bohemian Cretaceous. Palaeontologische Zeitschrift, 85(4): 407-432.  [Core funded]


Waisfeld, B.G., Vaccari, N.E., EDGECOMBE, G.D. & Chatterton, B.D.E. 2011. The upper ordovician trinucleid trilobite bancroftolithus from the Precordillera of Argentina. Journal of Paleontology, 85(6): 1160-1180.  [Core funded]




Bohlen, J., Slechtova, V., Tan, H.H. & BRITZ, R. 2011. Phylogeny of the Southeast Asian freshwater fish genus Pangio (Cypriniformes, Cobitidae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 61(3): 854-865.  [Core funded]


Breure, A.S.H. & ABLETT, J.D. 2011. Annotated type catalogue of the Amphibulimidae (Mollusca, Gastropoda, Orthalicoidea) in the Natural History Museum, London. Zookeys(138): 1-52.  [Core funded]


Fan, X.P., Lin, X.F., Al-Rasheid, K.A.S., Al-Farraj, S.A., WARREN, A. & Song, W.B. 2011. The Diversity of Scuticociliates (Protozoa, Ciliophora): a Report on Eight Marine Forms Found in Coastal Waters of China, with a Description of One New Species. Acta Protozoologica, 50(3): 219-234.  [Core funded]


HAYES, P.M., Wertheim, D.F., Smit, N.J., Seddon, A.M. & Davies, A.J. 2011. Three-dimensional visualisation of developmental stages of an apicomplexan fish blood parasite in its invertebrate host. Parasites & Vectors, 4.  [Core funded?]


HIGGS, N.D., GLOVER, A.G., Dahlgren, T.G. & Little, C.T.S. 2011. Bone-Boring Worms: Characterizing the Morphology, Rate, and Method of Bioerosion by Osedax mucofloris (Annelida, Siboglinidae). Biological Bulletin, 221(3): 307-316.  [PhD student, Core funded]


MORTON, B. & Dinesen, G.E. 2011. The biology and functional morphology of Modiolarca subpicta (Bivalvia: Mytilidae: Musculinae), epizoically symbiotic with Ascidiella aspersa (Urochordata: Ascidiacea), from the Kattegat, northern Jutland, Denmark. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 91(8): 1637-1649.  [Scientific Associate]


MORTON, B., Peharda, M. & Petric, M. 2011. Functional morphology of Rocellaria dubia (Bivalvia: Gastrochaenidae) with new interpretations of crypt formation and adventitious tube construction, and a discussion of evolution within the family. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 104(4): 786-804.  [Scientific Associate]


Qin, Y.H., Qiu, Z.J., Shao, C., WARREN, A. & Shen, Z. 2011. Morphological Redescription and Morphogenesis of Urosoma macrostyla (Wrzesniowski, 1866) Berger, 1999 (Ciliophora, Hypotrichida). Acta Protozoologica, 50(3): 163-174.  [Core funded]


RIDDIFORD, N. & OLSON, P.D. 2011. Wnt gene loss in flatworms. Development Genes and Evolution, 221(4): 187-197.  [Unknown & Core funded]


Rijsdijk, K.F., Zinke, J., de Louw, P.G.B., HUME, J.P., van der Plicht, H., Hooghiemstra, H., Meijer, H.J.M., Vonhof, H.B., Porch, N., Florens, F.B.V., Baider, C., van Geel, B., Brinkkemper, J., Vernimmen, T. & Janoo, A. 2011. Mid-Holocene (4200 kyr BP) mass mortalities in Mauritius (Mascarenes): Insular vertebrates resilient to climatic extremes but vulnerable to human impact. Holocene, 21(8): 1179-1194.  [Externally funded?]


Ronowicz, M., Wiodarska-Kowalczuk, M. & KUKLINSKI, P. 2011. Patterns of hydroid (Cnidaria, Hydrozoa) species richness and distribution in an Arctic glaciated fjord. Polar Biology, 34(10): 1437-1445.  [Scientific Associate]


Xu, Y., Esaulov, A., Lin, X.F., Mazei, Y., HU, X.Z., Al-Rasheid, K.A.S. & WARREN, A. 2011. Morphological Studies on Five Trachelocercids from the Yellow Sea Coast of China, with a Description of Tracheloraphis huangi spec. nov (Ciliophora, Karyorelictea). Acta Protozoologica, 50(3): 205-218.  [Externally funded, Core funded]


Xu, Y., Li, J.M., Gao, F., HU, X.Z. & Al-Rasheid, K.A.S. 2011. Apotrachelocerca arenicola (Kahl, 1933) n. g., comb. n. (Protozoa, Ciliophora, Trachelocercidae): Morphology and Phylogeny. Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology, 58(6): 504-510.  [Externally funded]


Botany Department Seminar


Capturing the aliens

Jane Pottas and Juliet Brody

Department of Botany, NHM


18 January 2012

Neil Chalmers Seminar Room, DC2, NHM.



Using herbarium specimens to track the arrival and spread of non-native seaweeds.


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Palaeontology Department Seminar


Taking a bite out of jawed vertebrate origins


Dr. Matt Friedman,

Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford


Thursday 19th January
Neil Chalmers Seminar Room, DC2, NHM




Jawed vertebrates, collectively called gnathostomes, include over 99 percent of all living species of animals with backbones. How did gnathostomes come to be, and how can we account for their astonishing evolutionary success, particularly in comparison to their jawless cousins, the agnathans? Over the past two decades, a series of fossil discoveries and novel analytical approaches have revealed important clues bearing on the evolutionary assembly of modern jawed vertebrates, but outstanding questions remain. Particularly significant is the origin of the skull architecture common to all jawed vertebrates, which differs substantially from that of any agnathan. Old fossils are beginning to yield some of their long-hidden secrets, helping to bridge some of the major gaps in our understanding of early gnathostome evolution. More insights come from the study of living fishes, which has revealed new ways of quantifying the functional and ecological significance of contrasting morphologies.

Applying these methods to ancient gnathostomes provides a fresh perspective on their initial evolutionary radiation, with important implications for understanding the shift from a world dominated by jawless fishes to one dominated by jawed vertebrates.




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Different ideas of the relationship between the crustacea (crabs, barnacles, copepods and others) and insects have been discussed at length over the past century. The emergence of more and better DNA information is allowing the evolutionary relationships to be explored and clarified.

Ronald Jenner (Zoology) co-authored a first phylogenomic test of the recent hypothesis of a sister group relationship between hexapods (insects) and remipede crustaceans. Numerous data and testing of different interpretations led the authors to robustly find hexapods and remipedes as sister groups.

Remipede crustaceans were first described as Carboniferous fossils in the 1950s (around 310 million years old).  However, living species have been discovered since 1979, living only in underground aquifers connected to the sea. They are slow-moving with relatively basic segmented body plans, but can have specialised characteristics such as poison fangs and advanced sense of scent, important for securing prey in their unusual habitat.



A Remipede from Mexico


The paper looks at the idea of the Pancrustacea - a large group containing both crustaceans and insects.  The data support the idea that the Pancrustacea can be divided into two major groups.  In the first are the marine decapods (crabs, prawns and lobsters), barnacles and copepods.  In the second group are found the freshwater Branchiopoda (such as the familar waterflea Daphnia), the Remipedes and the insects.  This supports the insects as a part of the Pancrustacea, possibly as part of a subgroup that moved from shallow marine environments to specialist freshwater, groundwater and terrestrial habitats.


von Reumont, B. M., Jenner, R. A., Wills, M. A., Dell’Ampio, E., Pass, G., Ebersberger, I., Meyer, B., Koenemann, S., Iliffe, T. M., Stamatakis, A., Niehuis, O., Meusemann, K. and Misof, B. Early online. Pancrustacean phylogeny in the light of new phylogenomic data: support for Remipedia as the sister group of Hexapoda. Molecular Biology and Evolution (doi:10.1093/molbev/msr270)  Abstract


Collection Management Seminar

Can we keep this?  Access & Benefit-Sharing: permits, problems and processes in managing collections and research.


Dr Chris Lyal

Department of Entomology


Thursday 26th January 2012

Flett Lecture Theatre, NHM, South Kensington




In October last year the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) agreed the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-Sharing (ABS), formalising policy agreements that have been in place for nearly two decades.   The Protocol potentially affects the work of all scientific staff in the Museum, since it provides a framework for requirements in collecting and research permits, including what we can and cannot do with specimens, who we can lend them to, and what we might have to provide to the country where the specimens come from. The Museum, together with other collection-holding institutions, is developing a response that aims to protect our work and our staff, while ensuring that we can meet obligations agreed to in permits and other agreements.  Chris has been involved in negotiation on ABS and will discuss the policy, its implications for us and how the Museum might change its policies and processes.  This is an opportunity to explore how the Protocol might affect how we manage biological collections across the Museum, and suggesting how we might respond.


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 seminar room lobby area after the talk.


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


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Bryozoans are widespread aquatic colonial animals living both in the sea (sea mats) and fresh waters, with an extensive marine fossil record over almost 500 million years. Collaborating research groups in the NHM Departments of Zoology and Palaeontology represent arguably the strongest concentration of bryozoan research expertise anywhere in the world.




Wilbertopora woodwardi (Brydone) from the Upper Cretaceous Chalk, Hampshire


Andrea Waeschenbach (NERC Postdoctoral Fellow, Zoology), Paul Taylor (Palaeontology) and Tim Littlewood (Zoology) have had accepted for publication the most comprehensive molecular phylogeny of bryozoans to date, using mitochondrial and ribosomal genes.


This has resulted in a well supported topology (the shape of the phylogenetic tree), providing unambiguous evidence for the interrelationship of the taxonomic classes.  It also provides strong evidence that several presently recognized taxonomic units at various hierarchical levels are each in fact of more than one origin in evolutionary terms - they are non-monophyletic (a monophyletic group has a single ancestor)


Using this topology, the work tried to establish the likely larval form and strategy of the ancestral bryozoans, but this gave ambiguous results.  It seems most likely that multiple shifts have occurred between different types of larval nutrition – dependency on yolk provided to the egg (lecithotrophy) and feeding by the bryozoan larva on phytoplankton (planktotrophy).


This result, combined with their long fossil record, promises bryozoans to be a suitable phylum to studying links between reproductive strategy and large scale evolutionary patterns, such as speciation rates. This paper is a significant contribution for assessing the interrelationships in a relatively neglected group that offers much promise as an evolutionary model. This work was funded by NERC (NE/E015298/1).


Waeschenbach, A., Taylor, P.D., Littlewood, D.T.J. (2011) A molecular phylogeny of bryozoans, Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.


Zoology Department Seminar

Posted by C Lowry Jan 5, 2012

Zoology Department Seminar


How many species of marine symbionts are there?

Geoff Boxshall
Department of Zoology, NHM


Nearly a quarter of a million described species are known from the oceans and about 2000 new ones are described each year. Our knowledge of the extent of marine biodiversity is growing and we are now better able to estimate how many unknown species are out there….and what groups they belong to. However, there has been no census of marine parasites. By omitting the parasites from our calculations, it seems that we are seriously underestimating species richness in the oceans.  About 40% of the 10,000 described species of marine copepods are parasites or symbionts of host taxa ranging from sponges to mammals. The diversity of marine parasites is underestimated, even in UK waters, and in some groups of marine parasites, such as the tantulocarids and gregarines we have only begun to scratch the surface.




Polychaete biodiversity in the Amundsen Sea, Antarctica

Adrian Glover et al.
Department of Zoology, NHM


The Amundsen Sea is one of the most poorly-sampled regions of the world for marine fauna. There are almost no published reports of benthic samples from this region, mainly owing to the great distance from ports and heavy sea-ice. During an oceanographic cruise in 2008 with the RRS James Clark Ross we were able to reach Pine Island Bay - a region normally characterised by year-round sea ice – and take a suite of benthic samples at depths from 500 – 1500m. We used an epibenthic sledge to sample the macrofaunal component of the diversity, and recovered just over 200,000 individuals from 36 samples. Here we report the polychaete component of the biodiversity at species level, from approximately 17,000 individuals that have been identified. Many species new to science have been recovered and are being described in accompanying taxonomic projects. At a local scale, there are significant differences in the composition of the fauna within the deep 1500m basins compared to the 500m typical shelf environment. Using published datasets, we also compare diversity on the Antarctic shelf with other comparable deep-sea and shelf data worldwide.


TUESDAY 10th January

Neil Chalmers Science Seminar Room (DC.LG16)
12:00 -13:00



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