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Science News

February 2012

Palaeontology Department Seminar



Chert on the beach


Dr. Lil Stevens,

Department of Palaeontology, NHM


Thursday 1st March
Neil Chalmers Seminar Room, DC2,

16:00 - 17:00




In 2004 an amateur collector found a dull brown cobble on the beach at Sandsend, part of the Yorkshire Jurassic coast. Hammer at the ready, he broke the cobble into eleven pieces and looked into its interior. It was probably raining, which would have helped him to see small pieces of fossilised plants preserved within the chert, including what looked like reproductive structures. The cobble made its way to Birmingham University and after many months of sectioning and polishing, there began to emerge the most beautifully preserved Palaeozoic plant and crustacean remains I have ever seen.

Contained in the cobble were vegetative and reproductive fragments of an arborescent lycopsid with cellular preservation. The cone fragments were described as Flemingites arcuatus sp. nov. and analyses confirmed a provisional assignment to Paralycopodites stem genus. Associated with the plant remains were many small univalve crustaceans described as Ebullitiocaris elatus sp. nov., the same genus as those found in the Devonian Rhynie chert from Scotland. Extremely rarely for this age of fossil, both internal organs and appendages are visible and show a long morphological stasis and even some features still retained by modern Cladocera.

The cobble has preserved organisms of mid to late Carboniferous age and is therefore ex-situ. Chert content analysis and the level and mode of preservation of the fossils suggests not necessarily a hot spring environment, but a swamp certainly influenced by some sort of hydrothermal volcanic activity that caused rapid solidification. Comparison with other cherts has not helped to narrow down the original locality and it is thought that although the cobble was probably transported south east by glacial activity, it is also possible that it was dumped as ballast on the busy shipping routes around north east Britain, and so could have originated from almost anywhere in the world.




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Zoology Seminar

28th February, 12 noon

Neil Chalmers Science Seminar Room  (DC.LG16)


Contact: Ronald Jenner, Zoology

The Mysterious World of Vampire Amoebae and  Plasmodiophorid Plant Parasites

Department of Zoology, NHM

Vampire amoebae  (Vampyrellida) and plasmodiophorid plant parasites (Phytomyxea) have been known  since the second half of the XIXth century, yet have been given very little  attention up to now in spite of their fascinating biology. The taxonomic  position of both groups has been much debated for over a century, but recent  molecular work showed them to be sister lineages within the eukaryotic  supergroup Rhizaria. From their common ancestor, the Vampyrellida evolved to  become super-predators of algae, fungi and other microorganisms in all marine  and terrestrial microbial ecosystems, with some species adopting a peculiar mode  of feeding that earned them the name of vampire amoebae. In contrast, the  Phytomyxea evolved to become obligate, endobiotic parasites of higher plants,  diatoms, brown algae and oomycetes. Members of this group can cause devastating  and significant plant diseases (e.g. Plasmodiophora brassicae causing  clubroot disease), while others will spend their life hidden inside their hosts  without causing any visible symptoms. As part of our research group’s focus on  the biodiversity, evolution, and ecological importance of poorly known members  of the Rhizaria, we will present some of our results and illustrate the  enigmatic nature and contrasting lifestyles of vampire amoebae and  plasmodiophorid plant parasites.


Palaeontology Department Seminar


Australia Home to the Oldest Continual Culture


Emma Loban and Carole Christopherson

Human Remains Unit, Department of Palaeontology, NHM


Thursday 16th February
Neil Chalmers Seminar Room, DC2, NHM

16:00 - 17:00




For 2000 generations Australia has been home to the oldest continuing human culture in history. For over 40,000 years Indigenous people have explored, discovered, named and lived on the entire land mass and islands of Australia.


There are two distinct Indigenous groups of Australia; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.


Aboriginal people of Australia are not all the same and there is not one language or culture. Within Aboriginal Australia are hundreds of distinctly different cultures that continue to exist today.  Who are the Yolgnu, Wararkbi, Tiwi, Walpiri, Warramungu, Arrente, Kamilori?


Torres Strait Islander people are a minority group, within a minority group.  What makes this group of people unique? How many islands make up the gateway to Australia? What are their connections to the Australian mainland?


Although two groups of distinct peoples, what are the similarities between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders? Join us in a presentation about Indigenous Australia and the Diversity of people. Carol and Emma will explore shared history, geography, linguistics, kinship, world views, Indigenous perspectives on repatriation and their work here at The Natural History Museum.



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Collection Management Seminar



Are we there yet? Maps and geographic information at the NHM : findings of the Library Map Collections Review



April Carlucci

Library and Archives, NHM


Thursday 23rd February 2012

Flett Lecture Theatre, NHM, South Kensington




With more than twenty years experience working with maps in libraries, April joined the NHM in June 2011 to conduct a review of the Library’s map collections, as part of the Library’s ongoing strategy work, and now feeding into the Director of Science’s  working groups. The remit of the Review is to assess the Library’s current collections; talk with Science and Public Engagement colleagues about their needs for geographic information and how those needs are being met; to place the Museum’s map collections in their national and international contexts; and to identify opportunities for partnerships, cooperative ventures and revenue generation. April discusses her findings, including the remarkably consistent needs for geographic information across the Science departments; what other natural history museums are doing in this area; what resources are being missed; and the risks to the collections, research and engaging the public that are being taken with the current approach. The Review concludes in March, and, as a work still in progress, she is eager to hear comments  on her findings from all those in the Museum who use cartographic and geographic information in their work.


The seminar is open to all NHM staff  and 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 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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Palaeontology Department Seminar


Hunting down Quaternary mammals on Eastern Mediterranean islands: surveying Crete for seven years

Dr. George Iliopoulos

Department of Geology

University of Patras


Thursday 9th February
Neil Chalmers Seminar Room, DC2, NHM

16:00 - 17:00



In 1745, Pococke reported the first fossil bone findings from Crete Island, discovered in the Agios Georgios Cave (Akrotiri peninsula) in Western Crete. For more than 250 years the island has been widely acknowledged as an important and popular place for the study of endemic island faunas. All these years, several workers have surveyed the island, discovering tens of fossiliferous Pleistocene localities. Until 2000, 75 mammal localities had been reported from the island. In the last 12 years 37 new localities have been discovered, raising the number of known localities to 112. The vast majority of these localities were discovered by systematic surveying on the Island by the Palaeontology group of the Natural History Museum of Crete. We employed caving and climbing techniques to access deep potholes and rocky cliffs and getting ‘extreme’ helped us discover new localities. Fossiliferous localities were discovered on southern and mountainous areas of Central Crete, where there were no previous reports. The new localities brought new findings such as the new Middle Pleistocene deer from Katharo plato and a Middle Pleistocene otter from Cape Malekas. Therefore, new localities provide new data and thus the Quaternary history of the Island needs to be reviewed and rewritten.



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