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Friday 31 of May 11:00
Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)


Can measuring glumes help conservation policy in Madagascar?


Maria Vorontsova
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew


Lemurs and rainforests? 75% of Madagascar land area is grassland. Received conservation policy prioritises protecting the remnant forest patches, but recent data suggests at least some of the grasslands are a natural vegetation type and not a degraded wasteland as traditionally assumed. Historic lack of attention to grasslands means that grasses are ignored and routinely left out of vegetation surveys. The current state of alpha taxonomy is such that assessments of diversity and endemicity are not possible. This talk will describe Maria’s work towards assessing the Poaceae diversity of Madagascar and building local taxonomic capacity. I promise many pictures of grasses.



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Collection Management Seminar

Posted by C Lowry May 29, 2013

CSIP (Collections Storage Infrastructure Programme)

1) Update on the current collections storage studies
2) Environmental Standards - where do you they come from and how are we implementing them?


Thursday 30th May, 2013, 2.30pm-4.00pm


Flett Lecture Theatre, NHM, South Kensington


Who? Speakers:
Ben Atkinson – CSIP Project Manager
Chris Collins – Head of Conservation
Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, South Kensington, London, SW7 5BD.


What’s it about?
The Collection Storage Infrastructure Programme has been undertaking an estate wide study on the Museum’s collection conditions and future steps to improve them. The first part of this session will provide an update on some of the results from the first wave of the studies, and key questions we need to ask ourselves for the next steps.

The second part of the seminar will be focusing on the specific CSIP parameters for environmental control. The CSIP standards were put in place after review by a cross museum team of collection management and conservation staff. The standards outline the parameters for environmental control in storage and display spaces where collections are held. The standards cover most museum collections and are now being used to guideline the environmental conditions to be established in new CSIP projects and a future Earth Sciences building.

The standards are different to new guidelines being established under PAS 198 and by the National Museum’s Directors Conference (NMDC).  The talk will outline where the standards come from, why they have been defined in the way they have, the differences between these and other standards being put in place and how they should be used for Natural History Collections. The talk will also review how they related to the museums sustainability and energy policies.

Who should come?
The seminar is open to all members of the Museum who are interested in getting involved, learning more about the future of CSIP and the recovery of the collections in a disaster situation. 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.

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.


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 (




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Friday 24 of May 11:00
Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)



Octocorals of the family Xeniidae in Red Sea and beyond



Yehuda Benayahu - Department of Zoology, Tel Aviv University, Ramat Aviv, Tel Aviv,  Israel



Octocorals are common throughout the Indo-Pacific reefs and play an important role in the ecology of the ecosystem, yet they remain dramatically understudied. The seminar will deal with octocorals of the family Xeniidae, a highly abundant component of Indo-Pacific coral reefs, particularly in the Red Sea. Aspects concerning their life history and acquisition of symbiotic algae (zooxanthellae) at early ontogenetic stages will be addressed. Opportunistic Xeniidae are taking over degraded reefs but taxonomic difficulties force researchers to recognize them as a group whichprecludes detailed understanding of the reef environment and processes on impacted reefs by genera or even species. Our ongoing project deals with phylogeny of the family including provision of species identifications based on their morphological characters. Recent findings reveal that novel microstructural features of their sclerites might be critically important in resolving taxonomic difficulties. Such a study requires introduction of high resolution scanning electron microscopy at magnifications never used before by octocoral taxonomists. Insights on microstructural features of xeniid sclerites also enabled us to examine the effect of ocean acidification on these octocorals and understand the possible function of their living tissue in protection against deteriorating effects of acidic conditions.  It is anticipated that studies on xeniids will facilitate future surveys aimed at the maintenance and greater understanding of coral reef diversity and reef-environment function and sustainability.


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Wednesday 22nd May 11:00
Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)



Polyembryony and unexpected gender roles in hermaphroditic colonial invertebrates



Helen Jenkins - PhD student, Aquatic Invertebrates, Dept. of Life Sciences, NHM



Polyembryony – the production of multiple genetically identical embryos from a single fertilised egg – is a seemingly paradoxical combination of contrasting reproductive modes that has evolved numerous times and persists in a diverse range of taxa including rust fungi, algae, plants and animals. Polyembryony is thought to characterise an entire order of bryozoans, the Cyclostomata. A molecular genetic approach was used to confirm this widely cited inference, based on early microscopy, and to test the apparently paradoxical nature of this reproductive mode in relation to cyclostomes, and will be reported here. Additional research, also presented here, has revealed further insights into the mating systems of this relatively understudied group of hermaphroditic colonial invertebrates. Mating  trials indicated a greater degree of female investment in the presence of allosperm in Tubulipora plumosa and produced evidence of separate-sex colonies in Filicrisia geniculata. If not a complete transition to gonochorism, the situation in F. geniculata indicates at least very pronounced gender specialisation. Further investigations into mating systems of this group may reveal more examples, with implications for our understanding of hermaphroditism and its related traits.


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Friday 17 May 11:00

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


The Energetic Niche of Species: Lessons from the Deep Sea


Craig R. McClain, Assistant Director of Science, National Evolutionary Synthesis Center


Life requires energy. Biological organization—the culmination of life in all its forms—is determined largely by the flow and transformation of energy. Three distinct types of energy affect biological systems: solar radiation (in the form of photons), thermal kinetic energy (as indexed by temperature), and chemical potential energy stored in reduced carbon compounds (i.e. food). 


I contend and will discuss that much like organisms possess thermal niches so do they possess chemical energetic niches (CEN). Evidence from both local and oceanic scale studies of beta-diversity, i.e. species turnover, suggests unique suites of species inhabit different regimes of carbon availability.  The evolution of body size and life history strategies in molluscs appear to be linked to productivity gradients and may have promoted diversification in this group.  Thus, changes in ocean productivity as a result of climate change may greatly impact biodiversity by modifying available niche space for ocean species.


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Wednesday 15 May 11:00
Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)


Data Portal Workshop


Benn Scott, Data Portal Developer, NHM

As part of the NHM informatics initiative we are developing a publicly accessible web repository of Museum data, mounted at


In the first instance the primary dataset will be the specimen and collection records from KE EMu. In the future, the data portal will allow museum scientists to deposit research data, as well as integrate other museum datasets. The portal is intended as a tool for scientific research, facilitating exploration, analysis and reuse of data. Users will be able to browse, visualise and download the datasets. An R-based tool will allow deeper analysis of the data and DataCite DOIs attached to datasets will enable citation.


In this workshop, there will be a short introductory talk on the portal before we open up into a discussion and requirements gathering exercise, giving researchers and curators the opportunity to shape the development of the portal. We want to find out what data you'd like to see on the portal; how we can make the portal useful in your work and research; what systems & software you're using to generate and store your data. And of course if you have any questions or concerns about the portal, we'll do our best to answer them.

To find out more about the Data Portal, please see this introductory overview



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Friday 10th May 11:00
Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)


Hervé Philippe

Département de Biochimie, Centre Robert-Cedergren, Université de Montréal, Québec, Canada



Is bio-informatics making us dumb? Phylogenomics as a case study


“Is Smart Making Us Dumb?” recently asked Evgeny Morozov in the Wall Street Journal. Although the main issue of this article is about social engineering disguised as product engineering, the author noticed that “truly smart technologies will remind us that we are not mere automatons who assist big data in asking and answering questions”. The development of high-throughput technologies in life sciences (e.g. DNA sequencing, mass spectrometry, sensor data) requires that biologists do use numerous bio-informatics tools to handle and analyse big data. Are these software “truly smart technologies”? Or more generally, can “truly smart technologies” exist? I will use phylogenetic inference as a case study, present recent results on the difficulties of using big data and conclude by some general questioning about our approach to study biodiversity.




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