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Many species and larger taxonomic groups, especially invertebrates, have been little studied in terms of their patterns of geographical distribution - biogeography - and even basic information, inventories and assessments are missing.  A key reason for this is that collecting and sampling has been too limited and too uneven: there are simply no good baseline data on distributions.


Ian Kitching of the NHM Life Sciences Department, with colleagues from the University of Basel, Switzerland, and Yale University, USA, set out to establish why inventories for the hawkmoths of Sub-Saharan Africa are incomplete, considering human geographical and associated environmental factors.


Xanthopan morganii praedicta - a hawkmoth found in Madagascar and East Africa


They used a database of hawkmoth distribution records to estimate species richness across 200 x 200 km map grid cells and then used mathematical models predict species richness and  map region-wide diversity patterns. Next, they estimated cell-wide inventory completeness related to human geographical factors.


They found that the observed patterns of hawkmoth species richness are strongly determined by the number of available records in grid cells. Vegetation type is an important factor in estimated total richness, together with heat, energy availability and topography. Their model identified three centres of diversity: Cameroon coastal mountains, and the northern and southern East African mountain areas. Species richness is still under-recorded in the western Congo Basin and in southern Tanzania/Mozambique.


What does this mean?  It means that sampling (and therefore our knowledge) of biodiversity is heavily biased.  We have good data and information where there is higher population density; for more accessible and less remote areas; for protected areas and for certain areas where there was collecting in colonial periods.  If it is easy to get to, not too difficult to access, there are more people around and there have been longer histories of collecting: we have better knowledge. 


This is important in how we understand biodiversity and in how we make decisions with our knowledge to protect forests or other areas.  But this study means that we can take account of data gaps if we are looking at larger scale patterns of diversity.  It shows that baselines for broad diversity patterns can be developed using models and what data there is available.  We can identify the "known unknowns" in terms of information gaps in part by looking at human geographical features - the models can help set priorities for future exploration and collection as well as informing our understanding of biodiveristy.

Ballesteros-Mejia, L., Kitching, I.J., Jetz, W., Nagel, P. & Beck, J. 2013. Mapping the biodiversity of tropical insects: species richness and inventory completeness of African sphingid moths. Global Ecology & Biogeography 22: 586-595. (doi: 10.1111/geb.12039)


A natural geographical range for a particular species is familiar  - organisms have evolved to flourish in environments with particular combinations of temperature, rainfall, water and food availability, competition and many other factors.  These are often described in terms of ecosystems, habitats or ecological niches.


However, species do appear in new places that can be remote from their original range.  Some populations expand into new areas.  The Collared Dove in Europe is a good example - it was first recorded regularly in the Balkans in the early 20th Century - having extended its range from Asia Minor - and spread across Europe gradually, reaching the UK in the 1950s. It is now a very familiar bird in the UK. 


A relatively recent arrival to the UK is the Tree Bumblebee, Bombus hypnorum, which is native and widespread on the European mainland.  It was first recorded in the UK in 2001 and is now widespread in England, particularly in the south.


B hypnorum NaturalHistoryMuseum_PictureLibrary_055983_Comp.jpg

Bombus hypnorum in the NHM wildlife garden


Other species are introduced to new areas deliberately or accidentally by human action.  Deliberate introductions include Grey Squirrels and Canada Geese that were introduced from North America to the UK as ornamental animals, Japanese Knotweed as a garden plant and the Harlequin Ladybird to control pest insects - most have had unanticipated adverse impacts to a greater or lesser degree.  Accidental introduction of the fungal Dutch Elm Disease in timber led to the death of around 20 million Elm trees in the 1970s, transforming the UK landscape.  Recent concern has focused on Ash Dieback disease - Chalara - which is thought to have been introduced accidentally to the UK in 2012 and which has spread across southern England. 


Some introduced species seem to have little impact, but many are of concern because they increase rapidly in the absence of normal controls such as predators, displacing native species or because they have economic impacts: these species of concern are often described as invasive.  Governments therefore support research, monitoring and control for a wide range of invasive species.

Accurate knowledge and identification is essential if control is to be effective and the NHM's strengths in species identification and training have been important in supporting policy.  The NHM became a founder partner of the international Global Invasive Alien Species Information Partnership last year by signing an MOC with the Convention on Biological Diversity. Chris Lyal is chair of the Partnership’s Interim Steering Committee and administers its Information Gateway, developed with the NHM Scratchpad Team.


In May 2013 Chris organised and hosted an international technical workshop for the partnership with EU funds obtained from the CBD, with 18 participants from key organisations around the world. The Workshop developed plans for the informatics infrastructure necessary to better access and deliver information, and advised on a range of Partnership activities. Chris also received EU funds through the CBD for populating the Information Gateway.  


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Further details of the Wallace100 celebrations can be found here:


Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and Preventive Conservation at English Heritage properties



Thursday 25 July 2013, 14:30-16:00


Flett Lecture Theatre, Natural History Museum, South Kensington



Speaker: Dee Lauder, Collections Pest Control & Maintenance Manager for the Collections Conservation Team, English Heritage.


“Just as one man’s meat is another man’s poison, so one woman’s dream job is another’s nightmare. This is particularly true when that dream job involves setting traps for textile-chomping moths, wood-boring beetles and their larvae, or examining frass (insect droppings) to find out exactly what is gnawing through your beams, curtains and furniture. Yet, this is precisely what Dee Lauder, Collections Care Manager at English Heritage, spends her time doing”.

'Bugs Beware', Heritage Today, the in-house journal of English Heritage, 2005.


Dee is responsible for keeping English Heritage’s properties and their vulnerable collections – including books, textiles, carpets and furniture – pest-free. In this talk Dee will tell us how she and her team strive to achieve that goal.


Who should come?
The seminar is open to all museum professionals. 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.



For additional details on attending this or other seminars see


7th in our series of Wallace100 lectures.


Was there a link between Wallace's evolutionary thinking and his socio-political beliefs? Find out in this free lecture.




‘Wallace’s thought on nature, human nature and socialism’


Later in his life Wallace became a prominent social critic and campaigner for land nationalisation and socialism. This lecture explores the relationships between his evolutionary thinking and his socio-political views.






Ted Benton, Professor of Sociology, University of Essex



The Natural History Museum 8 August 16:30 – 17:30, Flett Events Theatre



As part of the Wallace100 celebrations taking place in 2013, the Natural History Museum will be hosting a monthly lecture series. These lectures are part of the Museum’s participation in Wallace100, an international programme of projects and events celebrating the centenary of Wallace’s death on 7 November 2013. At these monthly events, leading biologists and historians will discuss different aspects of Wallace’s life and work. The series also highlights the significance of the Museum as a focal point for Wallace collections and studies.


Wallace is best known for his role, with Darwin, in founding the theory of evolution by natural selection, but the two scientists' views on human evolution were very different.


Ted Benton is professor of Sociology at University of Essex. He has published extensively on philosophy, critical social theory and environmental politics. He is also a photographer and author of several books on entomology, including two works in the HarperCollins New Naturalist series.




Free tickets need to be booked in advance
Book tickets online
Doors open 16.00


Details of the event can also be found here:

Details of the Wallace100 celebrations can be found here:

Details of Wallace100 events taking place at the NHM can be found here:


Evolution of the diurnal moth group Dioptinae (Noctuidea: Notodontidae)


James Miller

American Museum of Natural History, New York


Wednesday 10 July 11:00

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


The diverse moth subfamily Dioptinae, an exclusively Neotropical group, appears to have evolved from a nocturnal ancestor. Their evolution mirrors that of the butterflies in surprising detail, revealing a remarkable case of convergence.



For additional details on attending this or other seminars see


Cyanobacteria in Arctic and Antarctic freshwaters: their diversity and toxicity





Julia Kleinteich

Division for Genomics & Microbial Diversity, Dept. Life Sciences, NHM


Friday 12 July 11:00

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


Cyanobacteria are photosynthetic bacteria with a worldwide distribution. They thrive in extreme environments and represent the predominant primary producers in freshwater streams, ponds, and lakes of the high polar regions. Cyanobacterial mats are the nutritional basis and micro-habitat for several other types of organisms (primarily proto- and metazoans). Because of their simple trophic structure and sensitivity to climate change, cyanobacterial mats are an ideal model system for the exploration of climate induced changes in the polar regions. Cyanobacteria also synthesize multiple secondary metabolites, some of which are toxic to most higher organisms, including humans. On a worldwide scale toxin production appears to be increasing, possibly as a consequence of a warming climate. Here we describe the diversity of cyanobacterial communities from the Arctic and the Antarctic using a combination of automated ribosomal intergenic spacer analysis (ARISA) and 454-sequening. We also demonstrate that different cyanobacterial toxins (Saxitoxin, Microcystin, and Cylindrospermopsin) are present in these habitats; two cyanobacterial toxins were recorded for the first time by ELISA (Enzyme Linked Immuno Sorbent Assay) and other analytical methods. We will also discuss results from temperature-controlled laboratory studies on cyanobacterial mats to evaluate the potential effect of climate change on polar cyanobacterial diversity and toxin production.



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Diplocynodon (Crocodylia, Alligatoroidea): old collections, new perspectives.




Massimo Delfino

Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra, Università degli Studi di Torino, Via Valperga Caluso 35, 10125 Torino, Italy;


Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. Edifici ICP, Campus de la UAB s/n, 08193 Cerdanyola del Vallès, Barcelona, Spain


Tuesday 9th July - 11.00 am

Earth Sciences seminar room


Diplocynodon was probably the most common Cenozoic crocodylian of Europe: remains referred to this genus were collected in more than 200 localities ranging in age from the late Paleocene (MP6; Mont Berru / Cernay-les-Reims) to the late Miocene (MN 6 in Central Europe; MN 9 in Southern Europe). Even if remains, often fragmentary, from Africa, North America and Asia were originally referred to this genus, it is likely that it was a European endemism. According to the modern phylogenies, Diplocynodon is a basal alligatoroid. Of the ten species of Diplocynodon that are considered valid at present, some have been described in the last decades, but others were erected even before than the genus was introduced in the literature by Pomel in 1847. This is the case of Diplocynodon hantoniensis (Wood, 1846) from the late Eocene of Hordle Cliff, originally referred to Alligator or to Crocodylus (as Crocodilus hastingsiae Owen, 1847). After the publications by Owen (1847, 1850) and Huxley (1859) the material from Hordle Cliff was never described in detail and most of the updated information on the morphology of D. hantoniensis derives indirectly from the character codings used for the cladistic analysis since 1992. The Synthesys project that I am developing here at NHM has the goal of redescribing the abundant remains of D. hantoniensis in order to provide an updated, solid comparative basis for the revision of the taxonomy and phylogeny of Diplocynodon.



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Seeing see the figs for the trees, or 'What we see depends mainly on what we look for'

Identifying biodiversity hotspots on the island of New Guinea: a case study using a keystone species




Thomas Starnes

PhD student, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Friday 5 July 11:00
Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)

The Island of New Guinea is floristically one of the most bio-diverse regions on earth, with an estimated 15,000 - 25,000 plant species, many of which are threatened or endangered. One genus of particular ecological interest is the figs (Ficus, Moraceae), the island playing host to to 151 of the 367 species known from the Flora Malesiana region. Several of the sub-genera have clear centres of diversity on the island and c. 70% of the Ficus species known from New Guinea are endemic. Figs areoften described as ‘keystone’ species in tropical forests and provide a year-round food source for birds, bats, marsupials and other mammals. Economic uses include cooking, textiles, dyes and medicine. With the ever-growing threat of deforestation and resource extraction such as open cast mining in both Papua New Guinea and Indonesian Papua, it is more important than ever to discover the areas which support the highest diversity of endemic, endangered and economically important species. This information can ultimately be used to direct conservation effort, or in the meantime to highlight areas in need of further botanical collection. For this project, label information from over 2, 000 historical and contemporary New Guinea Ficus collections in the herbarium at Kew was recorded in an Microsoft Access database. The specimens were then georeferenced using a range of resources including expedition maps, topographic surveys and online gazetteers. The point data were then plotted using ArcMap 10. When viewing the geographic spread of the data it soon became evident that there was a strong spatial collection bias in the data with many collections being made in and around large settlements and major roads. In an attempt to resolve for this, we employed ecological niche modelling (ENM) using Maxentversion 3.3.3, manipulated in ArcGIS 10. These models help us to predict habitat suitability based on species' favoured environmental niche, and give some indication of potential distributions for species of which we have fewfield collection records. At this stage 19 bioclimatic variable layers, including annual and seasonal temperature and precipitation, have been used to predict ecological niche suitability for Ficus in New Guinea. We hope to include further variables such as solar radiation, geology and soil type infuture models.This is part of a wider project by the South East Asia & Pacific Regional Team at Kew looking at the biodiversity of New Guinea flora.



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