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Denis Michez,  University of Mons, Belgium


Wednesday 2 April 11:00


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


Bees (Anthophila) are one of the major groups of angiosperm-pollinating insects and accordingly are widely studied in both basic and applied research, for which it is essential to have a clear understanding of their phylogeny, and evolutionary history. Direct evidence of bee evolutionary history has been hindered by a dearth of available fossils needed to determine the timing and tempo of their diversification, as well as episodes of extinction.

NaturalHistoryMuseum_PictureLibrary_015744_Comp-1 bee.jpgCopal from East Africa containing Apis mellifera


Here we assess the similarity of the forewing shape of bee fossils with extant and fossil taxa using geometric morphometrics analyses. Predictive discriminant analyses show that fossils share similar diagnostic forewing shapes with families like Apidae, Halictidae, Andrenidae and Melittidae. Their taxonomic assessments provide new information on the distribution and timing of particular bee groups like corbiculate groups, most notably the extension into North America of possible Eocene-Oligocene cooling-induced extinctions.


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Maarja Öpik,  Department of Botany, University of Tartu, Estonia

Wednesday 26 March 11:00   Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)

Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF, Phylum Glomeromycota) are soil and root-dwelling, obligate plant root symbiotic organisms present in most terrestrial environments. Their occurrence and diversity have important roles in life, and in diversity and functioning of host plant communities. Therefore, understanding the taxonomic and functional diversity of AMF is the topic of increasing popularity. Their diversity patterns are described to address questions ranging from climate change and land use effects to understanding ecosystem succession and macroecological patterns.


Diversity of AMF is commonly measured using DNA sequences of nuclear ribosomal operon markers; the most frequently used one being the SSU rRNA gene. Total AMF molecular operational taxonomic unit (MOTU) richness of SSU rRNA gene sequences suggests at least twice as high number of species present as is currently known on the basis of morphotaxonomy.


These MOTUs have been organised into a common system of “virtual taxa” (VT) in a public database MaarjAM ( VT are delimited as phylogenetically related clades of sequences of SSU rRNA gene at approximately species level. VT nomenclature provides comparability among data and consistent communication among scientists.Application of the VT nomenclature has allowed description of AMF diversity patterns from global to local scales.


In this talk, I will present evidence of global scale patterns of AMF diversity being related to biomes and climatic zones; and of local scale patterns related to host ecological groups, spatiotemporal processes and root- vs. soil-localising AMF growth strategies. I will conclude with highlighting the questions of urgent need to advance the understanding about this important group of organisms.


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Friday 28 Mar, 4.30pm

Neil Chalmers Seminar Room, DC2



The Evolution of Vertebrate Reproduction


by Zerina Johanson, Department of Earth Sciences


The early history of the jawed vertebrates, and the evolutionary transition from jawless to jawed vertebrates, is recorded entirely in the fossil record. Phylogenetically, the most basal jawed vertebrates (and some of the most crownward stem gnathostomes) are the placoderms, fossil taxa ranging in age from the early Silurian to the end of the Devonian (435-360mya). As such, placoderms record the origins and evolution of a number of major jawed vertebrate morphologies. A re-examination of the superb three-dimensionally preserved placoderms recovered from the Gogo Formation (Late Devonian, Western Australia) has provided the most detailed knowledge of this group to date.




We review recent information on placoderm embryos as well as previous descriptions of the placoderm pelvic structures and reinterpret the morphology of the pelvic region, in particular the position of the pelvic fin and the relationship of the male clasper to the pelvic girdle. Claspers in placoderms and chondrichthyans develop in very different ways; in sharks, claspers develop from the pelvic fin while the claspers in placoderms develop separately, suggesting that their independent development involved a posterior extension of the ‘zone of fin competence’.



SciFri is a cross-departmental science seminar series and social event, held on the last Friday of each month. The 45 minute talks are intended to be informal, contemporary, inter-disciplinary and cover a range of fields including the latest research, curation, science policy, library & archives research, publishing, media, fieldwork and science methods.



Fridgeir Grimsson

Department of Palaeontology, University of Vienna


Tuesday 25 March - 4.00 pm

Earth Sciences Seminar Room
(Basement, WEB 05, the previous Mineralogy Seminar Room)
Oldest records of many modern north-temperate woody angiosperm genera are from the Eocene. However, the precise time and place of origin of individual tree genera that play important roles in modern temperate forest ecosystems has largely remained unresolved. One hypothesis about the origin of modern temperate woody elements in the northern hemisphere was proposed in the late 19th century by Adolf Engler, who suggested that many modern temperate tree genera originated in Arctic areas and migrated southwards in the course of the Cenozoic when global climate cooled.


The final objective of the present study is to test the validity of Engler’s (1882) concept of the “arctotertiary element”, that is, to determine whether early Cenozoic high latitude floras were the cradle of a number of tree genera that now dominate north-temperate mid-latitude forests. To achieve this, the systematic affinities of  pollen from Paleocene and Eocene sediments of western Greenland and the Faröe Islands are being assessed using combined light and scanning electron microscopy. Macrofossils from the same areas housed in existing museum and university collections are also under study, and new material has been collected in the field. By combining evidence from the palynofloras and the revised macrofloras, the phylogenetic affinities of the recognized plant taxa are being established in order to determine the proportion of extinct lineages and co-occurring extant genera, representing the “arctotertiary element” in the fossil floras.



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Coll man flyer 28 March.jpg


If you have any queries please contact the organiser Julie Reynolds (




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Papilio_dardanus.jpg    (Image from Wikipedia)


Martijn Timmermans

Department of Life Sciences, Natural History Museum


Wednesday 19 March 11:00

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

Papilio dardanus is a polymorphic Batesian mimic renowned for copying a large number of toxic Lepidopteran models. Its phenotypic variation is known to be largely determined by a single mimicry switch, but studies on the origin and maintenance of its intricate wing pattern variation have been “hindered at the outset by a complicated nomenclature” (Poulton, 1924; pg. 21). To acquire a comprehensive overview of the phenotypic diversity displayed and to stimulate collaborative research on this enigmatic species, we have digitised, geo-referenced and made publicly available all specimens held by the Museum. I will describe how data-derived distribution maps help us to understand Papilio dardanus’ wing pattern radiation and present genomic data that exposes the engrailed gene as the enigmatic mimicry master switch.



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sea fan coral.jpg



Maria del Mar Soler Hurtado

University of Seville, Spain


Wednesday 12 of March 11:00

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


Although abundant, the Eastern Pacific octocoral fauna was considered poorly known by Bayer (1951), mainly due to the difficulty of identification and lack of taxonomic expertise.  In addition, the continuous nature of many of the morphological characters in the taxonomy of the Octocorallia has been a major problem for the systematic study of the group.  For this reason, some authors consider octocoral characters difficult to encode or to polarize, and it is necessary to implement in this family new sources of characters (in all available disciplines) to help us in the correct identification of units (species), in order to develop a more natural classification and phylogeny than that which currently exists, which is seen as clearly artificial yet still in use. In this context, the opportunity to review important collections of gorgoniid specimens deposited in museums, such as the collection available in the NHM, is for us a major step in the development and expansion of our research.  The examination of these type specimens, from a morphological and molecular point of view, will permit their comparison with newly-collected material from Ecuador, the delimitation of specific variability, the re-evaluation of the importance of morphological characters previously used, and the description of new forms where necessary.





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Earth core mantle.jpg


Dr Ian Wood

Senior Lecturer, Department of Earth Sciences, UCL

Tuesday 11 March - 4.00 pm

Basement, WEB 05, the previous Mineralogy Seminar Room


If we are to understand large-scale Earth processes such as the formation and evolution of the core, the magnetic field, and the transfer of heat through the mantle, it is essential that we know the physical properties of the minerals present in the Earth’s deep interior, i.e. in its lower mantle and core. However, as the core-mantle boundary in the Earth lies at a depth of nearly 3000 km, at which point the pressure and temperature are around 1.3 million atmospheres and 4000 K, direct experimentation is extremely challenging. A more effective route for determining the structures and properties of these deep-Earth phases is, therefore, to combine X-ray and neutron diffraction studies with computer simulations of both actual and low-pressure “analogue” systems. In this talk I shall concentrate on recent work on the FeSi – NiSi system, a possible inner-core component of terrestrial planets, and on studies of ABX3 analogues of MgSiO3 perovskite, with particular relevance to the perovskite to post-perovskite phase transition that occurs in MgSiO3 just above the Earth’s core-mantle boundary.


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rhinoceros-beetle-micro-ct-scan_38570_1.jpgStill image taken from a micro-CT of the rhinoceros beetle, Oryctes boas.



Thomas J. Simonsen

Department of Life Sciences, the Natural History Museum


Friday 7 March 11:00

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


Computer-aided X-ray tomography (CT scanning) has been around as a medical, industrial and scientific tool since the early 1980s. However, it was only after the arrival of scanners with sufficient resolution power (micro-CT) in the early 2000s that the technology was used in the study of non-vertebrate animals. After the first study presenting micro-CT scanning results from insects in 2002, the technology has become a state-of-the-art tool for studies into insect comparative morphology and palaeontology (in particular involving amber fossils). On the other hand, micro-CT scanning has been criticised for not yielding the same resolution as histology, nor having the same ability to distinguish between different types of tissue, partly due to low natural contrast in soft tissue and cuticle. Nevertheless, micro-CT scanning has the advantage of being much faster than traditional methods such as histology, thus allowing for much larger samples to be examined. Furthermore, the method is largely non-destructive and thus ideal for studying rare and valuable specimens. Here I will give a short introduction to micro-CT scanning in entomology and illustrate the technology's uses (and limitations) in the study of insect, focused on forensics entomology, developmental biology and taxonomy/virtual dissections.


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