What do our museum scientists do out ‘in the field’? One of our museum scientists, Ray Tangney, has just returned from the Falkland Islands. See what he got up to.
"There are 3 of us, myself, Matt von Konrat from the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, USA, and Juan Larrain from the Universidad Catolica de Guayaquil, Santiago, Chile; and we were in the Falklands as part of a Darwin Initiative funded project, recording and conserving the lower plants. This means we were searching for plants such as mosses and liverworts (small, low growing plants that do not produce flowers).
We spent most of the time in ‘Camp’ (the name for the hinterland beyond the capital, Stanley), visiting locations in a 4 wheel drive on East and West Falkland, and on Pebble Island to the north. We estimate we found 14 plants that had never been found growing on the Falkland Islands before; 8 mosses and 6 liverworts.
I gave a talk about the project to the Falklands Conservation AGM. We also ran a school activity session at Fox Bay School. The children collected and created their own herbarium specimens, making them accessible for scientists in the future. They looked at mosses under a microscope and observed details they would never usually have been able to see in the wild. Image 1 shows the children being asked by Juan whether the plant is a moss or a liverwort! It’s a silver coloured moss we also have in Wales called, rather unsurprisingly, Silver-moss (scientific name, Bryum argenteum). In January, the Lower Plants Project Officer, Dafydd Crabtree, ran a similar activity session about lichens with the children. Have a look at some more photos from the Falklands Conservation Facebook page here.
We found a number of new records of mosses for the Islands during this trip. Image 2 shows a misty Mount Donald on West Falkland at about 600 metres above sea level. The moss Bucklandiella pachydictyon growing on rocks here was a brand new record for the Falklands. It wasn’t all sunshine. The next day on Mount Adam we had rain, sleet, hail and snow, along with strong winds!
A characteristic feature of the Falklands are sea inlets. Streams that feed into these inlets are an important habitat for mosses and liverworts. One moss (Blindia torrentium) that only grows in the Falklands is commonly found on rocks in these streams.
Tiny plants such as mosses are such a big feature of the Falkland Isles landscape. School activity sessions, as well as talks, are crucial to increase local knowledge of, and interest in, the unique natural environment of these fragile, beautiful islands in the Southern Hemisphere."