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Falklands Island Research

In November 2011 I visited the Falkland Islands to start a project looking at the distribution and identification of the marine bristleworms (polychaetes). The visit was part funded by the Shackleton Scholarship Fund and, following a highly successful visit, a second grant was awarded in April 2012 to fund a second trip in January 2013. The additional fieldwork will concentrate on the island of West Falkland which was not sampled at all on the last trip as well as visiting a few extra sites on East Falkland to gain more comprehensive coverage of that island too. The combination of the two trips together will provide data from all around the coasts of both islands as well as Falkland Sound in between them and will be the most detailed survey of the polychaetes of the intertidal and inshore regions for that area to date.

Check back regularly to see what I've been up to.

Teresa Darbyshire

November 2011

Polychaete research in the Falklands by Teresa Darbyshire - Day 3

Posted by Peter Howlett on 17 November 2011
Freya searching for worms
Photo 1: Freya, eager for another day searching for worms!
Worm tracks
Photo 2: Worm tracks were evident whenever we dug into the sand.
An Onuphid worm
Photo 3: an Onuphid worm.
A spiky proboscis
Photo 4: the spiky proboscis of a Goniadid worm.
» View full post to see all images

So, I’m happy. A new day with new worms (yes, I am easily pleased). Having said that, it is only the second day’s sampling and the challenge will be to be still finding new worms on day 28, I’ll let you know!

Bit of a late one though as late tides mean a later finish in the evening but conversely this does give me a lighter morning. I spent the morning driving around (I do like the landrover!) the local area checking out potential sampling sites, the idea being to spot places that have different habitats to each other that may harbour different species. On my way back into town I visited the local Museum. A small place with every square inch of wall space and several other cabinets covered in information on the history of the Falkland Islands from shipping, social history, whaling, natural history, geology and of course the Falklands War and island defence over the years. Very interesting.

For the afternoon, Freya made her return. This time we headed just east of Stanley to a spot known as The Canache. Strangely I hadn’t put Freya off the day before with a 2 hour stint on the beach and several more in the lab and she still seemed keen and smiling (Photo 1). The shore was very sandy, a complete contrast to yesterday’s rocks. This was of course deliberate as mentioned above in the bid to find new species. The shore was heavily dominated by a group of worms called bamboo worms (Maldanidae) whose tubes were evident with every spadeful (Photo 2). While kneeling down in the wet sand in my borrowed oilskin trousers (thanks Paul), I duly found the holes in the seams as the water seeped down my legs. Ah well.

We sampled a few times down the sandy beach and then moved across a small spit to a rocky area where we found a few of the same species as yesterday but also several new ones, including different species of ragworm and a large 1.5inch scaleworm (for those who don’t know this is very large), larger than any I have seen in the UK.

Back in the lab I had now managed to access the camera microscope, the downside of this being that it adds even more time to that needed to go through the animals. The results can be nice though although it will only take images of a small area so the animal needs to be small or you take a picture of a small piece. New to the day were some onuphids (Photo 3), flattened worms that build tubes on rocks and a goniadid (I think) that obligingly pushed its proboscis (the spiky-looking tube) out of its mouth (Photo 4). In these animals, the appearance of the papillae on this structure is often used to help identify the species so this was very useful. Pictures also act as later reminders of the colours of the animals as these can be a distinctive feature for identification but fade once they are preserved. I just need to find more tiny things now (sigh) so I can take pictures of whole animals as well.

What’s in store for tomorrow? (today actually as I didn’t manage to finish writing this last night), well you’ll have to wait and see as I haven’t made my mind up yet. Sun’s shining again though…

Polychaete research in the Falklands by Teresa Darbyshire - Day 2

Posted by Peter Howlett on 16 November 2011

So, Freya and I tramped down to the local shore in our wellies and waterproof trousers earlier. The wind was whistling around us but was surprisingly not as cold as you might expect. I introduced Freya to the delights of attacking a shoreline with a large garden fork and then having to peer at the results as if you’ve lost a contact lens (photo 1). There is not a large tidal range here, less than 1.5m which for someone used to the 10m range of the Bristol Channel is tiny. Still we found a reasonable range of little worms, some excitingly large, others eye-strainingly small and did our best to keep them from breaking into several smaller pieces before we could get them back to the lab.

Falklands beach
Photo 1: Searching for polychaete worms on the shore.

We sampled 3 sites down the shore and, not surprisingly with such a small tidal range, found that the specimens varied little between samples and there was not a high diversity within those. That said, I have a nice collection just from today covering at least 12 different family groups and slightly more species. The most striking was a very stripy phyllodocid looking as if it had just escaped from jail (photo 2) and a terebellid with a fantastic ‘80s crimp to its gills (photo 3). Not the best photos I admit but I am hoping to access the camera microscope soon!

Phyllodocid worm
Photo 2: Phyllodocid worm found today.

Tomorrow will be a new site, hopefully with different animals to find. Luckily I havebeen given a landrover to use as I need to get around. I’m just about used to it now and have stopped hopping along when I set off!. 4x4’s are the only vehicles seen on the roads and I’m very grateful to the complete stranger who has entrusted me with this vehicle to use while he is away! People here are very friendly, nothing is locked and doors are left open. In paranoia, I did try to lock the landrover last night but found that the locks were so unused that I couldn’t get a key in them!

Terebellid worm
Photo 3: A Terebellid worm with a fancy 80s-style 'perm' to its gills.


Falkland Island map
Map showing where I sampled on Day 2.

Polychaete research in the Falklands by Teresa Darbyshire - Day 1

Posted by Peter Howlett on 16 November 2011

I'm a polychaete (marine bristleworms) taxonomist in the marine section of the Department of Biodiversity & Systematic Biology. I was awarded a grant by the Shackleton Fund to visit and conduct research in the Falkland Islands, so now I'm off to Stanley for the next month to collect and investigate the polychaete fauna of the Islands. I'll be collecting specimens by digging them up on the beachesand also by diving. It's nearly 100 years since scientists last looked at this group in the intertidal and shallow subtidal regions of the Islands and there is much potential for the discovery of new species.

Day 1

I can’t say I was looking forward to an 18 hour flight that much although it has to be said I had no idea what to expect flying on an RAF flight from Brize Norton. With dive kit in tow, I had a lot of baggage with me but this paled into insignificance next to the guys checking in from the BBC who faced a £4500 bill for excess baggage! The flight itself was fairly painless in the end taking off at 11pm and heading south through the night.

Photo 1: Ascension Islands airport

Nine hours and not much sleep later we landed on Ascension Island for a 2 hour refuelling stop. The 23°C fresh air was welcome although the views were very bleak (photo 1). Another 8 hours and 2 films later we finally arrived at Mount Pleasant in bright sunshine and more warmth. Not what I was expecting and I didn’t pack that much in the way of light clothing!

Photo 2: The fisheries offices in Port Stanley, Falkland Islands

A long and dusty trip to Stanley showed a very windswept, rocky landscape dotted with sheep. After finding the flat I am staying in I also met Steve and Jude who I will be diving with later in the week. Jude then whisked me off for a quick tour of the local area including seeing my first penguin and a couple of beaches roped off due to mines!

Photo 3: Steps up to the offices are not for the faint-hearted!

This morning I made it to the Fisheries department where I will be based. Built on a large floating pontoon (photo 2) with a very disconcerting set of steps up to it (photo 3) everyone I met was very helpful and friendly and I’m looking forward to viewing my first group of worms in the lab there! Low tide is at 3pm this afternoon so I will be out with my fork and bucket beginning my investigations very shortly. I will also have the help of Freya a local volunteer and biology graduate who is keen get involved and see what we can find! 

Teresa Darbyshire

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