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Natural History

May 2014

Overcoming the Taxonomic Impediment in the Amazon

Posted by Adrian Plant on 28 May 2014

An undescribed Hemerodromiinae from the Amazon

Another undescribed Hemerodromiinae from the Amazon

It is well known that the Amazon rainforests are amongst the most biodiverse places on the planet. However, much of this biodiversity remains completely unknown having never been formally described and with absolutely no knowledge of the ecological and other conditions required for its survival. This profound lack of scientific knowledge arises from what is called the Taxonomic Impediment - there simply are too few taxonomists (people who can identify and describe living things) to get to grips with the magnitude of biodiversity. The Taxonomic Impediment is a world-wide problem as taxonomists themselves have become endangered species and few, if any, countries now devote sufficient resources to biodiversity research. There are many unfortunate knock-ons from this fact; for example designing rational conservation strategies is difficult without knowledge of the animals and plants that live in an area and some knowledge of why. It is only taxonomists who can deliver this knowledge.

In the Brazilian Amazon the situation is improving with a major research institute Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia (INPA) now conducting extensive taxonomic research and training a new generation of taxonomists to lead in future biodiversity studies. One such trainee is Josenir Camara, a PhD student at INPA now spending 6 months as an intern at Amgueddfa Cymru under the tutelage of Dr Adrian Plant (Principle Curator, Entomology). Josenir’s research is describing the diversity of a group of aquatic flies (Hemerodromiinae). She has already discovered more than 50 new species, and using sophisticated cladistic techniques to understand more of their evolutionary relationships with related forms elsewhere in the world. The Museum’s extensive collections and taxonomic skills will be an invaluable aid to develop her research and the expertise and experience she develops will be lasting benefits she will take home to Brazil. A small but positive contribution to removing the Taxonomic Impediment in her own country.

 

 

 

Spring Bulb for Schools: Results 2005-2014

Posted by Catalena Angele on 27 May 2014

The ‘Spring Bulbs for Schools’ project allows 1000s of schools scientists to work with Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales to investigate and understand climate change.

Since October 2005, school scientists have been keeping weather records and noting when their flowers open, as part of a long-term study looking at the effects of temperature on spring bulbs.

Certificates have now been sent out to all the 4,075 pupils that completed the project this year.

See Professor Plant's reports or download the spreadsheet to study the trends for yourself!

  • Make graphs & frequency charts or calculate the mean.
  • See if the flowers opened late in schools that recorded cold weather.
  • See how temperature, sunshine and rainfall affect the average flowering dates.
  • Look for trends between different locations.
     
Many Thanks

Professor Plant

www.museumwales.ac.uk/scan/bulbs

Twitter http://twitter.com/Professor_Plant

From Amazonian Rainforest to Welsh Rain!

Posted by Katie Mortimer-Jones on 23 May 2014

Collecting insects in the Amazon

Josenir Camara on the Javari River 

Mountains at Sao Gabriel da Cachoeira on the Rio Negro

Brazilian PhD student Josenir Camara is working with Dr Adrian Plant, Principle Curator of Entomology at Amgueddfa Cymru, on a three-year project to describe some of the diversity of Diptera (flies) inhabiting the rainforest of Brazil’s Amazon Basin. The two researchers have already made numerous collecting expeditions to remote parts of the Amazon, but now they are both back in Cardiff where Josenir will spend the next six months studying at the Museum. As a part of her research she will describe all the Amazonian species of a group of water-inhabiting flies known as Hemerodromia. She already has more than 50 species that are completely new to science and once these have been formally described, the next task is to construct an evolutionary tree showing how the Amazonian Hemerodromia have diversified in respect to Hemerodromia elsewhere in the world. This is where Amgueddfa Cymru comes in as our extensive collections will provide her with an invaluable resource she can use to compare how Amazonian species differ from others. By careful comparison of ‘characters’ of each species and using sophisticated computing methods, Josenir will construct a ‘phylogenetic tree’ to illustrate the sequence of evolutionary changes that have occurred. By comparing the evolutionary tree with the fossil record, geological and climatic history it is hoped that we start to learn more about the biogeography of the Amazon (biogeography is the study of how species and communities or organisms become distributed both geographically and through geologic time).

 

Aurelian Society

Posted by Jennifer Evans on 13 May 2014

The following photographs are from the book, Twelve new designs of English butterflies, by Benjamin Wilkes [published in 1742]. This rare work consists solely of twelve engraved plates each depicting geometric arrangements of both butterflies and moths. Wilkes produced this profoundly beautiful work as member of the Aurelian Society. Aurelian is an archaic word for lepidopterist [one who is interested in butterflies]; the term is derived from aurelia, meaning chrysalis, and relates to the golden colour it may attain just before the butterfly emerges.

The Society of Aurelians [London], one of the oldest organized bodies of specialists in any branch of zoology. The group collected and documented insects from the 1690s but came to an abrupt end in March 1748. While members of the society were in a meeting in the Swan Tavern, a great fire broke out  in Cornhill and enveloped them. All the members escaped, but their entire collection, library, and records were destroyed. This event was documented by Moses Harris in The Aurelian; or, Natural History of English Insects (1765). The loss disheartened the group so much that they never managed to regroup again…Aurelian societies were formed several times in Britain [most notable 1762 and 1801], but each time they collapsed.

…Benjamin Wilkes was an 18th-century artist and naturalist whose profession was 'painting of History Pieces and Portraits in Oil'. When a friend invited him to a meeting of the Aurelian Society, where he first saw specimens of butterflies and moths, he became convinced that nature would be his 'best instructor' as to colour and form in art. He began to study entomology spending his leisure time collecting, studying and drawing the images larvae, pupae and parasitic flies of Lepidoptera, assisted by the collector Mr Joseph Dandridge. Wilkes' own collection was kept 'against the Horn Tavern in Fleet Street' London 'Where any gentleman or lady' could see his collection of insects [Wikipedia].

 

 

Our  holdings of other Aurelian books include:

The English Lepidoptera: or, the Aurelian's pocket companion: containing a catalogue of upward of four hundred moths and butterflies ... / Moses Harris [1775]

 The aurelian. a natural history of English moths and butterflies, together with the plants on which they feed. Also .../ Moses Harris [1766]

 English moths and butterflies… Benjamin Wilkes [1749] This work ran to three editions of which the last, incorporating Linnaean nomenclature, was published in 1824

 The British Aurelian:  twelve new designs of British Butterflies and Directions for making a collection, with an essay by R.S. Wilkinson / Benjamin Wilkes, R.S. Wilkinson [1982]

All photographs in this post taken by the author

 

Renewed Hope?

Posted by Katie Mortimer-Jones on 2 May 2014

The nest of Peregrine falcons in the clock tower appears to have failed, due to unknown causes sometime during the last week or so. However, after an absence of several days, both birds are showing renewed interest in the nest-site. Today has seen considerable activity with one bird visiting the nest several times and apparently busying itself tidying the interior while the other bird of the pair watched from close by. Although peregrines only have one brood each year, if the first brood is lost at an early stage they sometimes re-lay a second clutch, either in the original nest, or perhaps more often, at a nearby site. We now watch, wait and hope that a new clutch of eggs will be laid sometime in the near future and that these magnificent falcons will have more success the second time around.

Adrian Plant

April 2014

Breeding failure

Posted by Katie Mortimer-Jones on 30 April 2014

It now looks that the breeding attempt by Peregrine Falcons in the clock tower has failed. All indications were that eggs were laid during late March and early April and if all had gone according to plan, they should have been hatching about now (eggs are usually incubated for 31-33 days). Unfortunately, no birds have been seen at the nest or perched nearby on the clock tower for several days now so it seems certain that the nest has been abandoned. We do not know why this breeding attempt has failed but the most likely cause is that the eggs have been eaten by predators, perhaps crows, ravens or gulls. Although peregrines only raise one brood each year it remains possible that the birds will make a second attempt to breed and we remain vigilant in case that happens.

Adrian Plant

Super Scientist Awards 2014

Posted by Catalena Angele on 28 April 2014
Professor Plant

Daffodil drawing at SS Philip and James CE Primary School, England

Flowers at Ysgol Y Plas, Wales

Ninety five schools across the UK will be awarded Super Scientist Certificates from Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales this year, in recognition of their contribution to the Spring Bulbs – Climate Change Investigation.

Huge Congratulations to all these schools! They are listed below, is your school listed?

Thank you to every one of the 4200 pupils who helped this year! Thank you for working so hard planting, observing, measuring and recording - you really are Super Scientists! Each one of you will receive a certificate and Super Scientist pencil, these will be sent to your school around the middle of May.

Many thanks to the Edina Trust for funding this project and helping to make this all happen!

 

Winners 2014

Well done to our three winners for sending in the most weather data! Each will receive a class trip of fun-packed nature activities.

  • Ysgol Clocaenog in Wales
  • Abronhill Primary School in Scotland
  • Dallas Road Community Primary School in England

 

Runners Up

Each school will receive a gift voucher to purchase lovely things for your gardening projects.

  • Ysgol Gynradd Cross Hands in Wales
  • Wormit Primary School in Scotland
  • The Blessed Sacrament Catholic Primary School in England

 

Highly commended

Each school will receive certificates, pencils, flower seeds and herb seeds.

  • Abergwili VC Primary
  • Archbishop Hutton's Primary School
  • Arkholme CE Primary School
  • Balshaw Lane Community Primary School
  • Bleasdale CE Primary School
  • Burscough Bridge Methodist School
  • Carnforth North Road Primary School
  • Christchurch CP School
  • Combe Primary School
  • Coppull Parish Church School
  • Cutteslowe Primary School
  • Darran Park Primary
  • Freuchie Primary School
  • Gladestry C. in W. Primary
  • Glyncollen Primary
  • Kilmaron School
  • Raglan VC Primary
  • SS Philip and James CE Primary School
  • St Athan Primary School
  • St Blanes Primary School
  • St Ignatius Primary School
  • St Mary's Catholic Primary School, Leyland
  • St Mellons Church in Wales Primary School
  • St Michael's CE (Aided) Primary School
  • St Nicholas Primary School
  • St Patrick's Primary School
  • Stanford in the Vale CE Primary School
  • Ysgol Bro Eirwg
  • Ysgol Deganwy

 

Schools with special recognition

Each school will receive, certificates, pencils and flower seeds.

  • Auchengray Primary School
  • Britannia Community Primary School
  • Cawthorne's Endowed Primary School
  • Coleg Meirion-Dwyfor
  • Culross Primary School
  • Greyfriars RC Primary School
  • Holy Trinity CE Primary School
  • John Cross CE Primary School
  • Llanishen Fach Primary School
  • Red Marsh School
  • St Anne's Catholic Primary School
  • St Laurence CE Primary School
  • Woodplumpton St. Anne's Primary School
  • Ysgol Gynradd Dolgellau
  • Ysgol Terrig
  • Ysgol Y Plas

 

Schools to be awarded certificates

Each school will receive Super Scientist Certificates and pencils.

  • All Saints' CE Primary School
  • Balcurvie Primary School
  • Ballerup Nursery
  • Blenheim Road Community Primary School
  • Brockholes Wood Community Primary School
  • Brynhyfryd Junior School
  • Catforth Primary School
  • Chatelherault Primary School
  • Cleddau Reach VC Primary School
  • Cobbs Brow Primary School
  • Coed-y-Lan Primary School
  • Flakefleet Primary School
  • Glencairn Primary School
  • Golden Hill School
  • Henllys C/W Primary
  • Hillside Specialist School
  • Ladywell Primary School
  • Lakeside Primary
  • Lea Community School
  • Manor Road Primary School
  • Manor School
  • Milford Haven Junior School
  • Newport Primary School
  • Pinfold Primary School
  • RAF Benson Primary School
  • Rogiet Primary School
  • Rougemont Junior School
  • Scotforth St Paul's CE Primary School
  • St Bernadette's Primary School
  • St Gregory's Catholic Primary School
  • St John's CE Primary School
  • St Nicholas C/W primary school
  • Trellech Primary School
  • Tynewater Primary School
  • Woodstock CE Primary School
  • Ysgol Bro Tawe
  • Ysgol Glan Cleddau
  • Ysgol Iau Hen Golwyn
  • Ysgol Nant y Coed
  • Ysgol Rhys Prichard
  • Ysgol Santes Tudful
  • Ysgol Sychdyn
  • Ysgol Y Berllan Deg
  • Ysgol Y Faenol

 

Daffodil Drawing Competition 2014

Congratulations to the following pupils who produced some excellent botanical drawings! Winners will receive Bird watching kits with mini binoculars.

  • 1st: Abbey – Coppull Parish Church School
  • 2nd: Louise – SS Philip and James CE Primary School (Pink 3)
  • 3rd: Amelie – Stanford in the Vale CE Primary School

 

Well done, you have all done an AMAZING job.

Professor Plant

Exploring biodiversity in the Amazon

Posted by Adrian Plant on 15 April 2014

Adrian Plant continues his fieldwork in the Amazon in collaboration with Jose Albertino Rafael and Josenir Camara from INPA (Brazil’s national Amazon research organisation) in Manaus.

So far two field-trips to remote corners of the Amazon have been successfully completed. The first was to Sao Gabriel da Cachoeira high up the Rio Negra not far from Brazil’s borders with Colombia and Venezuela and the second to a major tributary of the Amazon along the border with Peru at Benjamin Constant.

The forests of the Amazon Basin are flood forests; they become seasonally inundated by the flooded river and the waters bring with them many of the nutrients essential to the forests great productivity throughout the region. This year the forest remains unusually wet for the time of year which has caused a few practical problems for field entomology.- it is an acquired pleasure to slosh around in deep mud and water searching for new and interesting insects under a constant plague of biting mosquitoes. Yet, to an entomologist this is more or less a definition of “fun”!

The biodiversity is amazing of course and many of the insects seen and collected are undoubtedly new to science but will require much study in more comfortable surroundings after returning from the field. Meanwhile, Adrian will shortly be setting out on a third fieldtrip, this time to a little known area  between the mouth of the Amazon river and French Guiana where many exciting discoveries will undeniably be made.

Smoggy London

Posted by Catalena Angele on 14 April 2014

London in the smog   bbc.co.uk

Help reduce air pollution to protect the Earth

Many top scientists agree that pollution levels are contributing to global warming

If you had been visiting London last week you would have noticed it was very smoggy, as if you were looking at everything through a dirty cloud! But what exactly is smog, and how is it different to fog?

What is fog?

Fog is a cloud on the ground! It is a natural part of the weather. It is lots of very tiny water droplets floating in the air. Fog helps plants by providing moisture and does not harm you if you breathe in.

What is smog?

Smog is a kind of air pollution. Smog is created when fog mixes with smoke and chemical fumes from cars and factories. Some of the chemicals in smog are toxic – this means poisonous! It is harmful to plants and animals and can be dangerous if breathed in.

The recent smog in London is a mixture of fog and pollution and a third ingredient – sand from the Sahara desert! The Sahara desert is a huge desert in Africa. Some of the desert sand is very, very small, like dust. Sometimes wind storms sweep up the dust and blow it thousands of miles to the UK. It’s amazing how far it travels!

Unfortunately, this mixture of fog and pollution and desert dust means that the London smog is not good for your lungs, and has made some people ill. Smog is one very good reason why we should all try to reduce air pollution!

So what can you do to help reduce air pollution?

Think about air pollution… What causes it? Can you think of 3 things you can do to reduce it? Why not talk about it in class and then click here to check your answers.  

Find out more information about smog click here. To see more picture of smoggy London click here.

Your comments, my answers:

Glyncollen Primary School: Sorry we were late again. We had a busy week as we are going to Llangrannog. We have had great fun doing this investigation. We can't wait to find out who has won the competition. We are going to tell the year3 class about it as they will be doing it next year. Thank you Professor Plant. Yr. 4. Prof P: Hope you had fun at Llangrannog! I am so glad you have enjoyed the investigation Glyncollen. Thank you so much for taking part!

Ysgol Clocaenog: Pen wedi disgyn ffwrdd! Athro'r Ardd: Wedi colli ei ben!

Gladestry C.I.W. School: Although the flowers were open earlier in the week, they have closed up again at the drop in temperature. Prof P: I can tell that you have learnt a lot about your planrs Gladestry, well done!

Many thanks,

Prof P

 

Collecting Seaweeds in Ireland

Posted by Katie Mortimer-Jones on 10 April 2014

The non-native red seaweed Bonnemaison’s Hook Weed (Bonnemaisonia hamifera) from the lower shore.

Seaweeds are floated out in seawater, placed between blotting paper and pressure is applied with large herbarium plant presses

Blotting paper needs to be changed every day, for around a week after pressing

Seaweed drying in silica gel

By Kath Slade

The marine team are back from their fieldwork to West of Ireland with lots of specimens to sort through, including seaweeds. The timing of fieldwork was chosen to coincide with several very low tides, allowing us to sample species lower down the shore, which are less adapted to long periods out of water. We still had limited a time to sample around low water (approx. 2 hours).

The lower shore holds many of the red seaweeds, such as Sea Beech (Delesseria sanguinea), Fine-Veined Crinkle Weed (Cryptopleura ramosa) and Bonnemaison’s Hook Weed (Bonnemaisonia hamifera).

Immediately after collection, there was a fair amount of processing to do, as seaweeds don’t last long out of their natural habitat on the shore. Many were floated out in trays of seawater in order to spread all of the fronds (“leaves”) out, before being transferred and pressed onto conservation grade cotton paper. The specimens were stacked together, and between each layer we had blotting paper to soak up the water. The stacks of seaweed were then placed into large plant presses, just like those used for flower pressing. Each day the blotting paper was changed to remove as much water as possible. When we returned to the Museum, we placed the plant presses in drying machines to speed up the process and prevent the seaweeds from rotting.

Some seaweeds are difficult to identify from external characters alone. For these species, small portions were collected and placed into silica gel. This dries the seaweed much quicker than pressing so that the DNA is better preserved enabling molecular work to be carried out at a later date. Others were preserved in formalin, which removes the colour of the seaweed but preserves the cell details and the seaweed’s 3D structure. Further identification work, will now be carried out back at the Museum.

All this preparation allows us preserve the seaweeds for future scientific studies. The specimens go into the Welsh National Herbarium (plant collections) at the Museum, and each provides evidence of what seaweeds are present at a particular locality at a particular time. The pressing process is so effective that specimens keep for hundreds of years.