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Adrian in the Amazon - part 7

Adrian Plant, 27 April 2015

We have made it to the Estación Científica San Francisco in Podocarpus National Park, Loja Province. Well, we made it but one of our bags didn’t, apparently having been left behind in Quito. We are hopeful that it will arrive tomorrow in Loja and we can arrange for a taxi to bring it the hour or so’s drive to the Estación. Meanwhile we are getting to know our new home for the next week.

The Estación is perched on the side of a narrow ravine in dense forest through which flows the Rio San Fransisco. All our routes into the forest start with a spectacular crossing of the river using a wire cradle suspended from a rope running through pulleys at either end high over the water. Progress is made by pulling hand over hand on the opposing rope until the other side is reached. Once over, the ground is very steep and densely forested. Our intial forrays into the near reaches of this wilderness indicate a spectacularly diverse fly fauna. . . and that is what we are here for. We have set our Malaise traps but the incessant rain is making other fieldwork difficult so we will have to wait for better weather to get further afield and explore more.

You can read more about Adrian's travels on our blog page

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Adrian in the Amazon - part 6

Adrian Plant, 24 April 2015

Having completed our work at Yanayacu we have moved further down the eastern slopes of the Andes to the town of Tena in Napo Province. Here at only 500m above sea level it is much hotter than in the mountains - a truly tropical climate. The town is placed on the last slight hills before the Andes sweep down and merge onto the flatlands of the Amazon Basin. West of here, the rivers are fast and furious having dropped 3000m or more in just 50km through the mountains whereas to the east they become sluggish and it will take another 3000km for them to drop the remaining 500m to the sea.

Our visit to Tena is necessary to complete administrative formalities and to obtain permits allowing us to move the specimens we have collected between different provinces within Ecuador. After three visits to the Ministry of Environment, numerous phone calls, support from a well-connected colleague at the newly established university in Tena and from colleagues in Quito we are still waiting for a positive outcome!

Josenir and I have to move on to our next study site in Loja Province and we have no chance or getting the permits through in time. Fortunately, Eduardo has to remain in the town to deliver a 3-day entomology course to the students at the university. The hope is that he can complete the formalities and bring our specimens with him when he moves back to Quito next week and we can take them from him when we pass through Quito on our way out of the country. Meanwhile Josy and I have a plane to catch….

Find out more about what Adrian has been up to by reading his past blogs.

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Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales team up with British Institute for Geological Conservation for the 2015 RHS Show

This year, for the first time Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales had its own marquee at the Cardiff Royal Horticultural Society Show. The Museum has been represented at the show for several years, enabling us to share with the public many of our hidden treasures from the museum’s collections. Our theme, Tropical Plants: bringing the tropics back to Wales, provided an excellent introduction to the Museum’s Botany collections. Visitors marvelled at the coco-de-mer, the world’s largest seed (native to the Seychelles). Curator, Heather Pardoe, introduced show-goers to a selection of sumptuous eighteenth-century botanical illustrations, rarely on show to the public, originally painted in tropical countries including Australia, India, America and Java.

The highlight for many was the opportunity to hunt for fossils with experts from the Museum, led by Ben Evans (BIGC) and Head of Botany Chris Cleal. Young and old alike were thrilled to split rocks and discover Carboniferous plant fossils, dating back 300 million years. This year the fossil hunt was accompanied by a prehistoric reconstruction, created using tree ferns, horsetails and an amazing diversity of mosses. The Carboniferous garden was home for the weekend to our incredible Arthur the Arthropleura (a giant millipede from the Carboniferous period), another show stopper.  Visitors could also see exotic insects, accidentally imported into Britain,  held in the Museum’s Entomology collections, and learn about both the OPAL and the Spring Bulb projects.  Over the three days of the show more than 5,000 people visited the Museum’s marquee, out of a record-breaking 24,000 visitors to the show.

We’d like to thank Waitrose Pontprennau, PJS Flowers and Miller Argent for supporting and sponsoring our activities and displays this year.

To find out more about the museum’s presence at the RHS show, why not read our Storify story

The core project team comprising botanists, entomologists and a conservator were delighted to see the fruition of months of planning

Erecting this lavish arrangement of tropical fruit was a challenge for the ingenious display team.  The fruit was generously donated by Waitrose Pontprennau

Exciting new discoveries meant that the fossil hunting activity was more popular than ever, with many repeat visitors

Arthur the Arthropleura (a giant millipede from the Carboniferous period) at his weekend retreat

The Museum’s marquee featured on the show’s trail for children; this superb illustration of the cacao tree and the dried cacao pod were used to explain the source of chocolate flavour

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Llys Rhosyr: revealing the past

Dafydd Wiliam, 22 April 2015

Our 13th century Royal hall is moving forward at quite a pace. At the minute work focusses on the window reveals of the smaller of the two structures, currently known as ‘Building B’. This building could have been the Royal bed chamber (for other contemporary examples feature a chamber and hall within close proximity to each other), but equally it could have been the kitchen, (which would also have been in close proximity to the hall, for who would want to feast on cold food?).

The window reveals are typically Romanesque in style. They are very narrow on the outside, but widen considerably on the inside, in order to maximise the light coming through. The reason for their narrowness is two-fold: small windows are more easily defended and hence were a common feature of more fortified structures such as castles; secondly, as glass for glazing was not always available their size was kept to a minimum in order to reduce the amount of cold air coming in. They will be capped by a level stone lintel, but likewise they could have been capped with an arch – as both methods were common at this time. Wooden shutters will be installed and closed at night, so that visiting schoolchildren will be warm when sleeping over.

Off-site work has begun on saw-milling oak boughs into timber for the roof trusses. Getting a long square-edged timber out of a log takes some considerable skill. The large band-saw can only cut straight lines, therefore the log has to be positioned correctly before every pass. It has to be adjusted up and down, as well as from side to side, because one cut at the wrong angle would negatively impact the following cuts, and render the timber unusable.

The narrow windows of the Llys.

The narrow windows of the Llys.

Builder finishing the reveal and checking his work.

Mike finishing the reveal and checking his work.

The wooden bolt that will bar the door.

The wooden bolt that will bar the door.

Oak boughs ready for the sawmill.

Oak boughs ready for the sawmill.

Sawn timbers ready to be transformed into trusses.

Sawn timbers ready to be transformed into trusses.

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Adrian in the Amazon - part 5

Adrian Plant, 22 April 2015

Our time at Yanayacu has drawn to a close. The final days fieldwork saw us collecting in the Malaise traps we had previously set and making several forays to a particularly good stream site where we had hoped to find more species of Hemerodromia. Hemerodromia is the focus of Josenir’s PhD work at INPA and we have been searching hard for specimens to help her studies.

Alas, many hours of wading up streambeds, sloshing through mud and slithering over mossy spring sources has yielded but a handful. These will be valuable for her studies but we can’t help but feel a bit disappointed by the results on this aspect of our expedition. We have speculated long and hard as to why Hemerodromia has been so hard to find. Perhaps these aquatic insects have been washed out of their streams by the unusually strong rains we are experiencing? It seems that a particularly strong El Nino event has commenced bringing late rains throughout Ecuador.

During the evenings we have been running an ultraviolet light to attract nocturnal insects to the Biological Station. A couple of nights ago we were absolutely inundated by insects with vast numbers of hawk moths, tiger moths, giant Hercules beetles and enormous stoneflies (Plecoptera) known as Dobson Flies in the US, coming to the light. It’s odd but the best nights for attracting insects are not warm balmy ones but those with torrential rain and enveloping cloud. And such were the conditions on this particular occasion.

To read more about Adrian's expedition - read his past blog posts.