Amgueddfa Blog: Hanes Naturiol

Great British Mollusca Types Project: A union database for the UK

The GB types project began 2 years ago with 6 mollusc curators from National Museum Cardiff and Natural History Museum, London leading the way. The idea - to find, document and make available online as many mollusc types as possible in 7 Museums around the UK. The project funded by the John Ellerman Foundation (Regional Museums and Galleries Fund) worked with Glasgow Museums, Glasgow Hunterian, World Museum, Liverpool, Newcastle Museums, Leeds Museums, Machester Museum and the Royal Albert Memorial Museum. From October 2016, the process began of visiting the collections at each of the partner museums to locate known and potential mollusc type specimens. The specimens were loaned to National Museum Cardiff or the Natural History Museum for specialist photography, databasing and research. For the first time, data from these nine institutions will be recorded permanently on an internationally accessible online database: https://gbmolluscatypes.ac.uk/

Over 95 potential mollusc types were borrowed from LeedsMuseums, mostly from the extensive collection of Sylvanus C. T. Hanley. The collections contain many type figured and cited specimens of international importance.

Over 150 types were borrowed, researched and photographed from McrMuseum, many of these molluscs were named by Melvill and Standen at the end of the 19th Century.

Mollusc types in GMRCNitshill / GlasgowMuseums include 150 year-old types of Thomas Gray and Carl Westerlund. Thanks to Richard Sutcliffe, & former curator Fred Woodward for GB types work in the 1970s-1980s

Hancock, Alder and Angas collections dominate the GNM_Hancock Mollusca collections and the fluid-preserved nudibranchs proved tricky to photograph!

The mollusc collections at the hunterian are rich in historic material going back to Cook’s voyages, the Duchess of Portland and Laskey. They hold the infamous holotype of Gray’s Strombus listeri and several types of Godwin-Austen.

Over 100 of Col. George Montagu’s shell types were discovered at RAMMuseum. These as well as some found at NHM_London were presented in the following paper.

Marrat’s Olives and Nassas dominated the mollusc type material at World_Museum, easily found thanks to curator Nora McMillan who worked on the collection 1933-2000.

You can see more of the Twitter highlights following this project with the hash tag #GBMolluscaTypes or this Twitter Moment

The Museum holds a very significant library collection of Molluscan books, known collectively as the Tomlin Library. They were donated to the Museum in 1955 by John Read le Brockton Tomlin (1864-1954), a founder member of the Malacological Society of London, along with his extensive shell collection and archives.

 

To celebrate the Year of the Sea, we are focusing on some of the books in the Tomlin Library, and highlighting some of its treasures.

 

First up is Historiae sive synopsis methodica conchyliorum by Dr Martin Lister (1639-1712). Dr Lister was a physician to Queen Anne, who also had an interest in natural history and communicated with other leading naturalists of the time such as Edward Llwyd, John Ray, and Robert Hooke. He is generally thought to be the founder of conchology in England.

 

He had created a small version of this book for circulation to friends in 1685, but almost immediately began work on an expanded version which was produced from 1685 to 1692. This copy had 490 pages, with 1062 engraved copper plates, showing 2000 figures of molluscs.

 

The illustrations were the work of two of his daughters Susanna (1670-1738) and Anna (1671–1704). Their father had encouraged their drawing abilities, and they would have used the shells in his collection, or those sent by friends such as Sir Hans Sloane, from which to make their drawings. They were also responsible for etching or engraving the plates on copper and it is generally assumed that the printing was done by the family at home, rather than taken to a professional printing firm.

 

The publication of the first edition of Historiae Conchyliorum was a lengthy and laborious undertaking, it is an impressive feat for anyone to be involved in, but even more so for Susanna and Anna as it is thought that they were between the ages of 13 and 15 when production began. It was initially published in four books, or parts, and then a second, complete, edition was produced almost immediately and became available in 1697.

 

In 1712 Lister bequeathed the original copper plates to the Ashmolean Museum, and in 1770, the curator of the Museum, William Huddesford, published a third edition of the book. He reprinted the illustrations from the original plates, included additional notes from Lister’s manuscript, and dedicated it to the famous shell collector, the Duchess of Portland.

 

A final edition was produced in 1823, which included an index by Lewis Weston Dillwyn (1778-1855), the porcelain manufacturer whose shell collection is now housed in the Museum zoology department. This edition includes the notes from the Huddesford version and identifications of the species and remarks by the compiler. It is technically the fourth edition but is known generally as the third.

 

The Tomlin Library contains a copy of the first edition from 1685-1692, a copy of the 1770 Huddesford edition and two copies of the 1823 Dillwyn edition. For the duration of Women's History Month the 1685-1692 version will be on display in the Main Hall of National Museum Cardiff, along with a variety of shells from the zoology department.

Amy Wyatt is a Professional Training Year Intern from Cardiff University, find out more about Amy's project this year

 

A herbarium is a collection of preserved plant specimens that have been stored appropriately, databased and arranged systematically to ensure quick access to students, researchers and the general public for scientific research and education. The Welsh National Herbarium contains vascular plants, bryophytes (mosses and liverworts), lichens, fungi, and algae. In the vascular herbarium, specimens are arranged by plant family/genus, and stored alphabetically.  Specimens are stored in tall cabinets within the herbarium which is kept cool at all times. Each cabinet usually contains one taxonomic group of plants, for example members of the genus ‘Rubus’ have their own cabinet/section within the herbarium. And within the ‘Rubus’ cabinet, you will find individual species of Rubus (Rubus occidentalis-black raspberry, Rubus aboriginum–garden dewberry), each with its own folder containing all specimens of that species.  Some specimens have been digitised and placed on an electronic system to make accessing records and ‘borrowing’ specimens to other institutions easier.

Herbaria are essentially the ‘home’ of historical plant records, containing information that would otherwise be lost in time. It is the curator’s role to ensure that all specimens are kept contamination free, are stored according to the correct guidelines, and are all stored systematically. The herbarium is checked regularly for infestations, and strict guidelines are put in place to ensure all specimens remain in pristine condition. Any loss or damage to specimens would be catastrophic because of the irreplaceable nature of collections. Herbaria also contain type specimens, individual specimens that an author based their description on when describing a new species. So, damage to these specimens has wide devastating impacts to not just museum collections, but science and taxonomy as a whole.

Who benefits from herbaria?

HISTORIANS: Specimens stored in the herbarium can give insights into the daily life of people in history. Collections like the economic botanic collection contain plants and botanical items that were of important domestic, medicinal, cultural use to society in the past. This collection contains herbs, dyes, textiles and culturally important items that are kept demonstrate their importance to world culture through displays, museum visits and exhibitions! Historians can also use herbarium collections for project collaborations, for record of discoveries and for exploration.

BOTANISTS: The most obvious field that benefit from herbaria is botany; botanists are scientists that exclusively study and perform experiments on plants. Some herbaria records span back hundreds of years, so this gives botanist a unique chance to look at how plant life has changed in this period of time. There are many studies that can be performed on herbaria entries, and usually depends on the specialist skills of the researcher looking at them. Botanists can look at changes in stomatal density, how a plant species has changed over time, when invasive species were first documented in the herbarium, what plant species are abundant at a particular period of time, flowering times of plants, if there are any gaps in plant records, amongst a whole host of other information

SCIENTISTS: It’s not exclusively botanists that benefit from herbaria, other branches of science can also use the collections in their research. Biologists, conservationists and ecologists can benefit from the specimens found in herbarium and frequently use collections for ongoing research. Specimens provide a detailed account of plant life, and this information can be used to look at diversity and abundance of certain plant species, patterns of plant distribution, record of rare plant sightings (e.g. here we have a very precious collection of ghost orchids, which were thought to be extinct until 2009 and have only been sighted a hand full of times since), environmental responses to changes in the climate or weather, to educate students, etc. Herbaria can also be an excellent source of collaboration between universitys and the Museum, providing networking potentials.

TEACHERS/PEOPLE IN EDUCATION: Herbaria and museums are a great source of outreach for education of the public. Collections like the economic botany collection provide historical context to important botanical items (e.g Indigo, cinnamon) that have part of our culture behind them. The herbarium also has active researchers working upon vascular plants, lower plants, and diatoms. This work is often used to educate the public at events like museum exhibits, guided tours of the herbarium, conferences, and shows like the RHS flower show. 

What can be found in herbaria?

Vascular plants - Vascular plants are essentially ‘higher plants’ and are composed of all individuals that have water conducting tissue in their ‘stems’; flowers, grasses, trees, ferns, herbs, succulents, etc. are all types of vascular plants. These types of plants are usually stored on archival herbarium sheets, but the method of preparation and storage may depend on the contents of the specimen. Plants that are easily pressed are mounted onto acid free herbaria sheets, with a descriptive label for each specimen. These herbaria specimens must contain reproductive and vegetative organs, which are critical for species identification in plants. Any plant parts that can’t be easily pressed, e.g. tubers, bulbs, fleshy stems, large flowers, cones, fruits, etc are usually dried and placed in boxes or paper bags that are associated with other parts of the specimen.

Bryophytes (mosses and liverworts) - Bryophytes include both liverworts and mosses are generally described as ‘lower plants’ and represent some of the oldest organisms on earth. Both groups grow closely packed together in matts on rocks, soil or trees. These types of plant don’t have regular water conducting tissue, so rely heavily on their environment to regulate their water levels. Both mosses and liverworts are unsuitable for ‘pressing’ as key features used in identification would be damaged during the process. Instead, specimens are dried, decontaminated and placed in packets, boxes or paper bags to ensure their long-term storage.

Lichens - Lichens are unique in plant taxonomy because they are an organism composed of two separate organisms in a symbiotic relationship. A lichen is composed of a fungus, and either an algal cell or bacterial cell. The fungal portion of the organism extracts organic carbohydrates and nutrients from the environment, and the algal/bacterial portion of the organism undergoes photosynthesis to capture energy from the sun. Because lichen are difficult to extract from their environment, commonly they are collected still attached to their substrate (rocks, bark, soil crusts) and stored in boxes.

Fungi - fungi are filamentous, simple organisms that occupy almost every habitat on earth. Fungi are not plants and belong in their own kingdom, as they contain no chlorophyll and extract organic nutrients directly from their environment. Surprisingly, most fungi are totally microscopic and invisible to the naked eye dwelling deep in the ground connected by a network of hyphae. It is only a small portion of macroscopic fungi that produce fruiting bodies we know as ‘mushrooms’. Fungal bodies cannot be pressed, they must instead by dried thoroughly and stored in cases or boxes.

Algae - Algae are a very diverse group of non-flowering aquatic organisms that contain chlorophyll, so can photosynthesise to produce energy for themselves. Algae are very important to the earth, and it’s estimated that they produce 70-80% of the earths atmospheric oxygen. The term ‘algae’ covers wide range of organism including sea weed, kelp, ‘pond scum’, algal blooms in lakes or pools, diatoms, etc. These groups are not necessarily closely related and can exist in a huge range of different forms! Collecting and preserving algae can be done in two ways, storing them in liquid to preserve the specimen or dry preserving the specimen on herbarium paper or a microscope slide. What method is best usually depends on the species being collected and its properties.

....... quite literally in some cases!

Last week saw us head up to Berwick-upon-Tweed to sample for species of marine bristle worms, the shovelhead worms (Annelida: Magelonidae). The aim was to collect enough of these burrowing animals from under the muddy sand at low tide that we could contribute to our collections and additionally place some in our laboratory tank for live observations.

After closely examining one species of shovelhead worm at the museum (Magelona alleni) for the majority of the first seven months of my professional training year (PTY) from Cardiff University, and successfully finding out some exciting new behavioural traits (in press), I find myself wanting to expand not only my own knowledge, but becoming eager to contribute more to our overall understanding of these fascinating and somewhat enigmatic creatures. The more science we uncover, the more well known these species, who perhaps do not receive the same attention as some of the bigger vertebrates, become. I see this as a crucial factor to raise awareness for a preservation of the natural world in our future.

With this mantra circling around my head, my enthusiasm was bursting as we drove to the beach on our first day of sampling. Low tide was just before 8am, meaning leaving our cottage, full gear in tow, at around 6.30am. No problems, I thought. I’m ready for that chilly Northern January air. Bring. It. on. Assembled with so many layers that we lost count, we clambered out of the car ready to get onto the beach, undeterred by the eerie super moon and snow battering our windscreen as we drove to our destination that morning. We were looking for two species of Magelona in particular, Magelona johnstoni and Magelona mirabilis, known to occur in abundance in this location, where George Johnston first describer of the the latter species lived and collected worms (you can learn more about the fascinating life of George Johnston and what he accomplished at these sites: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Johnston_(naturalist), http://www.raysociety.org.uk/userfiles/File/Johnston%20essay.pdf).

Our first dig looked promising, revealing many of the now familiar milky white, almost stringy, teeny tiny strands of magelonids. As we gently prised them out of the sand and put them into test tubes, by using seawater to gently wash the surrounding sand away in our hands, it occurred to me my hands were starting to go a little bit numb in the icy water. I thought I obviously wasn’t quite as seasoned at this as Kate, my museum mentor. Luckily we had hand warmers at the ready to dive our hands into after each dig. However, as we dug more and more both of us felt our hands turn to popsicles, and let me tell you, anyone who has ever tried to get a worm that is only a few millimeters in length into a test tube does not want popsicle hands. Over the next few hours our feet slowly turned into matching ice cubes, until we had to call it a day. Luckily for us, we had the same scenario to play out all over again the next morning.

 What I haven’t mentioned yet is that despite the somewhat crisp weather, we saw some of the most breathtaking sunrises, with only the odd oystercatcher and redshank to accompany us. Along with this, we were further rewarded by the pure amount of magelonids present in such small spaces, meaning our collection was plentiful and we could take the animals back to our make-shift laboratory at our accommodation for identification, which is when you really start to see what the fuss is about with these worms. The stringy white appearance you see from afar turns into an elegant, ethereal-like animal under the microscope, with complex morphological features. Perhaps, most notably, long, flowing palps that arise near to the animal’s mouth. The number we collected means observations in the laboratory can now be started for new research. George Johnston’s description of the abundance of the animals here sure hasn’t changed much in well over 100 years. Ultimately, the moral of the story is that sometimes, the more changeling the environment, the more recompense. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll be worm hunting in the Artic!

Catch up with some other tails of a PTY student

Dangosodd ddarganfyddiad y deinosor Cymreig, Dracoraptor, bod deinosoriaid yn byw yn ne Cymru 200 miliwn o flynyddoedd yn ôl. Petaech chi'n teithio 'nôl i'r cyfnod hwnnw, fe fyddech chi hefyd wedi gweld ambell i famal bychan, tebyg i lygoden goch, yn cuddio yn y tyfiant. Rhain yw rhai o'r mamaliaid cynharaf yn y byd.

 

Gellir darganfod esgyrn a dannedd y creaduriaid bach blewog yma mewn ogofau a mewn craciau mewn cerrig - efallai am fod rhain yn cynnig lloches, neu le i aeafgysgu. Darganfyddwyd y ffosilau cyntaf ohonynt mewn chwarel yn ne Cymru rhyw saith deg mlynedd yn ôl. Mae Palaeontologwyr wedi bod yn dadansoddi'r ffosilau, er mwyn creu darlun fwy cyflawn o sut greaduriaid oedden nhw. Enw un o'r mamaliaid cynnar yma yw 'Morganucodon', sy'n golygu 'Dant Morgannwg'.

 

Mewn prosiect ymchwil newydd wedi'i gefnogi gan Y Cyngor Ymchwil Amgylcheddol, defnyddiodd wyddonwyr o Brifysgol Bryste belydr-X pwerus i sganio'r esgyrn bychain, i greu darlun digidol o'r creaduriaid. Cymharwyd y darluniau digidol yma gyda mamaliaid modern, er mwyn ail-greu strwythr cyhyrau'r anifail. Ychwanegwyd rheiny i'r darlun digidol. Wedi hynny, defnyddiwyd rhaglen arbennig i asesu sut y byddai'r esgyrn a'r cyhyrau'n symud. Astudiwyd dannedd y creaduriaid mewn manylder - roedd rhai mamamliaid cynnar yn meddu ar ddannedd ddigon cryf i grensio pryfaid gyda casys adennydd, ac eraill ond yn medru bwyta pryfaid meddal.

 

Mae model hyfryd o Morganucodon, wedi'i greu can Bob Nicholls, y palaeoartist, i'w ganfod yn ein orielau hanes natur yn Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Caerdydd. Mae'n edrych fel creadur bywiog iawn a'i enw yw Morgie!