Tag Archives: Taxonomy

Museum type specimens play a key role for future climate studies | Curator of Micropalaeontology

Elphidium williamsoni Haynes, 1973 is a foraminiferal species that has been used extensively in relative sea level and climate change studies, as it is characteristic of intertidal zones. Identifying this and other species of Elphidium has proven difficult because key morphological characteristics show a wide range of variation causing widespread confusion in determinations.

scanning electron micrscope image of foram

Scanning electron microscope image of the holotype of the foraminiferal species Elphidium williamsoni Haynes, 1973.

A study led by University of St Andrews PhD student Angela Roberts and recently published in the Journal PloSOne, has gone a long way to clearly define this important foraminiferal species. The study is based on measurements from Museum type specimens as well as genetic studies on contemporary material collected from the same location as the type specimens.

Continue reading

Invertebrate hunting in Dominica | Curator of Diptera

I’m currently in Dominica, collecting insects with Operation Wallacea but this isn’t the first time I’ve been to this beautiful country. Here’s a blog post I prepared earlier about my field trip last year…

I have just finished 4 weeks of fieldwork collecting insects in Dominica. I can’t really complain about that except that the fieldwork did not follow my usual routine. Generally when employed at Museum your fieldwork is either part of a general collecting trip hoping to find as much as possible (work with Dipterists Forum); part of a research-focused group (me collecting flies from Potatoes in Peru); or part of a consultancy project (Mosquitoes in Tajikistan). However this trip was different, I wasn’t marauding around the countryside with collector’s glee, this time I had to teach as well as collect.

Photo showing a view of a shallow, rocky river with deep forest on either side

Collecting in Dominica definitely has its advantages…

It’s not the first time I have taught students. I lectured for a while before joining the museum and was involved in a tropical ecology field course in Costa Rica for several years. However that was university students and they were mostly master’s students who already were interested in Entomology. I had never taught or been involved with younger people – teenagers as I believe they are called. That had previously sounded like a mild form of torture! Could they concentrate? Would they even be interested?

Continue reading

What’s on that wall? | The Microverse

Today, one of our Microverse citizen science project participants, Robert Milne, presents his own interpretation of the results of the microbial samples collected from Mid Kent College in Gillingham where he is a student:

The results:

Despite our best efforts, the samples we obtained for the Microverse project were taken in different weather conditions, at slightly different times, in slightly different areas of the building, and all three samples were taken from walls facing different directions. The materials of the surfaces we sampled were brick, glass and metal.

Mid Kent College building, swabbed by The Microverse participants

Mid Kent College building, swabbed by The Microverse participants

Continue reading

Big is beautiful in the world of flies | Curator of Diptera

I’ve just recurated an entire family of flies – and in only three days! It’s not often I can do that (I have been recurating the world bee-fly collection for over three years now and it’s still ongoing), but then there were only 14 species of this family in the Museum collection. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but after all the shuffling around over the last 40 years with the taxonomy there are only 20 described species within 2 genera.

So in terms of species numbers, it’s a very small family… but in terms of individuals, they are far from small. The family I am talking about are Pantophthalmidae, and they are some of the largest flies on the planet (although I think that Mydidae can rival them). There is no real common name; they are more often than not shortened to Pantophthalmid flies, but are sometimes referred to as timber flies or giant woodflies.

Opetiops alienus

Opetiops alienus

And for such large creatures we know very little about them.

Continue reading

Identifying microbial DNA | The Microverse

Volunteer Stephen Chandler tells us how he has been supporting The Microverse project by using computer software to identify the taxonomic groupings of the DNA sequences revealed in the sequencing machine.

Due to the size of microorganisms, we have until recent years relied on microscopes to identify different species. The advancement of scientific technologies however has made it possible for scientists to extract DNA from microorganisms, amplify that DNA into large quantities and then put the samples into a sequencing machine to reveal the genetic sequences. In The Microverse project, my role begins when the sequencer has finished processing the samples.

A raw data file from the MiSeq machine

A raw data file from the MiSeq machine

When the gene sequencer has finished decoding the PCR products it creates a file much like a typical excel file. The main difference is that this file can be incredibly large as it contains millions of DNA sequences belonging to hundreds if not thousands of species. This requires a powerful computer to run the analysis to identify what is in the sample.

Continue reading