Biodiversity

Lichen surveying in Etherow Country Park

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Recently I was lucky enough to be asked to a lichen identification and surveying day at the beautiful Etherow Country Park by Samuel Bolton of the Greater Manchester Ecology Unit.

Etherow Country Park

The aim of the event was to pilot a survey technique developed by Steve Price of the British Lichen Society to evaluate woodlands for lichen biodiversity. While there are suveys available which assess air quality by studing the lichens present, these are not quite right for answering the question of whether a woodland is particularly good hotspot for finding interesting lichens. This event was part of a larger project (run by the Greater Manchester Ecology Unit and funded by Natural England) which is seeking to develop methods which would produce informative surveys of woodland wildlife that can be conducted by volunteer groups(e.g. Friends of ….)  and do not require in depth specialist knowledge.

Training essentials

The day began with a very interesting talk by Steve Price and the opportunity to study some example of lichen species, including some from his personal herbarium. After that, we were set loose in the woods of the park to test out Steve’s new surveying technique. This centered on being able to recognise lichens with different forms of growth e.g. beard lichens, leafy lichens or shrubby lichens and assigning a score for each type based on an estimation of their abundance.

Beard lichen in the Herbarium

The trees we surveyed had an OK to good diversity of lichens present, but we only had time to survey near the lake and the carpark so I imagine the woodlands in the rest of the park may be even more interesting.

Lichens through a hand lens

Internship at the Herbarium.

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Hello, my name is Nicole and over the past couple of months I’ve been an intern at the Manchester Museum Herbarium. In September I’ll be going into my second year of my Neuroscience degree at the University of Manchester and I had decided to keep my summer busy and productive by gaining some valuable work experience. I can’t think of a Life Science which differs so much to Neuroscience than that of Botany, but I feel it is important to be open-minded in education and plant science is not a subject I neither have nor will encounter much due to the nature of my course. 

I have been working here in the Herbarium for about 6 weeks now, thus nearing the end of my internship. I’ll be sad to leave, for it has been a fun and interesting experience working here and I have met some lovely people. It has been fascinating to see how the museum operates behind closed doors – something I would not have known without the internship.

Photograph of glass plate negative of what is thought to be Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester.

   

Photograph of a glass plate negative, of a man (in old-fashioned clothing) stood next to a tree.

I’ve been helping both Rachel and Lindsey with photographing objects/specimens, cleaning and repairing specimen boxes, and putting specimens away. Primarily, I have been sorting through and documenting the British Lichen and Foreign Lichen collections onto the museum database. I have been recording the location of where each lichen specimen (if stated) has been found; usually converting town/county name to vice county number with the British lichens, and to country code for the foreign lichens. My geographical knowledge has improved considerably.

Clean and repaired boxes!

Lichens are organisms formed through a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and a phototroph (an organism able to make its own food from sunlight) such as algae or cyanobacteria. Symbiosis is a mutual give-and-recieve relationship between two or more biological species. The fungus provides protection and shelter to the phototroph, which repays the favour by feeding nutrients to the fungus. I was surprised at how variable the lichens are in shape and size – from flat ‘plate-like’ discs to long fibrous hairs. Lichens are valuable to the environment as they help prevent desiccation, and are good indicators of air pollution.

British Lichen, Amygdalaria pelobotryon, found on Ben Loyal in Scotland.
Foreign Lichen, Alectoria jubata, found in Tyrol, Austria.

Holey Horse Chestnuts

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When looking at the lovely photos Lorna took of the Whitworth Park bioblitz, I spotted that she’d caught something rather interesting in her pictures of horse chestnut leaves. When pictured against the light you can clearly see dark blobs surrounded by paler leaf tissue.

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This damage is caused by the horse chestnut leaf miner (Cameraria ohridella). The larvae of this moth live between the upper and lower surface of the leaf eating to create a mine which appears as the paler leaf tissue. These larvae then pupate inside the leaf before emerging as tiny moths. In these photos of the leaves in Whitworth Park, the pupae are at the centre of the darkest spot in the mine.

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After spotting these mines, I went back to the park to collect some leaves to show at the Museum’s ‘Nature Discovery’ Big Saturday and found huge swarms of these little moths all over the lower branches of the tree. Hopefully we will manage to collect some to add to the Museum’s entomology collection to match the damaged leaves that I’m preparing to add into the herbarium collection.

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This moth was originally discovered in Macedonia, and has worked it’s way across Europe (probably with help from people and their cars). It arrived in the UK in 2002 when it was first spotted causing damage to trees on Wimbedon Common. Ten years later and the moth seems to be thriving in Manchester too. I’m going to add our sighting of the infested tree in Whitworth Park to the data for the Conker Tree Science – Alien Moth Survey Mission. If you have a horse chestnut tree growing near you, you can add your tree to the survey too – whether or not the moths have managed to find it.