Biodiversity

Graphene’s high-rise meadow

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Green roof on the roof terrace of the Graphene Institute

Back in June, perhaps some of the Graphene Week 2015 attendees spotted this little patch of wildness on the roof of the National Graphene Institute at the University of Manchester. This green roof was installed as the building was nearing completion in 2014 and is part of the commitment to improving the University’s campus as a habitat for wildlife. The University’s green roof policy can be found here, along with the other University policies about environmental sustainability.

Bee on Birdsfoot trefoil

Ahead of Graphene Week, the Biodiversity Working Group put together some information about pollinators, their requirements and the urban environment in order to have a sign in place for the delegates to read. This roof is particularly designed to attract bees, both wild bees and the honey bees from hives on roofs of the Manchester Museum and Whitworth Art Gallery.

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The roof was created with a ‘sedum and wildflower’ mat made up with 21 different species. The low-growing sedums are now most visible around the sloping edges of the meadow, and taller species seem to dominate towards the middle. However, perhaps that’s not true; the sedums may be just hidden by the taller growing plants.

Maiden pink flower

This summer, the Faculty of Life Sciences has arranged for a student to survey the roof to see how the plants are distributed.  The Biodiversity Working Group will be continuing to monitor the roof’s progress to see how the composition of plants changes from this baseline. Some plants are likely to thrive, some will struggle and other’s will arrive as seeds blow over the roof or fall off people’s clothing.

Ladybird pupa on Sedum reflexum
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My week at the Natural History Museum, London

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I spent a wonderful week at the Natural History Museum, London (NHM) on a placement. The aim of the scheme is to exchange knowledge, aid professional development and enable lasting change.

I learnt and experienced so much – here are some highlights.

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My host was Ranee Prakesh, Curator of Flowering Plants. After my induction, she gave me a tour of the herbarium and Darwin Centre gallery, both housed in a purpose built cocoon:

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In the afternoon I learnt about NHM’s Digital Collections project, and then got to work.  I scanned herbarium sheets on a Herbscan machine – an upside down scanner. Some of the sheets had writing on the back so both sides had to be scanned. The images would be added to the museum’s database later.

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On the second day, I was shown how NHM staff use Emu, the museum’s database, and learnt about the current rapid digitisation project.  Herbarium specimens are shipped to The Netherlands for imaging on a conveyor belt / camera system called Digistreet, then the data from the images will be transcribed in Suriname.  The NHM staff were waiting to find out the quality of the data.

I shared ideas with the plant mounting team, demonstrating ‘Manchester style’ (strapping) and having a go at the NHM way (glueing and pressing). They were surprised I cut my own straps from archival quality paper: sometimes the best way is not always the most expensive way. That’s one of the many things I love about curatorial work.

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I was shown how loans were documented and packed in the afternoon, and how the NHM staff process a loan on Ke Emu.

Day 3 was spent in the herbarium store. Ranee explained how the herbarium sheets are arranged taxonomically according to APG, and filed geographically within this system. I spent some time sorting specimens to family and genus level in preparation for laying-in.  The open plan workspace was visible through a window in the gallery so I had the public watching me at work!

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Later that day I had a tour of the Specimen Preparation Area to see the V-Factor volunteers at work. They were sorting through sediment from a quarry, looking for tiny fossils, and a different project is run each weekday in this area visible from the museum gallery.

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The fourth day was spent in The Cryptogamic Herbarium.  I had a short tour of the bryophyte collection then got to work repackaging mosses into individual capsules:

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I was showed round the historical collections and the fern herbarium in the afternoon. We discussed Integrated Pest Management and preventative conservation in relation to historic botany collections.

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I also worked alongside Ranee laying out specimens ready for the plant mounters. This involved placing the pressed specimen and label on a sheet of mounting paper and enclosing any loose material in a capsule. There was a large amount of newly donated material to be mounted and filed in the herbarium sent in from researchers and staff on expeditions.

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On the fifth day I had a tour of the Linnean Society.  Carl Linnaeus’s personal herbarium in particular was amazing to see.

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Next, I learnt about citizen science at the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity. This is where the public gather or analyse data for research or curatorial purposes, such as transcribing data from a bird register, which is an NHM project called ‘Notes from Nature’ currently running on Zooniverse.

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To wrap it all up there was a tea party at the end of my last day. It was lovely to see the staff I had met during the week and thank them all for giving up their time and making me feel so welcome. I am intending that some lasting change will happen at Manchester Museum as a result of my week at the NHM, particularly better storage for our type specimens and some changes to volunteering.

Many thanks to all the curators and collections managers at the NHM who allowed me this fantastic opportunity.

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Biodiversity on the road to Jodrell

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Today the city centre-based members of the University’s Biodiversity Working Group hit the road to head out of the city and into Cheshire to hold a meeting at Jodrell Bank. Although home to the University of Manchester’s Centre for Astrophysics, the world famous Lovell telescope and a Discovery centre to explore the science of space, we were heading there to talk to Becky Burns, the Head of Gardens and Interpretation.

Lovell telescope

After all, it’s only fair that we should make the effort to visit Becky in her workplace from time to time instead of asking her to travel to us for meetings. The Biodiversity Working Group meets to discuss opportunities to increase the biodiversity on the campus of the University of Manchester and at about 35 acres, the Jodrell Bank arboretum is one of the University’s biodiversity hotspots. The arboretum holds two national Collections of Sorbus (whitebeam) and Malus (ornamental crab apples) trees, and with the late spring this year it is just about ready to burst into a profusion of blossom.

Fernery with bluebells So many lovely trees! The Galaxy Garden  Lovely new interpretation for the gardens

Visiting Jodrell wasn’t the only excitement of the day however, as this week the University was loaned a Nissan Leaf electric car and we were lucky enough to be allowed to use it to travel between sites. Qutie a number of Manchester’s buses are now hybrid diesel-electric, but this was my first experience of a fully electric car and it was pretty comfortable as well as having very green credentials. It was also just so quiet!

 Nissan LEAF in the old quad  Emma Gardner, Lucy Millard, Henry McGhie, Rachel Webster  Inside a silent car Couldn't resist the tulips in the old quad!

National Nest Box week

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Yesterday, Andrew Lawton (the Museum’s curatorial trainee) and I braved the cold outside the Museum entranace to make bird boxes with Evan Powell from the RSPB.

For National Nest Box Week, we made homes for starlings and sparrows which will be placed in trees around the University of Manchester campus. We’re hoping to increase the amount of wildlife that calls the University campus home.
Members of the public helped us by decorating the boxes with their individual artworks

We couldn’t decide whether this was a colder event than the Wonderful Whitworth Wildlife bioblitz last year!

Tomorrow, artist Lucy Burscough will be making beautiful bird houses made from woven naural fibres in one of our Urban Naturalist events. These nesting pouches would be suitable for wrens and are inspired by the work of the Scottish ‘outsider artist’ Angus McPhee.

Safely stored?

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Following an enquiry, I’ve looked out some thought-provoking specimens this week. I spent a quite melancholy afternoon searching our database with plant names listed as extinct or extinct in the wild in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Here are a few of them:

Extinct in the wild

Bromus interruptus (interrupted brome) was an agricultural weed found in southern and eastern England, but it became extinct as agricultural practices changed. The species is thought to have originated in Britain in the 19th century, but it was no longer found growing wild by 1972. However, this species is counted as extinct in the wild as seeds were collected from the last population and were cultivated in botanic gardens. Subsequently it has been re-introduced to the english countryside in the hope that it can re-establish itself.

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Second and last known collection

 

 

 

 

 

 

This pretty red seaweed, however, is thought to be fully extinct. Vanvoorstia bennettiana (Bennett’s seaweed) has only been collected twice, once in 1855 and again 1886 from two different locations in and around Sydney Harbour. Despite extensive searches, this species seems to be extinct, perhaps because of disturbance and pollution of its habitat.

Extinct

 

Safely stored

Finally, this is Melicope cruciata (cross bearing pelea), a tree in the citrus family which only ever grew on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Rather poignantly, these seeds have been labelled and stored since their collection in 1895. This week, scientists from Russia have reported that the have successfully regenerated plants from 33,000 year-old seeds of Silene stenophylla which were found buried in the Siberian permafrost. However, I imagine that our cross-bearing pelea seeds have experienced much more variable conditions over their 117 year storage and are unlikely to still be viable.