First Mexico, then the world? Where next for our seaweed community science collaboration

In my last blog, the team had just arrived back from our final workshop for the Big Seaweed Search Mexico partnership and I reported on day one. On day two, we headed to the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) campus just outside Mérida to explore how we could expand our work in the region. This is a big motivation for me personally – that our work could have a positive impact on the lives of local communities, so I was really excited for that!

The science team started proceedings by talking about their collaborative work to evaluate changes in the seaweed brought ashore over time in two locations: Sisal and Puerto Morelos. The science team captured and analysed the data, but trained locals to carry out a simple method to estimate 1) the abundance, and 2) the relative composition of different species of seaweed. Participants used quadrats to sample the seaweed; they washed and dried out the samples, before soaking them in alcohol for preservation at the university. We were lucky to see the kit and the samples in the lab afterwards!

A classroom of people preserving seaweed that they had collected on the beach in Mexico.
Preserving the seaweed collected on the beach, back at the University.

We then heard about the amazing outcomes for participants and evidence of change in the participants’ perceptions and knowledge of seaweed from my colleague Ana. Questionnaires before and after participation in workshops and seaweed collection, showed that participants increased their use of scientific words to describe seaweed by 33%, including the name of the genus and species. Participants felt more confident in the scientific activities they carried out, and reported more positive attitudes towards science and nature. Some even shared their experience with friends and family, and started to do the activity in their own time.

Two participants on the beach in Puerto Morelos, taking part in Ciencia en Acción - the Mexican name for the Big Seaweed Search
The Big Seaweed Search is called “Ciencia en Acción: Ciudadanos Navegando el arribazón” in Mexico. This literally translates as “Science in Action, citizens sailing in the arribazón” – arribazón is a very specific word for the abundance of marine life

Finally, we looked to the future and the relevance of our findings for local policy makers. It was wonderful to hear stakeholders’ enthusiasm for rolling out the project. There was real excitement about the project’s potential for increasing knowledge about the region’s seaweed, and how it could inspire and inform the next generation. Satellites already monitor the seaweed tides, which has even been reported by the UK media. Some stakeholders mentioned advanced algorithms that process satellite data and calculate the volume of seaweed. Despite this, satellite images can’t tell us how many different types of seaweed are in these tides. This is where participants in our programme were able to step in. There is genuine potential for communities to work alongside satellite monitoring programmes to track the seaweed tides and their impact in the region.

The team is now busy writing papers and a brief for policy makers, which will summarise our recommendations, in light of the insights we gained at this workshop. It will be solutions-focused and frame our findings not only within the work already going on the region, but also the benefits and challenges we found of adapting Big Seaweed Search here. Let’s see where we can take the project next…first Mexico, then a global network of seaweed community science projects…?! Follow @NHM_CitSci on Twitter to keep updated.

Eliza Catherine Jelly, a Pioneering Woman in Science

A guest blog by Larissa Welton and Leo Le Good

Jelly Collection of bryozoans

On March 8, International Women’s Day is observed around the world. Describing a future ‘free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination’, this year International Women’s Day encourages us all to #EmbraceEquity.

At the Natural History Museum, Larissa from the digitisation team and Leo from the Library were reminded of this year’s theme when we came across a handwritten manuscript of Eliza Catherine Jelly. A scientist of the late 19th century, Eliza, like many women of the age, has not received the nearly the level of recognition as her male peers.

Eliza specialised in the study of bryozoans (or Polyzoa, as they were referred to at the time). Bryozoans are tiny aquatic invertebrate animals that live in colonies. Their Calcium carbonate skeletons provide a record of how colonies invest in different functions. Their skeletons are sensitive to acidity in the water, which increases when more carbon dioxide is present, they are particularly useful for scientists studying the impacts of ocean acidification.

The ramifications of Eliza’s research are still being used and expanded upon today. In the current age of rapid technological innovation, Museum specimens like hers offer unrivalled access to time-series data that can be used to track individual species’ responses to climate stressors and can be used to model predictions for the future. Eliza’s extensive body of work is still impactful over 100 years after she died.

Jelly Specimens in the Natural History Museum

The Jelly collections contains samples from the UK and around the world.

Larissa first came across Eliza Catherine Jelly while working on a SYNTHESYS+ funded Virtual Access program called Bryozoa Identification Tool (BIT) For Quaternary and Recent Mediterranean and North Atlantic Bryozoans. This project is a collaboration with several other museums around Europe and aims to digitise all recent Bryozoan specimens at each museum and use the taxonomic and locality information on their labels to create a website to help researchers identify Bryozoans.

“In my work as a digitiser, I am lucky enough to get to go through the bryozoa collection specimen by specimen.  when I come across a specimen that was collected by a woman (an all too rare event) I google her and invariably find a fascinating history. After researching Eliza, I found out that the Museum’s Library and Archives held a manuscript written by Eliza, so I contacted my colleague Leo who works in the library to further investigate Eliza’s story.”

The specimens that we hold from Eliza at the Museum come from all over the world. The specimens collected from South Africa and Australia were most likely collected in the field by somebody else who sent them to Eliza for identification and mounting onto microscope slides. Eliza then periodically sent the specimens she prepared to museums and scientists in the bryozoan field around the UK, which is likely how they ended up here. One slide, however, was collected in Falmouth, where Eliza lived at the time of the 1881 census, so it seems likely she collected at least this one herself.

A Pioneering Bryozoan Researcher

Eliza Catherine Jelly was born in Bath on 28 September 1829. Her father, Harry, was a clergyman and naturalist interested in Palaeontology. Young Eliza developed an early interest in natural history though collecting fossils on beaches in Cornwall. The family had limited money so while Eliza had little formal education and no university degree, the Victorian ideal of self-education let her pursue her scientific interests.

Eliza grew up in an age where well-brought up women were encouraged to take up hobbies like embroidery and watercolour paintings but nothing resembling useful or gainful employment. Tinkering with microscopes examining tiny bryozoan specimens could have been seen as just ‘useless’ enough to be an acceptable interest and that may have been a contributing factor to her being drawn to the field.

She had a wide variety of interest in the natural sciences as shown in letters between her and the botanist Rev. Edward Adolphus Holmes which discuss specimens she collected and identified of moss, lichens and algae. A specimen she collected of the seaweed species Nitophyllium gmelini that she collected in Penzance in May 1880 is now housed at the Bolton Museum in Lancashire. Miss Jelly also published a scientific journal article on the land and freshwater molluscs of Bristol, where she lived for most of the time between 1861-70. However, by the 1870s she seems to have settled into her area of expertise: Bryozoans.

Eliza’s most important contribution to the field of Bryozoans was her book “Synonymic Catalogue of Recent Marine Bryozoa” which was published in 1890. In this volume she gathered all the known species names of bryozoan species and their synonyms, which a reviewer in Nature called “a work that all students of the Polyzoa should be grateful for”. Despite the importance of the work, she had to raise the money for publication herself. She got a grant from the Royal Society and received help from friends and colleagues who subscribed for copies to help make publication possible.

Eliza Jelly corresponded with most of the active researchers of the day who were working on Bryozoans, both fossil and recent. She was frequently sent specimens by other scientists on collecting field trips that she identified, prepared, mounted and labelled, and then distributed to museums and fellow researchers in the UK such as Arthur William Waters, Augustus Hamilton and Randolph Kirkpatrick.

Relationship with Edith Williams

Eliza Jelly never married. In the 1871 census she was first recorded as sharing a house with 3 other unmarried women including one Edith Williams. For the next 28 years Eliza and Edith lived together, moving from Croydon to Falmouth and then to Red Hill, where Edith was to die of breast cancer in 1899. Eliza was clearly a devoted caregiver and companion to Edith, and Edith left her entire estate of £2,276 to her “dear friend, Eliza Catherine Jelly”. When Eliza passed away in 1914, she chose to be buried in the same grave as Edith in Chart Lane cemetery, Reigate.

With such scant information surviving about the personal life of Eliza and Edith it’s impossible to say whether they were friends or in a romantic relationship, Larissa and Leo are members of the LGBTQIA+ community and we both resonated with this story of two women sharing a life together.

Manuscript spotlight

In 1897, at the age of 68 and shortly after retiring from Bryozoa research, Eliza gave a handwritten notebook to one Sidney Frederic Harmer. The book contains a wealth of her own drawings and notations, with meticulous descriptions of bryozoan species. Sidney would have been in his thirties at the time and went on to become Keeper of Zoology and then the Director of the Museum.

The specimens Eliza included in the manuscript are from various locations, from the Shetland Isles to Australia. Her records are neat and succinct and often reference other researchers who first described the species.

After learning about Larissa’s transcription project, Leo wanted to see if he could find an entry in Eliza’s manuscript that corresponded to any of her specimens held in the Museum’s bryozoa collection today. After a lot of squinting (and with the help of an extra pair of eyes!) reference to Membranipora imbellis (Hincks, 1860) was found. Although not accompanied by any drawings, Eliza’s commentary is revealing:

“I find myself unable to agree with him (Busk) in regarding M. imbellis as ‘an [un…] variety of M. flemingii. Its cells are much larger than those of the latter species, and more widely separated; & the numerous specimens wh. I have examined have been uniformly destitute of the calcareous [expansion], as well as of the spines & avicularia which distinguish M. flemingii.”

The two species Eliza is referring to are now known as Alderina imbellis (Hincks, 1860) and Amphiblestrum flemingii (Busk, 1854): this is an example of how her sharp eye and long experience allowed her to make corrections to another eminent scientist’s work.

Eliza’s note on Membranipora imbellis.

This commentary may have other significance to us. A specimen of A. imbellis is the only slide from Falmouth in Jelly’s collection that Larissa found during her project. Perhaps Jelly wrote this note whilst looking down a microscope at her own minute finding. This manuscript of Eliza Jelly’s has now been transferred to Special Collections, where it is being catalogued and conserved.

Inequitable world for Women in Science

Eliza faced discrimination for being a woman in science. Some letters were addressed to her assuming she was a man, while others questioned whether her work really came from a woman. Like many other women in the 19th century, Eliza’s life went generally unrecorded, with little information about her coming down to us compared to male scientists of similar calibre. At the time most scientific societies excluded women but she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Microscopical Society in 1887. Perhaps if she had been able to join other societies like the Royal Society or been allowed to publish more, she would be more remembered today.

While Eliza was a world expert in Bryozoan taxonomy and identification, as can be seen in letters where she describes minutiae of taxonomic differences between two species and points out when a specimen appears to be a new species unknown to science. However, instead of publishing descriptions of new species herself, she passed these unusual specimens on to other researchers for publication, possibly because of the difficulty she would have faced getting published as a female scientist.

Eliza was troubled with bad health and retired from her Bryozoan research at the age of 67. By the time she passed away aged 85 in a nursing home in Red Hill in 1914, she had outlived many of her colleagues that might have known her well enough to write an obituary. However, she has been recognised for her work by others in the field who have named the genus Jellyella and five species after her: Euthyroides jellyae, Truncatula jellyae, Multiclausa jellyae, Tervia jellyae, and Exochella jellyae.

Despite an enormous contribution to her field, Eliza’s memory has not been kept alive in the same way those of her male peers. It is fantastic that Eliza’s expert knowledge will be used as part of a new website to help researchers identify Bryozoans. Innovative big data analysis is bringing new life to old collections, and Eliza Catherine Jelly’s specimens are still contributing to science in a meaningful way.

While writing this article, Leo and Larissa have found learning about Eliza’s passion for her research inspiring. They think there is no better time to share this than International Women’s Day, and they hope that this blog post might reach others that Eliza can inspire, and go some way to undoing her current state of near-anonymity.

Stay up to date with the Museum’s Digitisation team by following us on Twitter or Instagram. You can also follow the Library and Archives on Twitter. We would love to hear what you thought about this blog and what you would like to hear from us next.

If you are interested in conducting your own research at the Natural History Museum Library and Archive, you can contact our team via the Museum’s enquiries form.

If you would like to peruse the Library’s catalogue from home, you can do so via the Discovery Layer.

Destination Mexico for our Community Science Collaboration

Team photo at the Big Seaweed Search Mexico workshop.

I’ve just got back to my desk after a brilliant trip to Mexico – the highlight of my working year already. What a treat to be able to travel for work and connect with amazing people doing similar work and with similar interests across the globe! The team hosted an inspiring and informative workshop in Mérida, Mexico, to conclude our Big Seaweed Search Mexico collaboration. This has been a two year partnership that saw the UK Big Seaweed Search project adapted to address the issue of massive seaweed influxes on Mexican beaches. Over two days, we engaged with stakeholders from the local area, representing, academia/research, local government, community service organisations and local businesses that aim to repurpose the washed up seaweed, including SargaBlock and Carbonwave. The aim of this workshop was to:

  1. introduce our research and share results;
  2. invite stakeholder feedback and input to the recommendations that have emerged from our work;
  3. assess the benefits of our research to stakeholders;
  4. to encourage and facilitate conversation amongst stakeholders;
  5. develop opportunities to continue the project in the future.

Over two days we shared presentations on our own community science research studying the washed-up seaweeds in Mexico, listened to local stakeholders sharing their own research and action to address this issue, heard from each of the stakeholder groups through panel discussions, and held focused small group discussions to address key questions. The first day set the context and defined the issue that our work sought to address; project members presented the background to the collaboration and the initial findings. I’ll tell you more about these findings as they are published, but this workshop was especially interesting for bringing in the perspectives of the private sector and government/policy makers on the issue.

A photo of the Museum's presentation on day one of the workshop in Mexico.
This is me, presenting the background to the Big Seaweed Search Mexico collaboration at the workshop.

The workshop was attended by representatives from companies manufacturing everything from bricks and agricultural products to personal care and textile products, all derived from a washed-up seaweed called Sargassum. They spoke of the challenges and opportunities they face, for example the market for their products being hampered by a lack of awareness about the potential of Sargassum seaweed as a raw material amongst the public. Demand for Sargassum products is still simply too low for it to compete with the alternative products people are more familiar with, despite the environmental benefits of repurposing this resource which otherwise rots away on beaches and causes environmental and economic damage.

Those from policy and governance then discussed the legislative frameworks that are in place for the monitoring, collection and disposal of the excessive inundations of Sargassum on some Mexican beaches. Although Sargassum is part of a valuable ecosystem, in great volumes it is unattractive, damages the coastal ecosystem (e.g. coral reef bleaching, turtle populations) and releases toxins. Combined with the heavy metal content of the Sargassum accumulations, these toxins can damage human health if it’s not removed. There is currently no industrial infrastructure and only guidance for its extraction in this region; it was widely considered that this lack of legislative framework could be preventing meaningful collaboration between the government, industry and local communities, despite discussion of some very local successful examples.

It was clear by the end of the day – in agreement with the aims of our collaboration – that the management of excessive inundations of Sargassum on some Mexican coastlines requires prioritisation, coordination, funds, research support, social participation and focus.

It was so energising to hear about local ingenuity and innovation focused on this problem, and also motivating to recognise some of the challenges that remain and hear their enthusiasm for our work. We would like to say a huge thank you to the stakeholders in Mexico who took two days out of their busy schedules to work with us and share their invaluable expertise.

Team photo at the Big Seaweed Search Mexico workshop.
Team photo at the Big Seaweed Search Mexico workshop. Thanks to all who attended for making it such an inspiring event!

My next blog will share more on the local communities that took part in the community science monitoring of seaweed inundations, their research findings, and the wider benefits of the programme. These were the focus of the second day of the workshop.

Success from our temporary pond: Urban Nature Project

Our new gardens will be a biologically diverse hot spot for urban nature in the heart of London. One of the main features of our gardens has been the wildlife pond, which has supported a diverse range of wildlife from moorhens, aquatic plants and an important assemblage of dragonflies and damselflies.

As part of the Urban Nature Project, we’re removing the old pond liner which was at the end of its lifespan and taking the opportunity to expand the pond area so it can be home to even more urban wildlife for years to come.

How our pond looked before we started work to enhance and improve it

In September 2022 we started this process by carefully moving as much of the pond flora and fauna as possible from our old pond into a new temporary pond in front of the Waterhouse building. The large temporary pond was created to ensure that the species living in our original pond had somewhere to live before being moved back to the new pond in spring 2023. 

We spoke to Sam Thomas (UK Biodiversity Officer) to find out more about how our pond life is faring. 

Our new temporary pond set up

It’s now been six months since the temporary pond was filled on our front lawn. We have one main pond which has silt, sediment, marginal plants, aquatic plants and fauna from our old wildlife pond. We also have two additional holding tanks filled with spare water from the old pond, which has all the beneficial micro-organisms needed for a healthy pond environment. We also have one more much smaller pond dedicated to our juvenile newt population, that we’re calling the newt spa! Adult newts are mainly terrestrial during the winter months, so they’re happily resting in a specially fenced off area of the gardens while work continues.

The newt spa!

Temporary ponds aren’t widely used for the storage and translocation of living biodiversity which makes this trial an exciting opportunity to learn more about how this method works.

We’re pleased to say that the temporary pond seems to have been a great success so far, the main pond is thriving with plenty of promising signs of a healthy balanced aquatic environment. 

Here are some of our top finds recently, that indicate our temporary pond is proving to be a very happy stop-gap home for our pond flora and fauna.  

  • Pond Olive – Cloeon dipterum – a mayfly species we spotted during some pond-dipping 
  • Great Ramshorn Snail – Planorbarius corneus – in abundance and seen grazing on algae on the side of the pond  
  • Blue-tailed Damselfly – Ischnura elegans – their larvae were plentiful during pond dipping  
  • Water Hog-louse – Asellus aquaticus – lots of these can be seen on the inside of the pond liner 

This spring we’re excited to take the next step in the process, when the new pond will be ready to receive all this valued aquatic life. Stay tuned to hear more about this.  

The Dennis Leston Collection: Reverend J. G. Wood and natural history in Victorian Britain

Decorated font cover of Wood's Illustrated Natural History book

The Natural History Museum Library holds over 30,000 rare books including several named collections that have been acquired through donation, purchase or bequest. One such collection is that of the entomologist Dennis Leston (1917-1981). Comprising just ninety-nine volumes, it is the smallest named collection and was donated to the Museum’s Library by Leston in 1958.

Continue reading “The Dennis Leston Collection: Reverend J. G. Wood and natural history in Victorian Britain”

A Decade of Digitisation | Digital Collections

A guest blog by Pete Wing

Pete Wing with fellow digitiser Phaedra Kokkini and the Madagascan Lepidoptera they digitised.

January 2023 marks the tenth anniversary since I first started digitising the Museum’s collections. A lot has changed in that time but the main principle of digitisation has remained the same: to transform the access and use of the Museum’s collections through unlocking natural history data and sharing this with the world.

Continue reading “A Decade of Digitisation | Digital Collections”

Making our new gardens accessible to all… | The Urban Nature Project

The new pond dipping area

We believe that everyone should be able to experience the wonder of natural history and urban nature. That’s why accessibility and inclusivity have been at the core of the Urban Nature Project’s design from the start. Here, Harriet Fink (Learning and Volunteering Programme Manager), who co-chairs the Museum’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Action group, talks about how we’ve incorporated accessibility into our designs.

The new pond dipping area
Artist’s impression of the new accessible pond dipping area

Harriet says…

This week we’re excited to share that work has begun to make access to our gardens step-free. The cumbersome steps that lead out of the TfL tunnel near our Exhibition Road entrance are being removed and replaced with a wide ramp, to make entering the gardens smooth and easy.

The Urban Nature Project gives us a unique opportunity to transform our five-acre site in South Kensington into a welcoming, engaging, accessible and biologically diverse green space in the heart of London. These exciting new spaces will: tell the story of how life evolved on earth; give opportunities for people to explore nature; and will be used as living laboratories. The spaces and experiences are being designed to be enjoyed by all and to accommodate as wide range of people’s needs as possible. The plans for our new gardens, and the activities that will take place in them, have been developed in consultation with a number of access specialist organisations and disabled individuals who shared their expertise and experience to enable our gardens to be as welcoming as possible for everyone.

The steps leading out of the TfL tunnel by our Exhibition Road entrance are being removed, making access to the site much easier

The ramp that will replace these steps, and which will in itself form part of an amazing new geological feature, is the first of many design aspects that will enhance access to our new gardens, there will also be:   

  •  step-free access from the street to our gardens for the first time  
  • pathways wide enough for two wheelchair users to pass comfortably  
  • raised ponds so wheelchair users can freely join our pond-dipping learning activities  
  • state of the art ‘changing places’ accessible toilet facilities in our new Learning and Activity Centre  
  • steps replaced by gentle slopes  
  • benches and stopping places across our gardens 

We’re taking a sensory approach to planting and interpretation – our new outdoor galleries will be designed to be touched, smelled and heard, as well as seen in all their glory. Interpretation will include tactile maps, audio descriptive guides and acoustic audio posts which will play the sounds of the environment captured through our scientific acoustic monitoring. Calm and contemplative spaces will also be created within our gardens for those that need a more restful space. Accessibility has been central to the plans and as a bonus we believe it will create a richer, more enjoyable experience, for everyone visiting our gardens, this week’s removal of the steps from the TfL tunnel marks an exciting first step in this vision becoming reality.

Communicating change: Biodiversity indicators and global progress for nature | PREDICTS biodiversity team

Emma Soh is a student studying for an MSc in Science Communication at Imperial College London, and doing her work placement with the PREDICTS team at the Natural History Museum, focusing on communicating the science of biodiversity to policymakers. She shares how biodiversity indicators are important for communicating the state of nature and tracking global progress towards protecting it.  

What are biodiversity indicators?

Biodiversity indicators are used to monitor, understand, and communicate changes in biodiversity – the variety of life – globally, nationally, or in particular sites. This can include changes in the state of species and ecosystems or the types of threats they are facing.

Biodiversity is highly complex, from the molecular scale of a gene to whole ecological communities, and all the interactions that occur in between. Having a single indicator to capture the state of the whole of biodiversity would be like grading a piece of music on how good it is based only on its melody! Therefore, scientists use more than one indicator, each monitoring a different component of biodiversity. An indicator can measure anything from how likely a species is to go extinct to the impacts of human activities on entire ecosystems.  

Calculating and using different biodiversity indicators can give us a clearer picture of the state of biodiversity without being overwhelmed by the complexity of ecosystems or the massive amount of data surrounding them. Since indicators are based on different types of data and may use different data science techniques and processes, each indicator will have its own strengths and limitations. For example, some indicators measure biodiversity at the global-level, whereas others may focus on specific species or threats.  

Each indicator tells a story about an aspect of biodiversity. It is therefore important to recognise how indicators are different from one another and what each indicator is measuring.

As Dr Neil Brummitt, leader of the Plants Under Pressure research team at the Museum, puts it, “Different indicators all [measure] slightly different things, but [they are] all informative…Drill down into the data: What is the geographical coverage? What is its taxonomic scope (i.e. the type of species included)? What timescale is it over? What is it that they’re doing?”.

Having a clear understanding of what each indicator is saying and using multiple indicators alongside one another can help us gain a more holistic picture of the state of biodiversity.  

Why are biodiversity indicators important?

Indicators help us to understand ecosystems and appreciate the diversity of the natural world around us, as well as understand how biodiversity is changing in response to threats. From the impacts of global warming, to the loss of natural habitats for farming, biodiversity is facing an uncertain future that will inevitably affect us all – humans rely on biodiversity and nature for our survival.

Indicators can not only be used to monitor these threats and impacts on biodiversity, but they can also track changes over time and help us to plan for the future.  

The United Nations General Assembly in New York, USA. The UN Biodiversity Conference COP15 will gather world leaders in Montreal, Canada to discuss biodiversity issues and global action to protect biodiversity. Image Drop of Light/Shutterstock

Indicators are especially important when we set out global goals and targets for biodiversity and conservation. Biodiversity indicators form an essential part of global monitoring frameworks, such as measuring progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and in the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework by the Convention on Biological Diversity, to be negotiated and finalised at the second part of the UN Biodiversity Conference COP15 in Montreal in December 2022.

Good targets need to be measurable, and that requires biodiversity indicators. Indicators can be used to track progress towards – or away from – global targets over time and inform global action. It is therefore important for policymakers to understand goals for biodiversity and how indicators can be used to monitor our progress.  

Communicating research – indicators for change in the Museum

Scientists at the Museum work to understand and monitor the state of biodiversity, both by gathering biodiversity data and by improving biodiversity indicators. My science communication work placement is with the PREDICTS research team, working on communicating the science of biodiversity indicators to policymakers. The PREDICTS database contains biodiversity data from terrestrial ecosystems across the world, and researchers in the team use models to understand the impacts of human activities on biodiversity.

These impacts can be seen with the Biodiversity Intactness Index , which estimates the percentage of the original number of species that remain and their abundance in an area. Meanwhile, scientists in the Plants Under Pressure team are improving our understanding of plant biodiversity and threats to plants.

One of their projects aims to get a clearer picture of extinction risk in plants. They do this by studying a representative set of plant species across all major taxonomic groups, leading the production of the Sampled Red List Index for Plants to track the overall extinction risk of plants. The two indices tell us about two different aspects of biodiversity, with the Biodiversity Intactness Index showing changes in the composition and abundance of species, while the Sampled Red List Index for Plants focuses on the global risk of plant extinction.  

In the lead-up to COP15, as countries re-establish global goals for our planet’s biodiversity, making biodiversity research accessible to policymakers is crucial. This can be through providing channels and platforms for people involved in policy to explore indicators and be informed of biodiversity trends.

One of the Museum’s newest initiatives is the Biodiversity Trends Explorer, a free, interactive, online tool to track changes in the Biodiversity Intactness Index, showing change across time periods, different geographic regions, and even forecasting future changes under different trajectories of human development. Having the Biodiversity Trends Explorer as a platform to communicate biodiversity data in a visual and accessible manner represents a step towards making policymakers aware of the valuable work of scientists at the Museum, and how it can be used to understand the state of biodiversity and make more evidence-informed decisions.

The Museum has more plans for the Biodiversity Trends Explorer, and part of my placement has been to write website text in preparation for the addition of the Sampled Red List Index for Plants onto the platform.  

Speaking to lots of people at the Museum, from scientists to staff members engaged with policy, has been an eye-opening experience, and has shown me the importance of providing channels for scientists and policymakers to share information, discuss issues, and to work together for the future of biodiversity.

The Museum is continuing to build its vision for policy-engagement through its new policy unit. Emma Woods, the new Director of Policy at the Museum, says “Ultimately, I want the Museum to be impactful and to add value, whether that be through building influential networks, translating evidence into something that will resonate with policymakers, or convening leaders across science, government and business to debate the big issues of our time.”

Biodiversity indicators and tools like the Biodiversity Trends Explorer are exciting means to communicate the science of biodiversity to policymakers and beyond, opening up future pathways of engagement and working towards a future for nature.