Coordinating Lead Author, IPBES Global Assessment and Life Sciences Research Leader at The Natural History Museum, London
The IPBES Global Assessment estimated that 1 million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction. It also documents how human actions have changed many aspects of nature and its contributions to people; but species threatened with extinction resonate with the media and the public in ways that degradation of habitats and alteration of rates of ecosystem processes perhaps don’t, so the figure was widely reported.
IPBES is the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, an independent intergovernmental body that was established in 2012 to strenthen links between science and policy to support conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, long-term human well-being, and sustainable development
Because only the Summary for Policymakers has so far been made available, it wasn’t clear where the figure of 1 million threatened species came from. Some journalists and researchers asked me, so I explained it to them, and will explain it again here. Some other writers, often with a long history of commenting critically on reports highlighting environmental concerns, instead railed against the Global Assessment in general and the figure of 1 million threatened species in particular. Given that these writers often advance empty or bogus arguments, I thought it would be also be useful to explain why these arguments are wrong.
I have therefore written this blog post in the form of thirteen questions and answers.
As part of the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP), we are often focused on the death of animal and can overlook the amazing lives of marine creatures before they sadly wash up along our coastlines. British waters are home to over 28 different species of whales, dolphins and porpoises, collectively known as cetaceans.
In the UK, the most numerous (and smallest) of these is the harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena). Unsurprisingly, these porpoises therefore make up the majority of strandings in the UK.
Across the UK, many different creatures wash up on our shores. The Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP) is responsible for documenting stranded animals in the UK and retrieves a portion of those that strand for post-mortem examination every year. The main bulk of the project is made up of cetaceans – a group of marine mammals comprised of whales, dolphins and porpoises.
However, many people don’t realise the project also responds to strandings of sharks. Since 2007, the CSIP has recorded the stranding of basking sharks (Cetorhinus maximus) across the UK and more recently secured funding to expand the research to other large-bodied sharks such as porbeagles (Lamna nasus), angel sharks (Squatina squatina) and blue sharks (Prionace glauca).
WARNING: This blog contains photographs of dead stranded sharks which you may find upsetting
Come and join Museum scientists, naturalists and other nature enthusiasts for a fun day of discovering wildlife in the heart of London!
The BioBlitz is back at the Natural History Museum on Thursday 25 October 2018. Head to the Wildlife Garden in the Orange Zone of the Museum and prepare to step into a world full of wildlife ready to be explored.
A BioBlitz is a race against the clock to find and record as many living things as possible within a specific area over a set period of time. These observations, which you will help to gather, are then used for scientific research and environmental monitoring by our wildlife garden managers and are shared with scientists in the UK and abroad.
We discovered 12 species that had never been recorded in the Wildlife Garden before when we BioBlitzed in May half term – three spiders, seven flies, an aphid and a moth. It just shows that if you look carefully, there are new and exciting things to discover even in our own gardens! What will we find this time round?
The Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP) was recently called out to the stranding of a harbour porpoise, Phocoena phocoena, in Westward Ho! in north Devon. The porpoise was a suitable candidate to collect for post-mortem, and so plans were made for the strandings team to travel to pick it up.
As part of the trip to Westward Ho!, a ranger from Northam Burrows Country Park asked if the Museum was able to provide an identification on three whale vertebrae they had, to allow them to display the bones in their visitors centre. Little did anyone know the full story behind the vertebrae was about to be uncovered!
For the past two days I have started, and finished recurating the British Acroceridae Collection. Wow, you must be thinking, that young Erica is fast! Recurating an entire family in two days; updating the nomenclature, bar coding and databasing the specimens, and then rehousing into modern museum standard unit trays. Well, a slight confession is that there are only three species found in the UK.
Deadly predators. Venomous machines. Stealth assassins. Yes, it’s the robber flies, or assassin flies if you’re from across the pond. These beautiful, lethal creatures are, to my mind, some of the most amazing species on the planet, with not only some amazing adaptations to their predatory lifestyle but also exhibiting a great morphological variety – including some of the most hirsute insects on the planet.
The Arctic is warming at rates more than twice the global average, and much larger changes are projected for high northern latitudes by the end of this century. In our project we study freshwater microbiology to identify sentinel microbiome properties of northern freshwater environments that can be used to improve surveillance of Arctic ecosystem health in the face of these increasing climate perturbations. The project is funded by funded by a UK-Canadian partnership bursary and in collaboration with researchers from Laval University and Centre for Northern Studies (CEN) – and is part of Sentinel North.
Of particular importance are cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, as they are keystone primary producers, contributors of bioavailable nitrogen, drivers of food webs and carbon cycling in Arctic freshwater ecosystems. However, little is known about their biodiversity in the Canadian Arctic. I therefore, visited Canada this August to carry out field work and collect samples from freshwater environments such as lakes, ponds and streams to carry out DNA sequencing analysis of the freshwater microbiology.
The film below gives you a glimpse into the working life of seaweed researcher Prof. Juliet Brodie. Juliet is the lead researcher on the Big Seaweed Search project and part of the team that created the beautiful new seaweed display in the Museum’s Hintze Hall.