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The Natural History Museum is an international leader in the study of the natural world. Our science describes the diversity of nature, promotes an understanding of its past, and supports the anticipation and management of the impact of human activity on the environment.
The Museum's repository provides free access to publications produced by more than 300 scientists working here. Researchers at the Museum study a diverse range of issues, including threats to Earth's biodiversity, the maintenance of delicate ecosystems, environmental pollution and disease. The accessible repository showcases this broad research output.
The repository was launched in 2016 with an initially modest number of journal publications in its database. It will expand significantly in the future through the addition of more journal articles, book chapters, blogs and multimedia items from Museum scientists
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Changes in technology and imperfect detection of nest contents impedes reliable estimates of population trends in burrowing seabirds(Elsevier, 2019-03-01)One of the most fundamental aspects of conservation biology is understanding trends in the abundance of species and populations. This influences conservation interventions, threat abatement, and management by implicitly or explicitly setting targets for favourable conservation states, such as an increasing or stable population. Burrow-nesting seabirds present many challenges for determining abundance reliably, which is further hampered by variability in the quality of previous surveys. We used burrow scopes to determine the population status of Flesh-footed Shearwaters (Ardenna carneipes) at their largest colony on Lord Howe Island, Australia, in 2018. We estimated a breeding population of 22,654 breeding pairs (95% CI: 8159–37,909). Comparing burrow scope models used in 2018 found more than half of burrow contents (20/36 burrows examined) were classified differently. If this detection probability is applied retroactively to surveys in 2002 and 2009, we estimate that the Flesh-footed Shearwater population on Lord Howe has decreased by up to 50% in the last decade, but uncertainty around previous surveys’ ability to reliably determine burrow contents means a direct comparison is not possible. The decline in burrow density between 2018 and previous years adds further evidence that the population may not be stable. Our results highlight a need for regular surveys to quantify detection probability so that as video technology advances, previous population estimates remain comparable. We urge caution when comparing population counts of burrowing seabirds using different technologies, to ensure comparisons are meaningful.
Biesiespoort revisited: a case study on the relationship between tetrapod assemblage zones and Beaufort lithostratigraphy south of Victoria West(University of the Witwatersrand Johannesburg, 2018-12)The relationship between the tetrapod assemblage zones of the South African Karoo Basin and the lithostratigraphic divisions of the Beaufort Group is well-established, and provides an independent means of dating fossil occurrences. However, this relationship may not be consistent across the basin; a discrepancy exists between the historical tetrapod assemblages in the vicinity of Victoria West, Northern Cape Province, and the expected tetrapod assemblage zones based on mapped geology. In order to examine this disconnect, we collected fossils at two localities close to Biesiespoort railway station, a locality that was visited on a number of occasions by Robert Broom. Our fossil samples support the biostratigraphic determinations of Broom and thus confirm that the stratigraphic extent of the biozones at these localities differs from their type areas further south. The reasons for this are unclear but could be related to the northward younging of the lithological units, implying complex depositional processes, or result from difficulties in mapping. Nevertheless, caution should be exercised when using mapped geology near Victoria West as a guide to the age of fossils found there.
Discovery of an extensive deep-sea fossil serpulid reef associated with a cold seep, Santa Monica Basin, California(Frontiers Media, 2019-03-19)Multibeam bathymetric mapping of the Santa Monica Basin in the eastern Pacific has revealed the existence of a number of elevated bathymetric features, or mounds, harboring cold seep communities. During 2013–2014, mounds at 600 m water depth were observed for the first time and sampled by Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute’s ROV Doc Ricketts. Active cold seeps were found, but surprisingly one of these mounds was characterized by massive deposits composed of fossil serpulid worm tubes (Annelida: Serpulidae) exhibiting various states of mineralization by authigenic carbonate. No living serpulids with equivalent tube morphologies were found at the site; hence the mound was termed “Fossil Hill.” In the present study, the identity of the fossil serpulids and associated fossil community, the ages of fossils and authigenic carbonates, the formation of the fossil serpulid aggregation, and the geological structure of the mound are explored. Results indicate that the tubes were most likely made by a deep-sea serpulid lineage, with radiocarbon dating suggesting that they have a very recent origin during the Late Pleistocene, specifically to the Last Glacial Maximum 20,000 years ago. Additional U-Th analyses of authigenic carbonates mostly corroborate the radiocarbon dates, and also indicate that seepage was occurring while the tubes were being formed. We also document similar, older deposits along the approximate trajectory of the San Pedro Basin Fault. We suggest that the serpulid tube facies formed in situ, and that the vast aggregation of these tubes at Fossil Hill is likely due to a combination of optimal physical environmental conditions and chemosynthetic production, which may have been particularly intense as a result of sea-level lowstand during the Last Glacial Maximum.
Local extinctions of insular avifauna on the most remote inhabited island in the world(Springer, 2018-08-13)The overwhelming majority of avian extinctions have occurred on islands, where introduced predators, habitat loss, disease, and human persecution have resulted in the loss of over 160 species in the last 500 years. Understanding the timing and causes of these historical extinctions can be beneficial to identifying and preventing contemporary biodiversity loss, as well as understanding the nature of island ecosystems. Tristan da Cunha (henceforth “Tristan”), the most remote inhabited island in the world, has lost three species from the main island since permanent human settlement in 1811—the Tristan Moorhen (Gallinula nesiotis), Inaccessible Finch (Nesospiza acunhae acunhae), and Tristan Albatross (Diomedea dabbenena). We used recently developed Bayesian methods, and sightings of mixed certainty compiled from historical documents, to estimate the extinction date of these three species from Tristan based on specimens. We estimate that all three species were likely extirpated from Tristan between 1869 and 1880 following a period of significant habitat alteration and human overexploitation, and only the albatross had a high probability of persistence when Black Rats (Rattus rattus) arrived in 1882, the previously assumed cause of extinction for all three species. Better estimates of extinction dates are essential for understanding the causes of historical biodiversity loss, and the combination of historical ecology with modern statistical methods has given us novel insights into the timing and therefore the causes of extinctions on one of the most isolated islands in the world.
Laboratory based feeding behaviour of the Chinese mitten crab, Eriocheir sinensis (Crustacea: Decapoda: Brachyura: Varunidae): fish egg consumption (De Haan, 1835)(Regional Euro-Asian Biological Invasions Centre, 2015-06)Dispersal of Eriocheir sinensis from its native habitat is a worldwide concern. As one of the most invasive species known, this crab causes significant disruption to foreign ecosystems. In particular, populations in the United Kingdom (UK) are increasing in number and E. sinensis has been reported from many river catchments. The ecological implications of this invasion are not fully understood. One aspect of concern lies in the potential for mitten crabs to predate fish eggs which, if realistic, could contribute to the decline of riverine populations. In this study, 100 mitten crabs from the River Thames were used in experimental feeding trials to 1) investigate foraging ability on a variety of fish eggs and 2) establish whether crab size affected foraging potential. Eggs ranged from 1–6 millimetres (mm) in diameter from one of four species of marine and freshwater fish; zebrafish, lumpfish, Pacific salmon and trout. Predation by crabs varied with egg type; crabs were capable of foraging 1mm zebrafish eggs, but the majority consumed eggs 2–6mm in diameter. The most attractive eggs were apparently lumpfish, where the median proportion consumed was 100%. Crab size did not appear to govern foraging potential, though variation was observed in the size range of juvenile crabs consuming the different eggs with the largest, salmon, being consumed by crabs of the broadest size range. E. sinensis does have the potential to predate on a range of fish eggs, and the results are used to infer the risk presented to specific groups of UK fish stocks.