Welcome to The Natural History Museum repository

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 now includes book chapters and blogs from Museum scientists.

Select a community to browse its collections.

  • A new interpretation of Pikaia reveals the origins of the chordate body plan

    Mussini, Giovanni; Smith, M Paul; Vinther, Jakob; Rahman, Imran; Murdock, Duncan JE; Harper, David AT; Dunn, Frances S (Elsevier BV, 2024-06-11)
    Our understanding of the evolutionary origin of Chordata, one of the most disparate and ecologically significant animal phyla, is hindered by a lack of unambiguous stem-group relatives. Problematic Cambrian fossils that have been considered as candidate chordates include vetulicolians (1) Yunnanozoon (2) and the iconic Pikaia (3) However, their phylogenetic placement has remained poorly constrained, impeding reconstructions of character evolution along the chordate stem lineage. Here we reinterpret the morphology of Pikaia, providing evidence for a gut canal and, crucially, a dorsal nerve cord—a robust chordate synapomorphy. The identification of these structures underpins a new anatomical model of Pikaia that shows that this fossil was previously interpreted upside down.We reveal a myomere configuration intermediate between amphioxus and vertebrates and establish morphological links between Yunnanozoon, Pikaia, and uncontroversial chordates. In this light, we perform a new phylogenetic analysis, using a revised, comprehensive deuterostome dataset, and establish a chordate stem lineage. We resolve vetulicolians as a paraphyletic group comprising the earliest diverging stem chordates, subtending a grade of more derived stem-group chordates comprising Yunnanozoon and Pikaia. Our phylogenetic results reveal the stepwise acquisition of characters diagnostic of the chordate crown group. In addition, they chart a phase in early chordate evolution defined by the gradual integration of the pharyngeal region with a segmented axial musculature, supporting classical evolutionary-developmental hypotheses of chordate origins4 and revealing a ‘‘lost chapter’’ in the history of the phylum.
  • Ediacaran marine animal forests and the ventilation of the oceans

    Gutarra, Susana; Mitchell, Emily G; Dunn, Frances S; Gibson, Brandt M; Racicot, Rachel A; Darroch, Simon AF; Rahman, Imran (Elsevier BV, 2024-05-17)
    The rise of animals across the Ediacaran–Cambrian transition marked a step-change in the history of life, from a microbially dominated world to the complex macroscopic biosphere we see today.1,2,3 While the importance of bioturbation and swimming in altering the structure and function of Earth systems is well established,4,5,6 the influence of epifaunal animals on the hydrodynamics of marine environments is not well understood. Of particular interest are the oldest “marine animal forests,”7 which comprise a diversity of sessile soft-bodied organisms dominated by the fractally branching rangeomorphs.8,9 Typified by fossil assemblages from the Ediacaran of Mistaken Point, Newfoundland,8,10,11 these ancient communities might have played a pivotal role in structuring marine environments, similar to modern ecosystems,7,12,13 but our understanding of how they impacted fluid flow in the water column is limited. Here, we use ecological modeling and computational flow simulations to explore how Ediacaran marine animal forests influenced their surrounding environment. Our results reveal how organism morphology and community structure and composition combined to impact vertical mixing of the surrounding water. We find that Mistaken Point communities were capable of generating high-mixing conditions, thereby likely promoting gas and nutrient transport within the “canopy.” This mixing could have served to enhance local-scale oxygen concentrations and redistribute resources like dissolved organic carbon. Our work suggests that Ediacaran marine animal forests may have contributed to the ventilation of the oceans over 560 million years ago, well before the Cambrian explosion of animals.
  • A fungal plant pathogen discovered in the Devonian Rhynie Chert

    Strullu-Derrien, C; Goral, Tomasz; Spencer, Alan RT; Kenrick, P; Catherine Aime, M; Gaya, Ester; Hawksworth, David L (Springer Science and Business Media LLC, 2023-12-01)
    Abstract: Fungi are integral to well-functioning ecosystems, and their broader impact on Earth systems is widely acknowledged. Fossil evidence from the Rhynie Chert (Scotland, UK) shows that Fungi were already diverse in terrestrial ecosystems over 407-million-years-ago, yet evidence for the occurrence of Dikarya (the subkingdom of Fungi that includes the phyla Ascomycota and Basidiomycota) in this site is scant. Here we describe a particularly well-preserved asexual fungus from the Rhynie Chert which we examined using brightfield and confocal microscopy. We document Potteromyces asteroxylicola gen. et sp. nov. that we attribute to Ascomycota incertae sedis (Dikarya). The fungus forms a stroma-like structure with conidiophores arising in tufts outside the cuticle on aerial axes and leaf-like appendages of the lycopsid plant Asteroxylon mackiei. It causes a reaction in the plant that gives rise to dome-shaped surface projections. This suite of features in the fungus together with the plant reaction tissues provides evidence of it being a plant pathogenic fungus. The fungus evidently belongs to an extinct lineage of ascomycetes that could serve as a minimum node age calibration point for the Ascomycota as a whole, or even the Dikarya crown group, along with some other Ascomycota previously documented in the Rhynie Chert.
  • Revisions to the Eocene carpoflora of Anjou, western France, with new data from X-ray tomography

    Strullu-Derrien, C; Spencer, Alan RT; Kenrick, P; Judd, Walter S; De Franceschi, Dario; Manchester, Steven R (Informa UK Limited, 2022-08-07)
    Selected fruits and seeds preserved as molds and casts in sediments from the Anjou flora of Maine-et-Loire have been reexamined with the aid of X-ray tomography. Virtual casts and surface renderings from micro-CT scanning data reveal external and internal morphological characters that were not visible by standard reflected light microscopy. Application of this methodology leads to a revision of the fruit formerly treated as Juglandicarya. It is a 5-valved capsule of likely sapindalean affnity, and is placed in Vaudoisia gruetii (Vaudois-Miéja) gen. et. comb. nov. A seed with the characteristic rumination of Anonaspermum is also recognized for the #rst time, as are capsular fruits of Ericaceae. We note that many disseminules are hidden from optical viewing because they are buried within the hand samples. A more extensive micro-CT scan investigation of more samples, including those showing only fossil leaf impressions at the surface, may be expected to yield a wealth of new information on this classic flora.
  • Towards the analysis of coral skeletal density-banding using deep learning

    Rutterford, Ainsley; Bertini, Leonardo; Hendy, Erica J; Johnson, Kenneth; Summerfield, Rebecca; Burghardt, Tilo (Springer Science and Business Media LLC, 2022-01-04)
    Abstract: X-ray micro–computed tomography (µCT) is increasingly used to record the skeletal growth banding of corals. However, the wealth of data generated is time consuming to analyse for growth rates and colony age. Here we test an artificial intelligence (AI) approach to assist the expert identification of annual density boundaries in small colonies of massive Porites spanning decades. A convolutional neural network (CNN) was trained with µCT images combined with manually labelled ground truths to learn banding-related features. The CNN successfully predicted the position of density boundaries in independent images not used in training. Linear extension rates derived from CNN-based outputs and the traditional method were consistent. In the future, well-resolved 2D density boundaries from AI can be used to reconstruct density surfaces and enable studies focused on variations in rugosity and growth gradients across colony 3D space. We recommend the development of a community platform to share annotated images for AI.

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