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.
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Plastic debris increases circadian temperature extremes in beach sedimentsPlastic pollution is the focus of substantial scientific and public interest, leading many to believe the issue is well documented and managed, with effective mitigation in place. However, many aspects are poorly understood, including fundamental questions relating to the scope and severity of impacts (e.g., demographic consequences at the population level). Plastics accumulate in significant quantities on beaches globally, yet the consequences for these terrestrial environments are largely unknown. Using real world, in situ measurements of circadian thermal fluctuations of beach sediment on Henderson Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands, we demonstrate that plastics increase circadian temperature extremes. Particular plastic levels were associated with increases in daily maximum temperatures of 2.45 °C and decreases of daily minimum by − 1.50 °C at 5 cm depth below the accumulated plastic. Mass of surface plastic was high on both islands (Henderson: 571 ± 197 g/m2; Cocos: 3164 ± 1989 g/m2), but did not affect thermal conductivity, specific heat capacity, thermal diffusivity, or moisture content of beach sediments. Therefore, we suggest plastic effects sediment temperatures by altering thermal inputs and outputs (e.g., infrared radiation absorption). The resulting circadian temperature fluctuations have potentially significant implications for terrestrial ectotherms, many of which have narrow thermal tolerance limits and are functionally important in beach habitats.
Assessing plastic size distribution and quantity on a remote island in the South PacificPlastics are an environmental threat; however, their fate once in the pelagic environment is poorly known. We compare results from assessments of floating plastics in the South Pacific Ocean with accumulated beach plastics from Henderson Island. We also compare accumulated plastic mass on Henderson during 2015 and 2019 and investigate the presence of nanoplastics. There were differences between the size classes of beach and pelagic plastics, and an increase in microplastics (0.33-5 mm) on the beach between 2015 and 2019. Micro- and nanoplastics were found at all sites (mean ± SE: 1960 ± 356 pieces/kg dw). Across the whole beach this translates to >4 billion plastic particles in the upper 5 cm. This is concerning, particularly given Henderson is uninhabited and distant from urban centres (~2350 km from Pape'ete, French Polynesia). The vast number of small particles on Henderson may make nearshore filter feeders susceptible to ingestion and subsequent detrimental impacts.
Plastics in regurgitated Flesh-footed Shearwater (Ardenna carneipes) boluses as a monitoring toolPlastic production and pollution of the environment with plastic items is rising rapidly and outpacing current mitigation measures. Success of mitigation actions can only be determined if progress can be measured reliably through incorporation of specific, measurable targets. Here we evaluate temporal changes in the amount and composition of plastic in boluses from Flesh-footed Shearwaters during 2002-2020 and assess their suitability for measuring progress against national and international commitments to reduce plastic pollution. Plastic in the shearwater boluses showed a generally decreasing pattern from 2002 to 2015 and increasing again to 2020. The colour and type of plastics in boluses was comparable to items recovered from live and necropsied birds, but a much smaller sample size (~35 boluses/year) was required to detect changes in plastic number and mass over time. We therefore suggest shearwater boluses are a low-effort, high-statistical power monitoring tool for quantifying progress against environmental policies in Australia.
Seabird breeding islands as sinks for marine plastic debrisSeabirds are apex predators in the marine environment and well-known ecosystem engineers, capable of changing their terrestrial habitats by introducing marine-derived nutrients via deposition of guano and other allochthonous inputs. However, with the health of the world's oceans under threat due to anthropogenic pressures such as organic, inorganic, and physical pollutants, seabirds are depositing these same pollutants wherever they come to land. Using data from 2018 to 2020, we quantify how the Flesh-footed Shearwater (Ardenna carneipes) has inadvertently introduced physical pollutants to their colonies on Lord Howe Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Tasman Sea and their largest breeding colony, through a mix of regurgitated pellet (bolus) deposition and carcasses containing plastic debris. The density of plastics within the shearwater colonies ranged between 1.32 and 3.66 pieces/m<sup>2</sup> (mean ± SE: 2.18 ± 0.32), and a total of 688,480 (95% CI: 582,409-800,877) pieces are deposited on the island each year. Our research demonstrates that seabirds are a transfer mechanism for marine-derived plastics, reintroducing items back into the terrestrial environment, thus making seabird colonies a sink for plastic debris. This phenomenon is likely occurring in seabird colonies across the globe and will increase in severity as global plastic production and marine plastic pollution accelerates without adequate mitigation strategies.
Measuring nest incorporation of anthropogenic debris by seabirds: An opportunistic approach increases geographic scope and reduces costsData on the prevalence of anthropogenic debris in seabird nests can be collected alongside other research or through community science initiatives to increase the temporal and spatial scale of data collection. To assess the usefulness of this approach, we collated data on nest incorporation of debris for 14 seabird species from 84 colonies across five countries in northwest Europe. Of 10,274 nests monitored 12% contained debris, however, there was large variation in the proportion of nests containing debris among species and colonies. For several species, the prevalence of debris in nests was significantly related to the mean Human Footprint Index (HFI), a proxy for human impact on the environment, within 100 km of the colony. Collecting opportunistic data on nest incorporation of debris by seabirds provides a cost-effective method of detecting changes in the prevalence of debris in the marine environment across a large geographic scale.