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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 now includes book chapters and blogs from Museum scientists.
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Conservation challenges for a microscopic world: Documenting desmidsFreshwaters are amongst the most threatened habitats in the world. Many waters in the UK have irreversibly changed or disappeared and those that remain are under immense pressure largely due to habitat loss, pollution, recreation, abstraction and the introduction of nonnative species. Climate change is also becoming a major concern for freshwater life. The conservation of biodiversity associated with freshwaters has for obvious reasons focused on the larger animal and plant species, however, microorganisms such as the algae play a fundamental role in these ecosystems and constitute rich assemblages which are also threatened. Desmids are a diverse group of freshwater microalgae which dominate the algal flora of nutrient poor, lentic waters and are particularly diverse in such oligotrophic habitats as moorland pools and shallow lakes. They are ecologically highly sensitive, acting as useful indicators of water quality. The conservation of microscopic organisms poses many difficulties due to taxonomic impediments and lack of knowledge of ecology and distribution. To gain a better understanding of desmid distribution patterns across the UK and Ireland this project has undertaken the digitisation of 50 years worth of biological recording data collated by desmid expert David Williamson. Reliable datasets of species occurrence are essential to biodiversity research and conservation so these data, in conjunction with published literature, will provide a basis for developing a more robust checklist of verified desmid taxa known to occur in the UK and Ireland and provide distribution information for these taxa. Furthermore, this will enable us to review the conservation status of the desmid flora and provide data of practical use in the designation and management of protected freshwater habitats.
Zircon-hosted apatite inclusions: A powerful tool for reconstruction of Cl contents in meltsChlorine in the exsolved volatile phase plays an important role in complexing with metals in the extraction and concentration of metals in magmatic-hydrothermal ore deposits. Therefore, tracking the concentration and evolution of Cl in the parent melt is of particular importance in understanding how such deposits form. In theory, the incorporation of Cl into apatite could be used to track the volatile content of melts; however, low closure temperatures and the rapid diffusion of halogens in apatite make it susceptible to sub-solidus re-equilibration by later thermal events and hydrothermal fluids. This susceptibility compromises its ability to retain the primary halogen signature. However, the common occurrence of apatite as an inclusion phase in zircon crystals, together with the refractory nature of zircon, open up the possibility that such inclusions may preserve primary Clmelt compositions . The Rio-Blanco-Los Bronces porphyry copper district is located in central Chile and hosts several world class porphyry copper deposits as well as barren intrusions . This makes it an excellent area for an investigation of the role of Clmelt in the formation of porphyry copper deposits, as well as the effect of sub-solidus re-equilibration of Cl in apatite. For this study we analysed apatite crystals that occur both in the groundmass and as inclusions in zircons in four samples from the Los Bronces porphyry copper district using EPMA for halogen and major elements and LA-ICP-MS for trace elements. These samples include a barren intrusion unrelated to mineralisation that precedes mineralisation by around 10 Ma, and pre-, syn- and post-mineralisation porphyries. Apatite inclusions hosted in zircon crystals typically exhibit a large range in Cl concentrations (<0.5 –2.5 wt.% Cl), with all inclusion data exhibiting polymodal distributions of Cl concentrations. By contrast, groundmass apatites from all samples are characterised by uniformly low Cl concentrations (<0.5 wt.% Cl). These results are consistent with the apatite crystals in the groundmass having experienced sub-solidus re-equilibration related to the pervasive hydrothermal alteration in the district. The wide range in Cl concentrations recorded by the apatite inclusions is interpreted to reflect changing Clmelt for the duration of apatite and zircon crystallisation, perhaps linked to volatile saturation and preferential partitioning of Cl into the aqueous phase. Additionally, the apatites hosted in zircon crystals show significant inter-sample variations, evolving from low Cl concentration (<0.5 wt. % Cl) in the barren intrusion, to higher Cl concentrations (0.5 – 2.5 wt.% Cl) in the samples closely temporally associated with porphyry Cu mineralisation. These data suggest that Clmelt was significantly higher (0.05 – 0.40 wt.% Clmelt) in the melts associated with porphyry copper mineralisation compared with the precursor barren magmatism (~0.04 wt.% Clmelt) . We conclude that due to the rapid diffusion of halogens in apatite in the presence of melt or hydrothermal fluid, the study of apatite inclusions hosted in zircon crystals is required to reconstruct primary melt compositions and to track the evolution of Cl concentrations in porphyry-forming magmas. This study reveals high Clmelt concentrations in the magmas related to mineralisation in the Los Bronces district, a property that would have facilitated the efficient extraction and concentration of metals. References:  Brugge, E. et al. (2019). Proc. 15th SGA Biennial Meeting, Vol. 2, 983-986.  Toro, J.C. et al. (2012). SEG Special Publication 16:105-126.  Li, H. and Hermann, J. (2017) Am. Mineral. 102:580-594.
Preparing detailed morphological features of fossil brittle stars (Ophiuroidea, Echinodermata) for scanning electron microscopy using a combination of mechanical preparation techniques.In order to facilitate detailed SEM analysis of recently available, undescribed fossil ophiuroid material from the Aptian, Lower Cretaceous, Atherfield Clay Formation of the Isle of Wight, Hampshire, UK a combination of careful mechanical preparation techniques was employed to great effect. Specimens were initially exposed using standard air abrasive techniques, but the final few millimetres of matrix were removed using pins. To get individual arm pieces exceptionally clear of matrix, they were removed from the blocks using a mini pedestalling technique and then further cleaned using an ultrasonic pen. This combination of techniques fully exposed all the elements required for full taxonomic study without causing severe damage to the plate surfaces and greatly improved the overall aesthetic of the specimens. These techniques could be more widely applied in fossil preparation.
Disparities in the analysis of morphological disparityAnalyses of morphological disparity have been used to characterize and investigate the evolution of variation in the anatomy, function and ecology of organisms since the 1980s. While a diversity of methods have been employed, it is unclear whether they provide equivalent insights. Here, we review the most commonly used approaches for characterizing and analysing morphological disparity, all of which have associated limitations that, if ignored, can lead to misinterpretation. We propose best practice guidelines for disparity analyses, while noting that there can be no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. The available tools should always be used in the context of a specific biological question that will determine data and method selection at every stage of the analysis.