The Museum’s vast collections of vertebrates, invertebrates, plants and microbes support our staff's unique expertise in evolutionary biology, biodiversity and systematics.

Recent Submissions

  • Innovation in Citizen Science – Perspectives on Science-Policy Advances

    Hecker, Susanne; Bonney, Rick; Haklay, Muki; Hölker, Franz; Hofer, Heribert; Goebel, Claudia; Gold, Margaret; Makuch, Zen; Ponti, Marisa; Richter, Anett; et al. (Ubiquity Press, Ltd., 2018-04-27)
    Citizen science is growing as a field of research with contributions from diverse disciplines, promoting innovation in science, society, and policy. Inter- and transdisciplinary discussions and critical analyses are needed to use the current momentum to evaluate, demonstrate, and build on the advances that have been made in the past few years. This paper synthesizes results of discussions at the first international citizen science conference of the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA) in 2016 in Berlin, Germany, and distills major points of the discourse into key recommendations. To enhance innovation in science, citizen science needs to clearly demonstrate its scientific benefit, branch out across disciplines, and foster active networking and new formats of collaboration, including true co-design with participants. For fostering policy advances, it is important to embrace opportunities for policy-relevant monitoring and policy development and to work with science funders to find adequate avenues and evaluation tools to support citizen science. From a society angle it is crucial to engage with societal actors in various formats that suit participants and to evaluate two-way learning outcomes as well as to develop the transformative role of science communication. We hope that these key perspectives will promote citizen science progress at the science-society-policy interface.
  • Ten principles of citizen science

    Robinson, LD; Cawthray, Jade Lauren; West, Sarah Elizabeth; Bonn, Aletta; Ansine, Janice; Haklay, Muki; Hecker, Susanne; Bowser, Anne; Makuch, Zen; Vogel, Johannes; et al. (UCL Press, 2018-10-15)
    Citizen science, the active participation of the public in scientific research projects, is a rapidly expanding field in open science and open innovation. It provides an integrated model of public knowledge production and engagement with science. As a growing worldwide phenomenon, it is invigorated by evolving new technologies that connect people easily and effectively with the scientific community. Catalysed by citizens’ wishes to be actively involved in scientific processes, as a result of recent societal trends, it also offers contributions to the rise in tertiary education. In addition, citizen science provides a valuable tool for citizens to play a more active role in sustainable development. This book identifies and explains the role of citizen science within innovation in science and society, and as a vibrant and productive science-policy interface. The scope of this volume is global, geared towards identifying solutions and lessons to be applied across science, practice and policy. The chapters consider the role of citizen science in the context of the wider agenda of open science and open innovation, and discuss progress towards responsible research and innovation, two of the most critical aspects of science today.
  • How Do Young Community and Citizen Science Volunteers Support Scientific Research on Biodiversity? The Case of iNaturalist

    Aristeidou, Maria; Herodotou, Christothea; Ballard, Heidi L; Higgins, Lila; Johnson, Rebecca F; Miller, Annie E; Young, Alison N; Robinson, LD (MDPI AG, 2021-07-13)
    Online community and citizen science (CCS) projects have broadened access to scientific research and enabled different forms of participation in biodiversity research; however, little is known about whether and how such opportunities are taken up by young people (aged 5–19). Furthermore, when they do participate, there is little research on whether their online activity makes a tangible contribution to scientific research. We addressed these knowledge gaps using quantitative analytical approaches and visualisations to investigate 249 youths’ contributions to CCS on the iNaturalist platform, and the potential for the scientific use of their contributions. We found that nearly all the young volunteers’ observations were ‘verifiable’ (included a photo, location, and date/time) and therefore potentially useful to biodiversity research. Furthermore, more than half were designated as ‘Research Grade’, with a community agreed-upon identification, making them more valuable and accessible to biodiversity science researchers. Our findings show that young volunteers with lasting participation on the platform and those aged 16–19 years are more likely to have a higher proportion of Research Grade observations than younger, or more ephemeral participants. This study enhances our understanding of young volunteers’ contributions to biodiversity research, as well as the important role professional scientists and data users can play in helping verify youths’ contributions to make them more accessible for biodiversity research.
  • Understanding the Citizen Science Landscape for European Environmental Policy: An Assessment and Recommendations

    Turbé, Anne; Barba, Jorge; Pelacho, Maite; Mugdal, Shailendra; Robinson, LD; Serrano-Sanz, Fermin; Sanz, Francisco; Tsinaraki, Chrysa; Rubio, Jose-Miguel; Schade, Sven (Ubiquity Press, Ltd., 2019-12-02)
    Citizen science is increasingly upheld with the potential to underpin all aspects of the environmental policy process. However, to date, contributions of citizen science to environmental decision-making remain sparse and not well understood. Evidence points to a gap between the potential relevance of citizen science for policy and its actual implementation. We lack a comprehensive assessment of the current impacts of citizen science projects on environmental policy, and an identification of the scientific, engagement, and governance characteristics of projects that facilitate successful contributions to policy. This paper addresses that knowledge gap through identifying the characteristics of citizen science projects that support policy. We present an inventory of 503 citizen science projects with environmental policy relevance, and an in-depth analysis of 45 case examples with quantitative assessment of characteristics of the citizen scientist, scientific, socio-economic, and policy dimensions. Our results demonstrate that citizen science can underpin all steps of the environmental policy process, and that a diversity of approaches can be used to achieve this. However, governmental support, scientific excellence, and NGO-leadership facilitate policy linkages. We discuss the main challenges and opportunities identified by project leaders in linking citizen science and policy and present a set of recommendations for promoting the better integration of citizen science in the different phases of the policy cycle. Central among these are clarifying policy needs, facilitating access to citizen science data, and improving their evaluation and recognition by decision-makers.
  • The diversity and evolution of ecological and environmental citizen science

    Pocock, Michael JO; Tweddle, John C; Savage, Joanna; Robinson, LD; Roy, Helen E (Public Library of Science (PLoS), 2017-04-03)
    Citizen science—the involvement of volunteers in data collection, analysis and interpretation —simultaneously supports research and public engagement with science, and its profile is rapidly rising. Citizen science represents a diverse range of approaches, but until now this diversity has not been quantitatively explored. We conducted a systematic internet search and discovered 509 environmental and ecological citizen science projects. We scored each project for 32 attributes based on publicly obtainable information and used multiple factor analysis to summarise this variation to assess citizen science approaches. We found that projects varied according to their methodological approach from ‘mass participation’ (e.g. easy participation by anyone anywhere) to ‘systematic monitoring’ (e.g. trained volunteers repeatedly sampling at specific locations). They also varied in complexity from approaches that are ‘simple’ to those that are ‘elaborate’ (e.g. provide lots of support to gather rich, detailed datasets). There was a separate cluster of entirely computer-based projects but, in general, we found that the range of citizen science projects in ecology and the environment showed continuous variation and cannot be neatly categorised into distinct types of activity. While the diversity of projects begun in each time period (pre1990, 1990–99, 2000–09 and 2010–13) has not increased, we found that projects tended to have become increasingly different from each other as time progressed (possibly due to changing opportunities, including technological innovation). Most projects were still active so consequently we found that the overall diversity of active projects (available for participation) increased as time progressed. Overall, understanding the landscape of citizen science in ecology and the environment (and its change over time) is valuable because it informs the comparative evaluation of the ‘success’ of different citizen science approaches. Comparative evaluation provides an evidence-base to inform the future development of citizen science activities.
  • “No todo es Sargazo”: Aprendizajes en un proyecto de ciencia ciudadana marino-coster

    Benavides Lahnstein, Ana Ilse; Paredes Chi, Arely; Rios Vazquez, Ameyalli; Galindo-De Santiago, Maria del Carmen; Khatun, Kaysara; Vazquez Delfin, Erika; Robinson, LD; Brodie, J; Wardlaw, Jessica (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, 2023)
  • Unveiled: Prototrichalus from the mid-Cretaceous Burmese amber represents a yet oldest record of Ischaliidae Blair, 1920 (Coleoptera: Tenebrionoidea)

    Telnov, Dmitry; Kairišs, Kristaps; Triskova, Katerina; Kundrata, Robin (Elsevier BV, 2023-06-30)
    The genus Prototrichalus Molino-Olmedo, Ferreira, Branham and Ivie, 2020 known from Burmese amber was initially attributed to the family of net-winged beetles (Coleoptera: Lycidae) in the superfamily Elateroidea, and soon after transferred to Tenebrionoidea incertae sedis and compared with Ischalia Pascoe, 1860. Here, we examined additional material of Prototrichalus and confirmed it is the first known Mesozoic subgroup of the family of false fire-coloured beetles (Coleoptera: Ischaliidae) in superfamily Tenebrionoidea. This oldest yet available record of the Ischaliidae suggests their at least Cretaceous origin. A re-defined set of the diagnostic features is provided for the family Ischaliidae to incorporate the unique combination of morphological features of Prototrichalus. One new species, P. jingpo Telnov and Kundrata, sp. nov., is described and compared with its congeners. A key to supraspecific taxa of Ischaliidae and an annotated checklist of extinct species of the family are provided.
  • Changes in technology and imperfect detection of nest contents impedes reliable estimates of population trends in burrowing seabirds

    Lavers, Jennifer L; Hutton, Ian; Bond, AL (Elsevier BV, 2019-02-25)
    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.
  • How woodcocks produce the most brilliant white plumage patches among the birds

    Dunning, Jamie; Patil, Anvay; D'Alba, Liliana; Bond, AL; Debruyn, Gerben; Dhinojwala, Ali; Shawkey, Matthew; Jenni, Lukas (The Royal Society, 2023-03-01)
    Until recently, and when compared with diurnal birds that use contrasting plumage patches and complex feather structures to convey visual information, communication in nocturnal and crepuscular species was considered to follow acoustic and chemical channels. However, many birds that are active in low-light environments have evolved intensely white plumage patches within otherwise inconspicuous plumages. We used spectrophotometry, electron microscopy, and optical modelling to explain the mechanisms producing bright white tail feather tips of the Eurasian woodcock Scolopax rusticola. Their diffuse reflectance was approximately 30% higher than any previously measured feather. This intense reflectance is the result of incoherent light scattering from a disordered nanostructure composed of keratin and air within the barb rami. In addition, the flattening, thickening and arrangement of those barbs create a Venetian-blind-like macrostructure that enhances the surface area for light reflection. We suggest that the woodcocks have evolved these bright white feather patches for long-range visual communication in dimly lit environments.
  • Betula mcallisteri sp. nov. (sect. Acuminatae, Betulaceae), a new diploid species overlooked in the wild and in cultivation, and its relation to the widespread B. luminifera

    Zhang, Huayu; Ding, Junyi; Holstein, Norbert; Wang, Nian (2023-05-23)
    Taxa are traditionally identified using morphological proxies for groups of evolutionarily isolated populations. These proxies are common characters deemed by taxonomists as significant. However, there is no general rule on which character or sets of characters are appropriate to circumscribe taxa, leading to discussions and uncertainty. Birch species are notoriously hard to identify due to strong morphological variability and factors such as hybridization and the existence of several ploidy levels. Here, we present evidence for an evolutionarily isolated line of birches from China that are not distinguishable by traditionally assumed taxon recognition proxies, such as fruit or leaf characters. We have discovered that some wild material in China and some cultivated in the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, formerly recognized as Betula luminifera, differ from other individuals by having a peeling bark and a lack of cambial fragrance. We use restriction site-associated DNA sequencing and flow cytometry to study the evolutionary status of the unidentified Betula samples to assess the extent of hybridization between the unidentified Betula samples and typical B. luminifera in natural populations. Molecular analyses show the unidentified Betula samples as a distinct lineage and reveal very little genetic admixture between the unidentified samples and B. luminifera. This may also be facilitated by the finding that B. luminifera is tetraploid, while the unidentified samples turned out to be diploid. We therefore conclude that the samples represent a yet unrecognized species, which is here described as Betula mcallisteri.
  • A global phylogeny of butterflies reveals their evolutionary history, ancestral hosts and biogeographic origins

    Kawahara, Akito Y; Storer, Caroline; Carvalho, Ana Paula S; Plotkin, David M; Condamine, Fabien L; Braga, Mariana P; Ellis, Emily A; St Laurent, Ryan A; Li, Xuankun; Barve, Vijay; et al. (Springer Science and Business Media LLC, 2023-05-15)
    Abstract: Butterflies are a diverse and charismatic insect group that are thought to have evolved with plants and dispersed throughout the world in response to key geological events. However, these hypotheses have not been extensively tested because a comprehensive phylogenetic framework and datasets for butterfly larval hosts and global distributions are lacking. We sequenced 391 genes from nearly 2,300 butterfly species, sampled from 90 countries and 28 specimen collections, to reconstruct a new phylogenomic tree of butterflies representing 92% of all genera. Our phylogeny has strong support for nearly all nodes and demonstrates that at least 36 butterfly tribes require reclassification. Divergence time analyses imply an origin ~100 million years ago for butterflies and indicate that all but one family were present before the K/Pg extinction event. We aggregated larval host datasets and global distribution records and found that butterflies are likely to have first fed on Fabaceae and originated in what is now the Americas. Soon after the Cretaceous Thermal Maximum, butterflies crossed Beringia and diversified in the Palaeotropics. Our results also reveal that most butterfly species are specialists that feed on only one larval host plant family. However, generalist butterflies that consume two or more plant families usually feed on closely related plants.
  • Attenuated evolution of mammals through the Cenozoic

    Goswami, Anjali; Noirault, Eve; Coombs, Ellen J; Clavel, Julien; Fabre, Anne-Claire; Halliday, Thomas JD; Churchill, Morgan; Curtis, Abigail; Watanabe, Akinobu; Simmons, Nancy B; et al. (American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), 2022-10-28)
    The Cenozoic diversification of placental mammals is the archetypal adaptive radiation. Yet, discrepancies between molecular divergence estimates and the fossil record fuel ongoing debate around the timing, tempo, and drivers of this radiation. Analysis of a three-dimensional skull dataset for living and extinct placental mammals demonstrates that evolutionary rates peak early and attenuate quickly. This long-term decline in tempo is punctuated by bursts of innovation that decreased in amplitude over the past 66 million years. Social, precocial, aquatic, and herbivorous species evolve fastest, especially whales, elephants, sirenians, and extinct ungulates. Slow rates in rodents and bats indicate dissociation of taxonomic and morphological diversification. Frustratingly, highly similar ancestral shape estimates for placental mammal superorders suggest that their earliest representatives may continue to elude unequivocal identification.
  • ‘Plasticosis’: Characterising macro- and microplastic-associated fibrosis in seabird tissues

    Charlton-Howard, Hayley S; Bond, AL; Rivers-Auty, Jack; Lavers, Jennifer (Elsevier BV, 2023-02-26)
    As biota are increasingly exposed to plastic pollution, there is a need to closely examine the sub-lethal 'hidden' impacts of plastic ingestion. This emerging field of study has been limited to model species in controlled laboratory settings, with little data available for wild, free-living organisms. Highly impacted by plastic ingestion, Flesh-footed Shearwaters (Ardenna carneipes) are thus an apt species to examine these impacts in an environmentally relevant manner. A Masson's Trichrome stain was used to document any evidence of plastic-induced fibrosis, using collagen as a marker for scar tissue formation in the proventriculus (stomach) of 30 Flesh-footed Shearwater fledglings from Lord Howe Island, Australia. Plastic presence was highly associated with widespread scar tissue formation and extensive changes to, and even loss of, tissue structure within the mucosa and submucosa. Additionally, despite naturally occurring indigestible items, such as pumice, also being found in the gastrointestinal tract, this did not cause similar scarring. This highlights the unique pathological properties of plastics and raises concerns for other species impacted by plastic ingestion. Further, the extent and severity of fibrosis documented in this study gives support for a novel, plastic-induced fibrotic disease, which we define as 'Plasticosis,'.
  • Can the mass of plastic ingested by seabirds be predicted by the number of ingested items?

    Bond, AL; Lavers, Jennifer (Elsevier BV, 2023-02-01)
    Plastics pollution has been documented for decades, yet repeatable methods for evaluating quantities are lacking. For wildlife, the mass and number of ingested plastics are widely reported, but these are not without their challenges, especially in field settings. Rapid methods for estimating the mass of ingested plastic could therefore be useful, but the relationship with the number of ingested pieces has not been explored. Using a dataset covering 1278 individuals of 11 Procellariiform species, we investigated this relationship to determine if counts could act as a proxy for the mass of ingested plastic by seabirds. Larger species ingested larger pieces of plastic, and birds that consumed more pieces also ingested items that are physically larger. Across species, sample size significantly influenced the slope of the relationship between the mass and number of ingested plastics. The mass-number relationship is species-specific, highly driven by sample size, and varies temporally.
  • CHAPTER 7 Catalogue of the Lepidoptera of Iran

    Kitching, I (Stuttgart State Museum of Natural History, 2023-03-16)
  • Historic samples reveal loss of wild genotype through domestic chicken introgression during the Anthropocene

    Wu, Meng Yue; Forcina, Giovanni; Low, Gabriel Weijie; Sadanandan, Keren R; Gwee, Chyi Yin; van Grouw, Hein; Wu, Shaoyuan; Edwards, Scott V; Baldwin, Maude W; Rheindt, Frank E (Public Library of Science (PLoS), 2023-01-19)
    <Human activities have precipitated a rise in the levels of introgressive gene flow among animals. The investigation of conspecific populations at different time points may shed light on the magnitude of human-mediated introgression. We used the red junglefowl Gallus gallus, the wild ancestral form of the chicken, as our study system. As wild junglefowl and domestic chickens readily admix, conservationists fear that domestic introgression into junglefowl may compromise their wild genotype. By contrasting the whole genomes of 51 chickens with 63 junglefowl from across their natural range, we found evidence of a loss of the wild genotype across the Anthropocene. When comparing against the genomes of junglefowl from approximately a century ago using rigorous ancient-DNA protocols, we discovered that levels of domestic introgression are not equal among and within modern wild populations, with the percentage of domestic ancestry around 20–50%. We identified a number of domestication markers in which chickens are deeply differentiated from historic junglefowl regardless of breed and/or geographic provenance, with eight genes under selection. The latter are involved in pathways dealing with development, reproduction and vision. The wild genotype is an allelic reservoir that holds most of the genetic diversity of G. gallus, a species which is immensely important to human society. Our study provides fundamental genomic infrastructure to assist in efforts to prevent a further loss of the wild genotype through introgression of domestic alleles.
  • The taxonomic history of Black-shouldered Peafowl; with Darwin's help downgraded from species to variation

    Dekkers, Wim; van Grouw, Hein (British Ornithologists' Club, 2023-03-06)
    In the 19th century the black-shouldered variety of Indian Peafowl Pavo cristatus was erroneously viewed by many as a separate species, named P. nigripennis. Others had doubts about its taxonomic status, but Darwin presented firm evidence for it being a variety under domestication, which treatment is now well established and accepted. It being a colour variation rather than a wild species was important for Darwin to prove, as otherwise it could undermine his theory of slow modification by natural selection in the wild.
  • Notes on a recently described subspecies, and the poorly known nominate subspecies of Rüppell's Parrot, Poicephalus rueppellii mariettae and P. r. rueppellii

    Hubers, Jos; Schnitker, Heinz; van Grouw, Hein (British Ornithologists' Club, 2023-03-06)
    Rüppell’s Parrot Poicephalus rueppellii was until recently considered to be a monotypic species. Birds from parts of north-western and west-central Angola, however, differ significantly in colour and size from the better-known populations across the rest of their range, which fact was overlooked until very recently. Because the name rueppellii was originally applied to the less-known Angolan population, it was the commoner southern population that lacked a taxonomic identity. The latter was described as Poicephalus rueppellii mariettae Hubers & Schnitker, 2022.
  • The colourful journey of the Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto

    van Grouw, Hein (British Ornithologists' Club, 2022-06-03)
    In the 18th and 19th centuries the Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto was widely considered to be the wild ancestor of the domesticated Barbary Dove (domestic S. risoria), and even following its recognition as a species its taxonomic status was a source of confusion. Since 1900, and the species’ massive geographic expansion (both naturally and by introduction) the two taxa have occasionally met. The resultant hybridisation is probably the cause of the large number of Eurasian Collared Doves with the aberrant pale colour of Barbary Doves in areas where hybridisation has occurred.
  • Deadly and venomous Lonomia caterpillars are more than the two usual suspects

    González, Camila; Ballesteros-Mejia, Liliana; Díaz-Díaz, Juana; Toro-Vargas, Diana M; Amarillo-Suarez, Angela R; Gey, Delphine; León, Cielo; Tovar, Eduardo; Arias, Mónica; Rivera, Nazario; et al. (Public Library of Science (PLoS), 2023-02-23)
    Caterpillars of the Neotropical genus Lonomia (Lepidoptera: Saturniidae) are responsible for some fatal envenomation of humans in South America inducing hemostatic disturbances in patients upon skin contact with the caterpillars’ spines. Currently, only two species have been reported to cause hemorrhagic syndromes in humans: Lonomia achelous and Lonomia obliqua. However, species identifications have remained largely unchallenged despite improved knowledge of venom diversity and growing evidence that the taxonomy used over past decades misrepresents and underestimates species diversity. Here, we revisit the taxonomic diversity and distribution of Lonomia species using the most extensive dataset assembled to date, combining DNA barcodes, morphological comparisons, and geographical information. Considering new evidence for seven undescribed species as well as three newly proposed nomenclatural changes, our integrative approach leads to the recognition of 60 species, of which seven are known or strongly suspected to cause severe envenomation in humans. From a newly compiled synthesis of epidemiological data, we also examine the consequences of our results for understanding Lonomia envenomation risks and call for further investigations of other species’ venom activities. This is required and necessary to improve alertness in areas at risk, and to define adequate treatment strategies for envenomed patients, including performing species identification and assessing the efficacy of anti-Lonomia serums against a broader diversity of species.

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