This Throwback Thursday is from my trip to Scotland with the Dipterists Forum in September 2013, a wonderful week in the highlands collecting flies which I wrote up as a guest post for the Natural History Museum Curator of Diptera’s Blog.
Between handing in my MSc thesis and my viva voce, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to join Dipterists from the Natural History Museum on a collection trip to Scotland as part of the Dipterists Forum Autumn Field Meeting. Despite the daunting prospect of a long journey and sharing a cottage with people I barely knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for an intensive week studying flies which was also my first trip across the border.
This week’s Throwback Thursday covers a course on hoverfly identification I attended in August 2013 as part of a qualification in Biological Recording and Species Identification.
Last week I was pleased to have another day of fieldwork, this time in the New Forest National Park in south England. The New Forest includes one of the largest areas of pasture, heathland and forest in south east England and the site we visited is Whitley Wood, a oak-beech wood pasture woodland with grazing deer and ponies. The Natural History Museum Soil Biodiversity Group have been sampling at this site for soil and leaf litter invertebrates nearly every month since 2002.
A 100 meter transect line is laid at random in the forest and a sample is taken every seven meters.
As much as I enjoy working at my computer analysing data, it felt good to get out to get outside and collect some data of my own recently. I was sampling earthworms in Purbeck, Dorset with the help of Soil Biodiversity Group volunteers John Chesebro and Fevziye Hasan (https://twitter.com/fezidae), Rachel Efrat of the British Geological Survey (https://twitter.com/RachelEfrat) and my boyfriend Andrew.
The study site is part of a long-term study into heathland restoration. Heathlands are found in areas of free-draining infertile, acidic soils, and are dominated by shrubs such as heather and gorse. Part of this heath was converted to agricultural land in the 1950s by the application of large quantities of fertiliser to increase nutrients, and lime to increase the pH of the naturally acidic soils.
Having a PhD funded by NERC (the Natural Environment Research Council) means that I have priority booking on advanced training courses related to their remit of environmental research. I was fortunate enough to find a place on Dirt Science: An Introduction to Soil System Science held at Cranfield University collaboration the British Society of Soil Science and the James Hutton Institute.
My background is in soil biodiversity rather than soil itself so I was pleased to be able to attend the course to learn more about soil functions and how to excavate a soil profile and describe the different layers.
For the final day of the Natural History Museum postgraduate field trip we were off to look for aquatic invertebrates and algae, first in some freshwater and later at the coast. The first stop of the day was at the Corfe River where we had a great view of the ruins of Corfe Castle, an 11th Century fortification built by William the Conqueror (and popular destination for my childhood holidays).
Eileen and Polly demonstrated the technique of kick-sampling, where you hold a net under the water and kick the sediment for a set amount of time, this dislodges animals living on the river bed and they are then collected in the net.
Two attendees on the Natural History Museum field trip to Dorset were parasitologists, and they brought along some herring and a dogfish for us to dissect and look for parasites. Firstly we inspected ‘our’ fish for external parasites such as fish lice or leeches, but every fish was clean. Next we removed the gills and looked at them under a microscope to see if any parasites were attached. Again, none of the fish contained any parasites, leading to complaints of them ‘being too healthy”(!)
The next stage was to open up the body cavity and remove the organs to look for parasitic worms.
Dorset is the location of some fine geological sites, known as the Jurassic Coast, and designated as a World Heritage Site so we spent a day there with Richard Twitchett, a geologist from the Natural History Museum. The evening before Richard gave an overview of some geological concepts and an introduction to the geology of the area.
The rocks of this area are the sedimentary type, which are formed by accumulation of material compacted and cemented together over millions of years. These type of rocks may contain fossils of plants and animals that died and became trapped and preserved between the layers.
The Natural History Museum organises a field trip in Dorset for its postgraduates each year, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get out of London and spend a weekend in the countryside. A group of PhD students and post-docs from a variety of disciplines set of to the Old Malthouse on the Isle of Purbeck (which is not a proper island but a sticky out bit of the southern coastline of Britain).
After settling in at our accommodation and being fed a good lunch we set off to Hartland Moor National Nature Reserve with Museum botanist Fred Rumsey. We were introduced to the plants that inhabit the Moor, and I was particularly excited to meet Dorset Heath Erica ciliaris, a type of heather, which I had not seen before.