NatSCA Digital Digest

ChameleonYour weekly round-up of news and events happening in the world of natural sciences



Conference season is well and truly upon us! Here are some dates for your diaries:

The National Forum for Biological Recording and the British Ecological Society are holding a joint conference at Sheffield University on 23rd – 25th April.

The conference of the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections will be held at the Florida Museum of Natural History this year, on the 17th – 23rd May. The theme is ‘Making Natural History Collections Accessible through New and Innovative Approaches and Partnerships’.

Refloating the Ark: Connecting the public and scientists with natural history collections. A two­‐day meeting at Manchester University on 17th – 18th June, exploring how natural history museums can contribute towards environmental sustainability by engaging effectively with the public and the scientific research community.



The Linnaean Society is holding a workshop on Digitising Natural History and Medical Manuscripts on 27th – 28th April.

The 2nd International Conservation Symposium-Workshop of Natural History Collections will be held in Barcelona on 6th – 9th May. The Symposium-Workshop will emphasize concepts relating to the protection and conservation of natural history collections.

Risk Management in Collections Care is a one-day seminar at Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow on 21st May, discussing how heritage organisations can use risk management to set priorities and efficiently allocate limited resources to reduce risks to collections.

As always, keep an eye on the events page of our website for more upcoming conferences and courses!


In the Media

Illustration of a Brontosaurus skeleton by Charles Othniel Marsh

This week’s big news: Brontosaurus is back! A new specimen-level cladistic analysis of diplodocids found strong support for Brontosaurus as a valid genus distinct from Apatosaurus. The internet rejoiced.

Entomologists from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County found 30 new species of fly in urban gardens.

Skeletal collections can tell us about the history of welfare standards in captive animals (warning: the paper is behind a paywall, but the abstract is free).

Brian Switek revisits his old fossil friend Teleoceras.

Three new species of wood lizard have been discovered in Ecuador and Peru by museum researchers.


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Data-less Natural Science Specimens are Useless to Science. Aren’t they?

Here we have Clare Brown, of the Leeds Museum, telling us about some devilishly exciting research:

Tasmanian Devil specimens in UK museums, with no data whatsoever, have been used in cutting edge research on devil facial tumour disease as part of the effort to save these incredible animals.
Data – when and where a specimen was collected – is vital to the usefulness of natural science collections. It is crucial for so many aspects of research that these collections are commonly used for: climate change work; biodiversity research; distribution mapping etc.
Specimens without data are usually much more problematic. At Leeds we have thousands of objects that don’t have any record of where they came from or when they were collected. The information has either been lost or never noted down in the first place. Even our scrappiest, most moth-eaten bits of taxidermy are elevated above the rest of the collection if they have associated data.
I was therefore delighted when Jeremy Austin at the University of Adelaide asked whether we had any Tasmanian Devil Sarcophilus harrisii material collected in the last 200 years. Crucially, he didn’t need an exact date or location – just a two century timespan. We’d been collecting since 1821.
Leeds, a large, rich, Victorian industrial city, spent most of the 19th century collecting scientific material from around the world. We had a ‘purveyor of Australian wildlife’ and acquired, amongst other things, two Devil mounts and a skeleton. The specimens were duly sampled and sent to Australia.


The study, also using specimens from Oxford, looked at genetic diversity in a group of molecules in cell membrane proteins called the ‘major histocompatibility complex’. Low diversity in this complex has been linked to the emergence and spread of devil facial tumour disease. The team needed samples of historical and ancient Devil DNA to see how diverse the populations were before European settlement and after. The article, published in Biology Letters, can be read here.

This is a great example of how natural science specimens, whatever their ‘data status’, can contribute to scientific research at the forefront of species conservation.

Review of a Training Course on Pesticides and the Latest Legislation

The following is a review made by Roberto Portela Miguez, Mammal Group Curator at the NHM London:

About a week ago I attended a course and talk at the Natural History Museum of London, entitled “Control of Pesticide Regulations 1986 (as amended 1997) EU Biocides Regulations 528/2012”.

I know that, even if your two passions in life are pesticides and obscure legal documents, it is highly unlikely that you would rush to sign up for it.

After attending the event I can assure you that I still do not wish to look into both topics more than I need to. I do however strongly recommend all collections management staff to attend any future opportunity to listen to Bob Child’s talk or training event on this topic.

Robert Child was formerly Head of Conservation at the National Museum of Wales, and is now a Conservation Consultant, Advisor on Insect Pests to the National Trust and Director of Historyonics.

His company, Historyonics, sells insect pest products and carries out treatments on historic buildings and collections – so he has plenty of first-hand anecdotes to illustrate the various points he makes during his talks.

His experience on these matters is vast, but possibly more important: he is a brilliant communicator that can easily turn what is a dry and dull topic into two hours of effective and entertaining training.

The course Bob runs is required training for anybody using pesticides as part of their work ( this includes volunteers ) and is based on the requirements of the Control of Pesticides Regulations 1986 (as amended), the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1988 (as amended) and the new Biocides Regulation 528/2012. It is further based on the HSE’s publication ‘Recommendations for Training Users of Non-agricultural Pesticides’.

The course lasts for about two hours and covers both theoretical aspects on a Powerpoint and practical demonstrations of:

  • principles of pest control and nature of pesticides
  • legislation
  • storage and transport of pesticides
  • use of pesticides (on site assessments)
  • labels and data sheets
  • safety in preparation, clean up and disposal.
  • emergency procedures
  • record keeping

Once you have gone through the training, you will be qualified to apply pesticides in your collections and, without doubt, be extremely grateful that Bob has done all the reading of the relevant EU legislation on your behalf.

I know most of us do our best to prevent infestations but, just in case, better to be prepared and qualified than …you know.

Keep checking our NatSCA website and blog for news on future workshops and training events and if you want to contact Bob to run the course at your institution, you can email him to .