Category Archives: Student Projects

Royal hydrozoans and noble snails at Her Majesty the Queen of the fjords

As part of our continuous quest for hydrozoans and snails, we (Luis and Justine) recently embarked on a trip to the mighty Hardangerfjord on board the RV Hans Brattström. This is an area that we at the museum are keen to explore, since there have not been many sampling efforts in Hardanger in recent years, at least not after the joint survey carried out in the years 1955–1963 and in which Hans Brattström himself (the scientist, not the ship) took part. The Hardangerfjord has changed a lot since the 1960s, developing into one of the major fish-farming regions of Norway while at the same time retaining its touristic and agricultural vocation, so it is very interesting to come back and see if and how the invertebrate communities have also changed.

Our trip started with warm summer temperatures and clear skies…

…but it quickly turned into a more ‘typical’ western Norwegian weather. Fortunately we were prepared for the rain!

The Queen of the fjords, as Hardangerfjord is sometimes known, is the second longest fjord in Norway and the fourth longest in the world, which means that we had quite a lot of ground to cover in our two day-trip if we wanted to have at least a brief look at the diversity of habitats and animals living in its waters. For this trip, we settled for a sampling scheme involving 9 stations distributed in the middle and outer parts of Hardanger, and we decided to leave the innermost part of the fjord for a future occasion. We looked at the animals living in the bottom of the fjord (benthos), the water column (plankton) and also deployed a couple of traps in order to catch specific critters. We explored rocky sites, sandy bottoms, muddy plains and kelp beds, and found an interesting array of animals in all our samples.

The samples came from the deployed amphipod traps, triangular dredge, and plankton net.

Some of the animals we saw (most of them were actually returned to the sea):

Without any doubt, the highlights of our trip were the snail Scaphander lignarius and the hydrozoans Eudendrium sp. and Laodicea sp. The colonies of Eudendrium sp. were relatively abundant in shell- and rock-dominated bottoms, but their small size and not reproductive status prevented us from identifying them to species level right away. For a correct identification, we now have to look closely at the stinging cells (nematocysts) of the hydroids, and of course we will also try to get the DNA barcode of some of the specimens. Unlike Eudendrium sp., which lives in the bottom of the sea, our specimens of Laodicea sp. were swimming around in the water column. This species is interesting because previous DNA analysis have shown that, although they look like each other, different species of Laodicea coexist in Norwegian waters, so we are looking forward to obtain the DNA barcode of the jellies from Hardanger to compare it with the sequences we have from other parts of Norway.

. A polyp of Eudendrium sp. (left) and the hydromedusa of Laodicea sp. (right)

Scaphander lignarius was quite the surprise finding. We really wanted to collect some individuals, but our hopes were not very high and we were mostly convinced that we would not see any during our trip. Luckily for us, there were several of them happily crawling around the mud in two of our stations! S. lignarius is one of the few representatives of the Scaphandridae family in Norway. This family of bubble snails is of particular interest to us to study the biogeography and speciation process of invertebrates in the deep sea on a worldwide scale, since members of the family are distributed all around the world, and most tend to inhabit depths below 500m. Sampling some of them will definitely help that project!

Two views of Scaphander lignarius

All around, this was a quite successful sampling trip, with many specimens collected to be added to the Museum Collections, and which will be very useful to many different research projects!

– Justine and Luis

PS: You can find more updates on our Artsdatabanken project NorHydro here in the blog, on the project’s facebook page and in Twitter with the hashtag #NorHydro.

 References and related literature about the survey of the Hardangerfjors in 1955–1963

Braarud T (1961) The natural history of the Hardangerfjord, Sarsia, 1:1, 3-6.

Brattegard T (1966) The natural history of the Hardangerfjord 7. Horizontal distribution of the fauna of rocky shores, Sarsia, 22:1, 1-54.

Lie U (1967) The natural history of the Hardangerfjord 8. Quantity and composition of the zooplankton, September 1955 – September 1956, Sarsia, 30:1, 49-74.

Sea slug hunt in Egersund!

I’m always scared to look at the current date, time flies! It was already two months ago that we went on a blitz fieldwork trip to Egersund with a very special group of people. But nevertheless, good times become good memories (and especially good museum specimens) and it definitely does not get too old for a small blog about it.

From January 17 to January 21 a small group of sea slug enthusiasts consisting of a student, citizen scientists, a collaborator and museum members rented a van and drove 7 hours down to our Southern neighbor town Egersund.

Egersund was not randomly picked as it is the home town to one of Norway’s most productive and dedicated ‘citizen scientist’; Erling Svensen. Author of a number of books and the most well-known and worldwide used ‘Dyreliv I havet – nordeuropeisk marin fauna’ (English Marine fish and invertebrates of Northern Europe), which amateurs and professionals alike use as an extensive research source.

Erling Svensen’s famous book Dyreliv I Havet

With his almost 5000 dives and counting, Erling knows the critters of the North Sea, big and small, on the back of his hand. Already since the beginning of the sea slug project, Erling was helping providing valuable sea slug species, so it was about time to pay him a visit and bring our team over to make Egersund “biologically unsafe” – enough so to end up in the local news!

We made Egersund unsafe enough to have a small news item about it in the ‘Dalane Tidende’, a local newspaper

The group consisted of Manuel, Cessa, citizen scientist Anders Schouw, collaborator from Havard University Juan Moles and master student Jenny Neuhaus

From left to right Erling Svensen, Anders Schouw, Jenny Neuhaus, Cessa Rauch, Juan Moles and Manuel Malaquias. Photo by Erling Svensen

Jenny just started her Masters in Marine Biology at the University of Bergen in the fall of 2018, she will be writing her thesis on the diversity of sea slugs from the Hordaland county and on the systematics of the genus Jorunna (Nudibranchia) in Europe. The results of this work will definitely become a blog entry of its own.

Jorunna tomentosa, Jennies new pet! Photo by Nils Aukan.

Two of the five days of our fieldwork were basically spendt driving up and down from Bergen to Egersund, it left us only with a good 3 days to get an overview of Erling’s backyard sea slug species. Little time as you can imagine. But time was used efficiently, as Anders and Erling are both extremely good sea slug spotters and with help of sea slug specialist Juan and the eager helping hand of Jenny, Manuel and I were able to identify and add 36 species to our museum sea slug database.

Overview of collected specimens in Egersund

In comparison, we registered 41 one species in Drøbak last year by spending almost a week at the field station! No one thought this would be the outcome (not even Erling himself, as he mentioned that he didn’t find that many sea slug species this time of year on earlier surveys). But we were all very happily surprised, and maybe it was not just luck but also the combination of people we had attending this short field trip. With so many good specialists, either professional or amateur, senior or junior, we were able to work extremely efficient and with a clear communal goal. There was little time spend in reinventing the wheel and explaining the work flow, it was a good valuable exercise that will definitely help us with future brief fieldwork trips and how to make the most from short and tight time schedules. Besides it was a very valuable experience for our student Jenny, as she got first-hand experience with what it’s like to see her study specimens alive, how to handle these fragile individuals, how to sort them from other species and how to document them, which is a good thing to know for her thesis and future career

Jenny learning a lot from the master himself. Photo by Erling Svensen

So yes, all in all our Egersund fieldtrip was short but very sweet!

Furthermore
You want to see more beautiful pictures of sea slugs of Norway! Check out the Sea slugs of Southern Norway Instagram account; and don’t forget to follow us. Become a member of the sea slugs of southern Norway Facebook group, stay updated and join the discussion.

Explore the world, read the invertebrate blogs!

-Cessa & Jenny

Job alert! PhD position in biosystematics at UMB

The following position is currently announced, application deadline is 18th of February 2019

The Department of Natural History, University Museum of Bergen (University of Bergen, Norway) opens a vacancy for a PhD student position within the field of biosystematics. The position is for a fixed-term period of four years of which 25% (one full year) is work duty including teaching assistance and curation of scientific collections at the museum.

The candidate will be working on a research project on taxonomy, systematics, and phylogeny of marine annelids and will focus on the systematic revision of the annelid family Orbiniidae.

Click here for more information and full announcement 

Door #9: To catch an Amphipod

As many of you might have read earlier in this blog, the projects NorAmph and Hypno have been regularly sampling in Hjeltefjorden for the past year. As a part of my master thesis, I was lucky to be able to come with! My thesis will be about amphipods and their seasonal variety in Hjeltefjorden, which is super exiting!

The RP-sled used for the sampling.

For each time we go out, we sample with a RP-sled, a WP3 plankton net and we collect CTD data. The samples from the RP-sled will be used for my thesis and other projects if we find something interesting. During the last year we collected samples 9 times, which has given us some great days out at sea!

During these cruises we have had lots of fun! We have had cake, snacks and regularly done yoga on deck! We have been mostly lucky with the weather (except for our original cruise day in February, which had to be moved due to lots of wind, which you can read about here: Solskinnstokt)

 

A great view from our February cruise, with a clear blue sky and no wind! (Photo: K. Kongshavn)

We have been mostly lucky in getting great samples!

Lots of exciting material to get our hands on! (photo: AH Tandberg)

But sometimes not so lucky…

It is not easy to be a happy master student when the codend is almost empty… (Photo: AH Tandberg)

In October we had our last cruise, which was a great end to a year of sampling! We were not as lucky with the weather this time, but the samples look very nice. We also had cake to celebrate the last cruise day!

A great view in Hjeltefjorden (Photo: C. Østensvig)

Coffee breaks on deck are always important! (Photo: AH Tandberg)

It is somewhat sad to be done with the sampling, but with all the material collected, it is time to hit the lab! With all the samples, I sort out and identify all the amphipods I find. So far, I have found lots of cool amphipods, and I am starting to see some patterns in the material.

Here are some of the Amphipods I have found. All photos: K. Kongshavn

My work in the lab is far from done, and I am excited to look for new cool amphipods and hopefully find something interesting in their seasonal variation.

-Christine

Course on “Preparation, curation, and databasing of marine biodiversity collections” at University Lurio, Pemba, Mozambique (27th August–7th September 2018)

Manuel shares his recent experience of teaching at University Lurio in Mozambique

My collaboration with the University Lurio (UniLurio) in northern Mozambique started back in 2015 when together we organized a fieldtrip to Vamizi island in the Quirimbas archipelago off the northern coast of Mozambique.

Since then, I had the opportunity to participate in several academic activities; I lectured, have reviewed and evaluated theses for the “licenciatura” degree, and most rewarding I have supervised two master students (2015/17) that are now professors at UniLurio. In 2017 I had the pleasure to integrate a mission organized by the Norwegian Embassy in Mozambique to establish a collaborative programme between UniLurio and Norway and later in the same year I was awarded a “Visiting Scholarship” by the International Council for Science, Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR) to teach a course about biological collections at UniLurio.

The tropical location of Mozambique in the Indian Ocean results in an impressively rich biological diversity which is nevertheless extremely vulnerable to climate change and warming of ocean waters.

Aspect of part of the UniLurio wet spider collection and dry collection of corals

Therefore, better knowledge of biodiversity and long-term preservation of biological collections are important tools to better understand shifts in faunal and flora composition and the arrival of new species supporting the definition of mitigation and conservation strategies.

The University Lurio has a “Collections Room” with specimens representing the local fauna and flora with marine invertebrates, reptiles, fish, vascular plants, etc., and has a special focus on the study of biodiversity, but simultaneously acknowledges the need to reinforce its infrastructure and build up capacities to develop and manage its collections.

 

This was the framework that led us to decide to organize the course and apply together for funding with SCOR. Later in 2017 the good news arrived, the funding was approved, and so, suddenly I had an entire new course to put together!

All my entire career from the time I undertook my “licenciatura” thesis back in 1994 all the way up to my PhD, postdocs, until the moment I got my first permanent job (the one I still hold) has been always inside natural history museums (Europe, US, Australia, etc.) and consequently working with biological collections has become part of my daily routines for quite a while! And yes, during these more than 20 years I have seen quite a bit and learn a few things, but suddenly for the first time I had to put together this knowledge in a way that it could be presented and shared with others. It turned out to be quite a challenge…, but definitely a rewarding one!

Course structure

During a lecture on curatorial procedures

Photoshoot before setting off for sampling in a local Pemba tidal flat

At UniLurio the course was attended by 15 participants (8 students and 7 professors / technical staff). It was organized in four lectures (2h each), two sampling trips (ca. 4h each) to the tidal zone to collect marine invertebrates (molluscs, echinoderms, crustaceans, etc.), and three laboratory sessions (4h each) to identify the samples and go through all the necessary curatorial steps to ensure proper preservation for long-term storage of the collection (relaxation, fixation, preservation, DNA samples, registration, labeling).

Registering and labelling the lots

All sample lots generated by the students throughout the course were registered in the UniLurio databasing system following DarwinCore standards and at the end integrated in the biological collections.

Bringing the new curated samples to the UniLurio collection room

We finished the course with a very participated open session where it was discussed how could the new acquired competences benefit the development of the local infrastructure bearing in mind the local reality and constrains. A very interesting exercise confronting ideal scenarios with sometimes the harsh and challenging reality of a country with limited infrastructure capacities and in economical strain. At last we had a simple but cozy ceremony attended by the Director of the Faculty of Natural Sciences, UniLurio where certificates of attendance of the course were handed over to the students.

Certification ceremony with awarding of course diplomas.

The course was sponsored by the International Council for Science, Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR), the University Lurio, Mozambique and the University of Bergen, Norway

-Manuel

Keeping an eye open for mud jellies

Working on a team makes for the best discoveries in science, and we at the HYPNO and NorAmph artsprojects know it well, especially after we stumbled upon a large number of the elusive mud jellyfish Tesserogastria musculosa in one of our joint sampling trips to Raunefjord (you can read Christine’s account of our sampling here, in Norwegian).

Live specimens of mud jellyfish (Tesserogastria musculosa) collected in Raunefjord. Foto: L Martell

We were able to compare our specimens with the holotype (i.e. the original specimen upon which the description of the species was made, pictured above), thanks to a loan from the Natural History Museum of the University of Oslo. Collaboration between museums make science happen! Foto: L Martell

Mud jellyfish can be very abundant, but they are also easily overlooked, and only a gentle way of collecting animals will reveal its presence on a benthic sample. These hard-to-catch benthic jellyfish are so fragile that many previous surveys of the bottom of the fjords may have missed them because the jellies were simply too damaged to be identified at any level, but thanks to the careful processing of the samples and an expert eye we were able to obtain living specimens in good shape. This finding led to the evaluation of all the records of the species in the world, obtaining the first genetic data (including the DNA-barcode) for the species and genus, and finally to a redescription and a joint publication (available here: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s10152-018-0515-5).

Getting the sample and carefully separating the animals. Fotos: AHS Tandberg (left), L Martell (right)

Searching for (and finding!) many jellyfish. Fotos: AHS Tandberg

Mud jellyfish are the only species in genus Tesserogastria, which takes its name from the square-shaped stomach of the animals (Tesserogastria comes from ancient Greek τέσσαρες “four, square” and Latin gaster “stomach”). The specific name musculosa (Latin for “muscular”) was given to them because they look quite sturdy, with extremely well developed muscles around the opening of the “bell”. They are not the typical free-swimming and pulsating jellyfish, as they prefer to live in muddy bottoms, where they use their tentacles to walk around (they really don’t like to swim) until finding a place to sit and wait for dinner (which is usually some small crustacean). We still don’t know many things about this species because mud jellyfish are tiny and live on the bottom of the sea far away from the surface, but now that a new population has been discovered in Western Norway we will have the opportunity to investigate more on its behavior and body structure, perhaps answering some questions such as why do these jellies need very strong bell muscles if they don’t swim very often, or how the species is related to the other crawling jellyfish species from the North Atlantic.

-Luis

PhD thesis defence

On June 7th Nina Therese Mikkelsen presented her thesis ” Phylogeny and systematics of Caudofoveata (Mollusca, Aplacophora)” for a public audience.  She was questioned by the opponents dr Mikael Thollesson, University of Uppsala, and dr Suzanne Williams, The Natural History Museum of London, and did an excellent performance explaining the results of her studies.

Guest researcher: Marla

Marla, who has been visiting several times to work on our amphipod collections, sent us this “travelogue” from her longest stay. In her own words:

I am a third year PhD student, and my project is shared between the University of Southampton at the National Oceanography centre and the Natural History Museum in London. I am supervised by Dr Tammy Horton (NOC), Dr Andrew Gates (NOC), Dr Phil Fenberg (UoS), Dr Miranda Lowe (NHM), and Dr Andrea Waschenbach (NHM).

I spent 8 glorious weeks in Bergen working with the invertebrate collections at the Department of Natural History of the University Museum of Bergen (UiB) together with the wonderful Anne Helene Tandberg and Endre Willassen. Also a massive thank you to Katrine Kongshavn, Morten Stokkan, Jon Kongsrud, Luis Felipe Martell Hernández, Aino Hosia, Tom Alvestad, Nataliya Budaeva, Manuel Malaquias, Louise Lindbloom, and Kenneth Meland for your help in the lab and support with my project and lunchtime conversations!

I arrived to Bergen mid- September just in time for the 2017 UCI Road World Championships! As a huge fan (and very amateur road cyclist) this was such a bonus to have the chance to see it. The race took over the town, and one late afternoon Anne Helene and I climbed half-way up Mount Fløyen to watch the men’s Time Trial. The sun was out, the streets were packed, atmosphere was electric and we had prime seats–I couldn’t wait to see Chris Frome (GB) and Tom Dumoulin (NL) cycling in action.  It was a fantastic afternoon!

Anne Helene and I enjoying the afternoon UCI race from our prime viewing spot

The classic road graffiti to show support to the cyclists. Here Tom Dumoulin is forever immortalized on Mount Fløyen.

Tom Dumoulin won first place in the men’s Time Trial, Chris Froome took third.

Back in the lab…

I was working with amphipods from the family Phoxocephalidae from the Western African Waters, focussing particularly on the amphipods from the sub-family Harpiniinae [crustacea; Amphipoda; Phoxocephalidae; Harpiniinae]. Phoxocephalid amphipods are highly speciose and abundant in deep sea sediments globally. Species identity is critical to understanding mechanisms driving observed biodiversity patterns and to asses community change. The aim of the project while in Bergen was to use both DNA barcoding and traditional morphological taxonomic approaches in order to create a robust library of Phoxocephalidae species from the poorly known West African waters. Large scale projects such as Marine Invertebrates of West Africa (MIWA) provide the perfect opportunity for collaborative work! More about the MIWA-project can be found here.

The MIWA project submitted over 2700 tissue samples from over 600 morphospecies for DNA barcode sequencing, including Crustaceans, Echinoderms, Molluscs and Polychaetes. Out of these, 45 samples were from the family Phoxocephalidae, the target taxa. Working with Dr Anne Helene Tandberg and Prof Endre Willassen, the sequenced MIWA Phoxcephalid voucher specimens were dissected and mounted as permanent microscope slides to morphologically score them. Later, the phylogenetic analysis based on all molecular and morphological characters will be compared. Each appendage was photographed on the modular (Leica CTR6000) microscope and the images were stacked, resulting in incredible photos!

Harpinia abyssi P7. Photo: M. Spencer

As a result of some of this work, we think that we have identified 4 new species to the genus of Basuto. The genus was previously monotypic, with the type-locality in South Africa. Now we are awaiting the holotypes and paratypes to arrive so that we can compare. Together with Anne Helene, Endre Willassen and Tammy Horton, I am currently writing my first publication, formally describing these specimens as new species. Stay tuned for further updates!

Basuto specimen pereopod 5. Photo: M. Spencer

Basuto specimen Mandible, Photo: M. Spencer

At work in the DNA lab

Working with Anne Helene within the molecular biology labs at the University of Bergen, I had the chance to develop taxon specific primers and PCR conditions for the Harpiniinae MIWA specimens which were not successfully sequenced with the Universal primers. As a starting point, an additional 13 MIWA specimens had tissue extracted for DNA, and then dissected and permanent slides were made in order to morphologically score them. Each appendage was photographed and the images stacked. The primers and PCR conditions are a work in progress; however, this was a very successful trip resulting in a lot of data to analyse!

I also had the chance to explore the fantastic city of Bergen! I absolutely loved my time spent here- I generated a lot of data and learned so many new skills and new insight into my PhD project. Win-win! I look forward to returning again one day.

-Marla

Getting back in business

The blog has been quiet over summer – but we’ve been busy!

The #AnnelidaCourse2017 came to an end, and happy participants went back to their home institutions with a lot of new knowledge, a increased contact network, and many new friends.

a)Students working in the lab; b) Picking interesting animals from the samples onboard R/V Hans Brattström; c) Animals to be studied; d) Group photo of most of the participants; e) Detailed study and drawing of a specimen; f) Field work onboard R/V Aurelia Fotos: K.Kongshavn (a,b,e), G. Kolbasova (c), G.Jolly (d), S. Rosli (f)

a) Students working in the lab; b) Picking interesting animals from the samples onboard R/V Hans Brattström;
c) Animals to be studied; d) Group photo of most of the participants; e) Detailed study and drawing of a specimen; f) Field work onboard R/V Aurelia Fotos: K.Kongshavn (a,b,e), G. Kolbasova (c), G.Jolly (d), S. Rosli (f)

Heaps (HEAPS!) of samples have been cataloged and labeled, DNA-sequencing has completed on the shipment we sent in June and we’re working on analyzing the results, and samples from the cruises we particpated on have and are being sorted.

The next shipment of animals to be barcoded through NorBOL is being assembled – of marine invertebrates from our collections, one plate of polychaetes and one plate of isopods have been prepared, and we plan on completing a few more plates before shipping in October.

Isopods for barcoding - these have all been collected and identified by the MAREANO project. Photo: K.Kongshavn

Isopods for barcoding – these have all been collected and identified by the MAREANO project. Photo: K.Kongshavn

We will also get contributions from several of the Norwegian Taxonomy Initiative projects (Artsprosjekt) that are running, and a plate with insect samples made by the students of BIO233 (I was down there today giving them an introduction to barcoding, NorBOL and the BOLD database) – hopefully we’ll get good results on all of it.

-Katrine