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Natural History Museum

Country: United Kingdom

Natural History Museum

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275 Projects, page 1 of 55
  • Funder: EC Project Code: 893225
    Overall Budget: 224,934 EURFunder Contribution: 224,934 EUR

    Convergent evolution—when similar changes occur in independent lineages—may be caused by similar selection pressures resulting in the same adaptations. This is exemplified by the evolution of echolocation in bats and whales, and the evolution of flight in insects, bats, and birds. The phenotypic convergence in major traits is less well-understood at a molecular level, and cases of genomic convergence are rare. In this action, I will focus on rails, a family of birds that is outstanding in two respects: (1) They are extremely successful dispersers and have colonized hundreds or thousands of islands by flight. (2) If island conditions did not require a volant lifestyle, over time the developmental resource investment into the flight apparatus is reduced, and the flight capability often eventually entirely lost. The loss of flight has occurred repeatedly and independently at least 30 times, often over short evolutionary time scales (<125,000 years). I will combine field sampling with historic samples from the unique bird collection of the Natural History Museum of the UK, including six now extinct species. With an extended museomics approach, I will sequence and assemble whole genomes with large-fragment linked-reads, and then employ a novel whole-genome alignment-based annotation method, followed by identification of genes or regulatory elements as targets for selection for flightlessness, replicated over three different lineages of rails. This MSCA action will uncover the genomic underpinnings of recent loss of flight and address the fundamental question whether phenotypic convergent adaption is reflected by convergence at a molecular level. It will also assess the contribution of changes in amino acid sequence vs. changes in gene regulation. Understanding the genomic changes behind loss of flight can also offer unique insights into the original gain of flight in the transitional theropod dinosaurs, ancestors of modern birds.

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  • Funder: EC Project Code: 272772
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  • Funder: UKRI Project Code: NE/T002921/1
    Funder Contribution: 428,625 GBP

    The criticality of Cu, Co (+/- V) in battery technology and electricity transmission has established them as key components of the carbon-free energy transition. A major proportion of these elements are sourced from sedimentary basin-hosted deposits, formed from large-scale fluid flow systems. Recent work has shown that diverse basin architectures and processes were responsible for their genesis, yet we still do not understand why so few basins become highly endowed with metals. Given their paucity, the geological evolution of such basins demands the juxtaposition of unique conditions that: (1) generated large volumes of metal-bearing fluid; (2) provided sufficient sulfur; (3) created reducing trap sites; and (4) focused fluid flow into these sites [5]. Understanding large deposits is particularly significant because they are efficient to mine and offer the greatest societal benefits. Our particular focus is to develop and integrate mineral and petroleum systems approaches to provide a disruptive innovation opportunity in the science and industrial applications in this field. Our objectives are to identify the processes, operating over a range of scales, that lead to the formation of large Cu-Co-(V) deposits and derive new and practical exploration tools. The opportunity is timely, given the current wave of academic interest in these ore systems, and the increased collaboration between industry and academia to develop sophisticated methods that can reduce exploration costs, risk and environmental impact. To tackle these challenges, we have assembled a multi-institute academic consortium with internationally-recognised expertise across the geosciences. We have also built strategic research alliances with: (1) the UK's major mining houses, Rio Tinto and Anglo American, and with BHP and First Quantum Minerals, all with global interests in sediment-hosted copper mineralisation; (2) the energy sector (Scheupbach Energy); and (3) international academic partners (CSIRO, Univ. Houston, GFZ Potsdam, Universidad Nacional, Buenos Aires. The collaboration between PIs, PDRAs, affiliated PhD students funded outside the grant, industry and international partners will deliver high impact scientific publications, new data and tools to support the development of lower risk mineral exploration strategies, and highlight the UK as a world-leading community for research in basin-hosted mineral systems.

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  • Funder: UKRI Project Code: NE/F017936/1
    Funder Contribution: 320,057 GBP

    Climate change over the last million years has seen rapid fluctuations between ice ages and warmer 'interglacials'. At the height of an ice age the sea level could be up to 120 metres lower than it is today; then, when the climate warmed, the sea would rise once more. Understanding the impact of these changes has direct relevance to understanding the possible ramifications of the current global warming trend. The impact of such changes was felt most strongly on islands. Many island features are linked with sea level - they become larger and closer to the mainland (maybe forming a landbridge) as sea level drops; the opposite happens when levels rise. We know from modern islands that the smaller they are, the fewer species they can support. Island species are also often unique to that island, and they are vulnerable to extinction. Consequently, island species form a 'front-line' of response to climate change. We will investigate the effects of climate change over the last million years on island elephants and deer in the Mediterranean. Their commonest evolutionary response was to become dwarfed - a phenomenon that came to prominence with the discovery of a fossil dwarfed human on the island of Flores in Indonesia. In some species, dwarfing was extreme (elephants on Sicily, for example, weighed 150 kg, compared to a mainland ancestor of 10,000 kg), and we will use this as a 'marker' for evolutionary change. Until now, no one has considered the evolution of dwarf mammals in the context of climate change, because there are few reliable dates to tell us when these species evolved. To answer these questions we will first conduct detailed examination and measurement of fossils of the dwarf deer and elephants preserved in museums. We already have similar data on mainland species, and the comparison will allow us to determine how many species of dwarfs there were, and their ancestry. Comparison of measurements will then allow us to calculate the percentage reduction in body size and weight, and more detailed features of the teeth and bones will reveal whether the dwarfs had become specially adapted to the island environments. Secondly, we will use cutting-edge techniques to determine the geological age of the dwarf species. We will employ four different methods of dating that between them will allow us to determine ages within a narrow range of error. These methods use tooth remains of the mammals, and shells and sediments from the deposits in which they were found, and also require measurements to be taken at the sites. To this end we will visit a number of key localities on Sicily, Malta, Crete and Cyprus where remains of dwarf elephants have been found, and conduct small excavations to produce fresh material for dating and for comparison with previously-excavated fossils. Thirdly, we will use existing knowledge about climate and sea-level changes over the past million years to plot maps of the changing size and shape of the islands and, in the case of Sicily and Malta, their possible connections to each other and to the mainland. Putting together these three strands, we will be able to determine how global changes impacted the evolution of the mammals. Did major climatic events trigger bursts of evolution on many islands? What was the speed of evolutionary change? Did the dwarf species endure for a long time, or did they soon become extinct, perhaps due to further climate change? Did the same thing happen repeatedly in a cyclic fashion? Was the degree of dwarfing influenced by island size, time of separation, or other factors such as available vegetation? The results of this project will provide a microcosm of the impact of global change on mammal evolution. It will also help explain a long-debated phenomenon - that of island dwarfing. It will, finally, refine methods and produce data of broader application, especially in the proposed dating of important geological sites around the Mediterranean.

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  • Funder: UKRI Project Code: NE/E015913/1
    Funder Contribution: 287,558 GBP

    The inability to synchronise records precisely compromises palaeoenvironmental and prehistoric archaeological research. We address this challenge through a five year consortium bid that brings together expertise from four institutions. Our aim is to re-assess the precise timing relationship between environmental and archaeological events. Our objective is to test the long-accepted hypothesis that major shifts in human development coincided with, or immediately followed, specified abrupt environmental transitions (AETs). The RESET consortium builds on existing collaborations between the four institutions. It combines expertise in human palaeontology and Palaeolithic archaeology with earth and marine scientists and science-based dating. The purpose of the consortium is to combine these interdisciplinary strengths in order to overcome the current impasse to synchronising between the varied archives available to RESET members. We will achieve this by fully exploiting the potential of physical time markers co-registered within key sedimentary archives: volcanic ash deposits. Crucially, we include the detection and identification to source of microtephras, to refine the framework provided by conventional tephrostratigraphy. On this basis, we will create a European-wide 'lattice' for synchronisation of palaeo-environmental and archaeological archives. For this project's aims to be realised, several co-dependent, strategic prerequisites must be met: (I) archaeological events must be selected that are unambiguous in their interpretation and wide in geographical impact; (II) the archaeological events should occur within time windows that are characterised by marked AETs that also impacted over wide areas; (III) several tephras must be common to the selected archaeological and environmental records to provide the isochronous tie-lines between them; and (IV) the sequences selected for study must satisfy a number of stratigraphical and analytical criteria which optimise the potential for developing age models of decadal to centennial resolution. A consortium approach is the only feasible way to (a) successfully integrate these demanding scientific co-prerequisites, (b) develop the new schema and (c) test its success in less than 10 or more years; we estimate that RESET can achieve these goals within 5 years. RESET members have proved the feasibility and potential of the project by achieving sub-centennial resolution on cores from the Soppensee (Switzerland) and through the identification of 24 additional microtephras layers in core SA03-11 from the Central Adriatic. The project will comprise seven workpackages led led by a PI and resourced with PDRAs, tied PhDs and technicians. The secondment of an experienced researcher (Dr.Housley) as project manager, with a proven record of administration and data management (ORADS, NERC standard grants), will ensure the consortium's goal of providing a step change to the scientific challenge through a well-coordinated approach. Specifically, workpackage 4 (WP-4 Geochemistry of tephras) will extend the resolution obtained in the proof of concept to other tephras and microtephras and then applied to five related workpackages examining archaeological (WP1-3) and environmental archives (WP5-6 marine and continental). Age modelling (WP-7) will integrate all workpackages into a single synchronised record. For application of this approach, we target key events and processes in human prehistory, including the timing of modern human arrivals in Europe, the effect of a changing Sahara on North African populations, and the repopulation of Europe after the LGM. These target events for RESET's approach encompass key AETs of the last 130,000 years, which will exemplify the power and benefits of this approach to both our specific objective, and the wider palaeo-environmental agenda.

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