Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Marthasterias vs. food! Scallops and Clams on the RUN!

Happy Holidays to Everyone!

Yes, its that time of the year..and I hope everyone has made their way to wherever they were going for the holidays! I'm still taking a little time off, but here's a bunch of neat videos of the Atlantic sea star Marthasterias glacialis attacking various clams and scallops!

Most mollusks can detect the "odor" or presence of predatory starfish immediately and many species can implement an extreme or emergency type behavior (i.e. an escape response) in order to escape being eaten. This can be quite different from the regularly encountered behavior associated with these species.

This one has the ol' "I am a clam with a big FOOT that I use to push myself away" response!

M. glacialis Vs. Scallop! (aka Coquille Saint Jacques)

"Un amor gourmand" aka "Greedy Love" (I think?). TWO starfish species for the price of one! Marthasterias pursuing a scallop (with a dramatic soundtrack) followed by some cool Astropecten burrowing video! Some interesting French narration follows...

Happy New Year (Bonne annee!) to Everyone from the Echinoblog!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holiday Treat! Japanese Astropecten burying/unburying video!

I just HAD to post this.. VERY cool Japanese Astropecten unburying itself in reaction to some food.. A little holiday treat!!

Happy Holidays from the Echinoblog! Here's a little break...

So, between my being snowed in at the Paris airport and being delayed for awhile from travel and other general holiday transit issues, the echinoblog will be been pretty quiet this week... But I won't leave without giving people something! So, here's a little set of videos that mainly features some neat looking sea slugs!

*gasp* yes. Just letting the echinoderms take a little holiday rest..... So, enjoy!

A tropical sea slug, called Kalinga ornata that in one video tries to feed on a brittle star...

and here's just a cool video of it

and here's just one weird-ass sea slug called Melibe viridis

Happy Holidays to everyone from the Echinoblog!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Meet the French!! Echinoderm Research in Paris (& Marseille)!!

For the last 3 weeks, I've been blogging from the Museum national d'Histoire naturelle (MNHN) in Paris France.

As indicated in a prior post, I've been working on the diversity of starfishes in the invertebrate collection, looking for new species and additional data for my research.
The MNHN is the French equivalent of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in the United States, and carries an equally esteemed reputation for research excellence.
In spite of its incredible age (founded in 1793, making it nearly 220 years old!), the museum has shown no signs of slowing down and hosts a number of modern, cutting edge research laboratories that work on ecology, deep-sea biology, paleontology, and more!

Usually, when someone like me visits a museum as a researcher, I am hosted by a research lab, in this case-the Echinoderm laboratory at the MNHN which is headed by Dr. Nadia Ameziane!

Her lab works primarily on crinoids (i.e., the feather stars) but has included work on sea urchins (asteries) and sea urchins (oursins). Much work is done in the Antarctic and in the deep-sea-but scope of the lab is global.

Dr. Nadia Ameziane. Nadia has been a curator at the MNHN since the early 90s and has been very influential in the growth of the echinoderm collections in Paris throughout the last two decades. She oversees the people and echinoderm research at the museum...
and is one of the world's experts on the evolution and diversity of living stalked crinoids. Her papers include this recent one in conjunction with Marc and Lenaig (below) which I blogged about here. Other papers include this one , this one and this one!
(photo by David Clague, MBARI)

Nadia does just about everything!

She oversees the MNHN Echinoderm site, advises students, helps to manage the invertebrate zoology collections, attends committee meetings, and of course, continues to do her science. I tried to catch a picture of Nadia above-but she was busy preparing for an Antarctic cruise to Adelie Land (aka Terre Adelie)!!

Dr. Marc Eleaume got his Phd in 2006 from the Museum national D'Histoire naturelle (yes-they actually grant degrees!) and was promptly hired by the museum about one year later.

Marc is sort of the First Officer of the lab/echinoderm collection. Sort of Commander Riker to Nadia's Captain Picard. He takes care of a lot of the day to day while she manages her senior duties.
Marc also works on the evolution and diversity crinoids, especially those in the Antarctic. He focuses on their evolution and taxonomy, but also their ecology and community structure (see one of these papers here). I blogged about one of his papers on crinoid current flow only about a month ago, here.

Marc is currently in the process of describing a new genus and species of Ptilocrinus (which is in the jar he is holding), a stalked crinoid from the Antarctic to be published in the journal Polar Science.

Marc speaks excellent English and has been instrumental in organizing logistics for the many English-speaking scientists who visit the museum. I (and many others) owe him a huge debt for arranging any number of important details.

Once, many years ago, Marc pointed out that what I thought was laundry detergent was actually bleach! Thus preventing my looking like I had lost a fight with a bottle of white-out!

Always good to have someone who can read French when visiting France. :-)

Ms. Lenaïg Hemery. The youngest member of the lab is Lenaig, a PhD student from Brittany (in the northwest of France).
Lenaig is working on multiple big projects in crinoid phylogeny in conjunction with Marc and Nadia.

Including a phylogeography of the Antarctic crinoid Promachocrinus kerguelensis...
but perhaps her most impressive achievement is one of the most comprehensively sampled and most complete of the DNA phylogenies of the crinoids (i.e., a family tree, including feather stars and sea lillies)!!!

Here, Lenaig holds the output of her tree which includes 200 taxa (i.e., species) and is based on 4 genes.
The tree represents a HUGE accomplishment when she finally gets her PhD thesis done! Extracting DNA from crinoids isn't easy...neither is identifying them..with Marc and Nadia's help, it seems like Lenaig's project will be a huge success!

A Visit from Dr. Villier...
In addition to the time spent around the museum I also almost always get a visit from my colleague Dr. Loic Villier from the University of Marseille!
Loic works on the evolutionary patterns of different fossil marine invertebrates, but is particularly fond of fossil sea stars and the evolution. He has a particular fondness for goniasterid sea stars (such as the Ceramaster he's holding), which readily fossilize in northern Europe....but sometimes only as individual pieces, which can make working with them a challenge... (here to see a blog about it)

That said, Loic describes quite a few complete fossil starfish, largely from the Mesozoic. Examples of some of his recent papers are here, here and here.

Loic's newest paper (VILLIER, L.: Asteroids from Barremian calciturbidites of the Serre de Bleyton (Drôme, SE France). 701-732, 1 pl., 10 figs, 2 tabs) describes this awesome looking beast: Leptaster martinii, described by deLoriol in 1880 in the Middle Jurassic!
The photo was taken by Jérôme thomas (University of Burgundy).

Fossils of this quality are VERY rare.

But this one, has a particularly unusual collection history!

This was told to Loic by Dr. Jean-Henri Delance (1937-2005) who worked as specialist in fossil brachiopods and quantitative paleoecology at the University of Burgundy.

He also was the curator of the paleontological collection at the University of Burgundy and responsible for the University Museum, the so-called "Jardin Jurassique".
Early in his career, Jean-Henri had been working in the quarry of the village Comblachien, south of Dijon (France), doing paleocological investigation of several small coral and bryozoan patch reefs. Jovial and friendly with everybody he has been invited by one of the quarryman for a drink at home. While sitting at the kitchen table and waiting for glasses and a bottle, his eyes focused on the hot pad lying in the center of the table. This was a squared limestone block perfectly jagged and polished, cut in the mid-plane of a fossil sea star. Jean-Henri managed to deal it for several bottles of Burgundy wine, and added the "sea star hot pad" to the paleontological collections of the University.
The sea star can be identified despite its uncommon mode of preservation. This is the third specimen available for the Jurassic taxon Leptaster martinii de Loriol (1880). The cross section offers a rare opportunity to described the articulation pattern of all ossicle types, and this is the reason why I have chosen to illustrate this specimen in a discussion on systematic affinities of Leptaster.

Whew! Christmas is coming up! and I'm leaving Paris look for next week's blog to be late and probably a little light as I am en transit....

Hope all of you are having a great holiday time!

J'aime la neige-I Love the snow! Break from business in Paris...

So, as you may have heard, Paris had an unprecedent snowfall of about 4.3 inches on Wednesday..the most its had since 1987! This put a bit of a cramp on getting around and etc.
So, what I had planned to report this week on new museum researchers will instead be posted on Mondayish instead of this week..

Instead, here's some various sights around Paris..

A sign of Rue Linne' aka Carolus von Linne' aka Linneaus! The famous French naturalist who invented modern taxonomic nomenclature! (i.e., the genus and species convention).
Right around the corner from the sign is a pretty cool fountain with these various herpetofauna and such.. including what looks like a six rayed starfish! Probably Leptasterias polaris...
At night..the city is adorned with lights!

and what would Paris be without windowshops FILLED with delicious cakes....
pastries of various kinds..

and freshly made chocolates!!!
Be back at ya' in a few more days with more on French echinoderm researchers!!!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Paris Echinoblog Special! 19th century OLD SCHOOL specimens!

Just some quick bits... first, the above statue of some oceanic nymph or goddess doing battle with a giant fish!

One thing that comes up every so often while going through the Paris museum is how incredibly OLD it is! Nothing I've seen in any American museum comes close.

Many of the specimens were actually on display in the museum gallery up until its facelift in the late 1980s/early 1990s.

These older specimens are relicts from an era when each museum specimen was treated with a reverence (and resources) that is/are really not seen any more.

This includes some pretty intricate display bottle/jars such as this one...which is sealed with a melted metal, which I think is tin and has the specimen tied to a thread and actually suspended from a floaty glass sphere!!
Several of the specimens in the collection have been here since the 1800s..since the days of Lamarck!

Lamarck, whose full name was Jean Baptiste Lamarck (yes I know its longer) was a famous French naturalist who published widely on botany, geology, and invertebrates. But is perhaps best known for Lamarckian style evolution (aka Lamarckism).

This was an early version of the idea of evolution that "proposed that individual efforts during the lifetime of the organisms were the main mechanism driving species to adaptation, as they supposedly would acquire adaptive changes and pass them on to offspring."

A nicer summary of Lamarckism is found here. thanks to Echinoblog reader Trevor P.!

Anyway, he collected and curated MANY specimens throughout the Paris museum, including this one (a basket star)...

I'm not sure, but I think that this might even be his writing!
More to come on modern research performed in the Paris Museum!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Adversity & Splendor! Tropical South Pacific sea stars in Paris!

As promised! This week, the Echinoblog comes to you LIVE from Paris, France!

My apologies for running late this week! Travel can be fun and productive, but you invariably encounter adversity! In this case, a combination of jet lag, getting administrative stuff done, and catching a stomach bug yesterday!
The museum has a LONG history of studying evolution, practically before it was KNOWN as evolution! ("transformational: biology?)

The statue above, which sits in a prominent location in the Jardin des Plants (sort of the Paris equivalent of the National Mall) depicts Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (or simply Buffon) (click to read his Wikipedia article), who would later influence Lamarck and others...

You can tell what a bad ass he was from the fact that the statue shows him sitting on a frakkking LION!!

The museum itself is VERY old and was founded in 1793! Shown here is the Grande Gallerie d'Evolution! Paris has hosted many distinguished scientific minds, including Lamarck, and Georges Cuvier

Why am I here?

As many of you know, I am a scientist who studies sea stars (i.e., the Asteroidea) and the Museum national d'Histoire naturelle contains one of the largest collections of deep-sea asteroids from exotic locales that I know about!

What most people don't know is that BELOW the Grande gallerie is 3 floor vault -like bunker complex...
And its down here that innumerable specimens are housed and cared for!
This includes specimens from the many exotic locales sampled by French scientists, including this spiny Calliaster elegans..
these neato little "cookie" stars... (Sphaerodiscus I think)
This big cookie, Ceramaster patagonicus australis...
and finally, Calliaster regenerator-a weird starfish with screwdriver like spines!

More is on the way!