V Factor and British Bryozoa
A unique collaboration, from October 2014 to August 2015
V Factor is an exciting volunteer initiative based at the Natural History Museum in London. It targets collection-based projects across our science departments, giving volunteers the chance to work alongside our experts and immerse themselves in real curation and research. At the same time, the volunteers enable scientists to undertake new projects and develop new ways of using the collections.
The current V Factor project is focussed on the recycling and reuse of a scallop shell collection and will concentrate on the animals in the phylum Bryozoa (moss animals) and epifauna that have taken up residency on the shells.
What will volunteers do?
The Museum holds a collection of more than 300 buckets of scallop shells from a Heriot-Watt University horse mussel restoration project that started in Scotland in May 2012. The importance of the Bryozoa on them, as initial colonisers in the restoration process, had not been anticipated, but in practice this collection represents one of the largest known collections of British marine bryozoans and covers geographic regions where we have little previous knowledge of epifauna diversity.
Under the guidance of our specialist science staff – Mary Spencer Jones and Dr Joanne Porter (Heriot-Watt University), with support from Dr Piotr Kuklinski and Rob Cook (Heriot-Watt University) – volunteers will work together to curate, digitise and capture specimen data from the colonised shells.
Volunteers will help us reinforce basic standards in collection care and sort specimens into two key categories:
• high-quality specimens to be moved into permanent collections and added to the Museum database
• other specimens, which will be used as taxonomic and educational tools as follows:
-----taxon crates for informed specialist groups, such as Seasearch and Wildlife Trusts
-----biota in a box for schools and the general public
These crates and boxes will create a unique scientific resource and educational tool that will promote the role of collections in current biodiversity issues. They will contain key environmental and ecological messages on British Bryozoa, and activities and experiments that can be carried out away from the Museum.
More information on the horse mussel restoration project is at
Why is this work important?
Comparatively little is known about bryozoans – there are just over 350 known British species and around 8,000 species known worldwide, with an estimated 15,000 species yet to be discovered. Through this project we are hoping to better understand the distribution of bryozoans in Britain.
We hope this collaboration will help us generate a baseline for local species pools of British bryozoans. Bryozoa are very relevant to research looking at topical issues such as climate change and the spread of invasive species. The information from this project will provide a valuable evidence base against which future change can be monitored.
While the work volunteers do can be easily understood and undertaken, the value of their contribution is priceless.
• sorting of current large epifaunal collection – freeing up critical storage space
• creating a unique resource for northeast Atlantic bryozoan-related research
• delivering taxonomic information on bryozoans to a wider audience
• increasing awareness of topical issues, such as climate change, ocean acidification and the spread of invasive species
Can I get involved?
We will soon be recruiting for V Factor volunteers to join us from mid-October onwards, one day per week (Thursdays) for ten week sessions.
I'm under 18 what can I do to find out more? You will soon be able to take a piece of our collection home today by picking up a biota in a box. This is a free loans service for groups of up to eight people. Boxes can be borrowed for up to three weeks so you can spot some British bryozoans, while exploring the impacts of ocean acidification.
Watch this space for information, an expression of interest form to join the V Factor team and how to borrow a biota in a box in due course.
Come and see us from 16 October onwards!
We will be back in the Specimen Preparation Area (SPA) of the Darwin Centre from 16 October on Thursdays. You can talk to one of our Volunteer Leaders to find out more about British Broyozoa and see our current volunteers in action!