rich burkmar's blog

Book review: Britain's Spiders - a field guide

From British Spider's coverBritain’s Spiders – A field guide by Lawrence Bee, Geoff Oxford and Helen Smith is a new book from the excellent WILDGuides stable, published in association with the British Arachnological Society. This book will likely fuel a revolution in spider identification in the UK that I believe is already underway. In this blog I will review the new book, but more than that I want to describe what it offers within the context of how people are learning spider identification and recording skills today.

QGIS tips - building a map background

DordogneI had a query today from someone who wants to use QGIS to show distribution maps of butterflies and moths for the Dordogne region of France. His question was about presenting a detailed background. Sourcing and creating map layers to build good looking backgrounds for distribution maps is probably one of the major hurdles for biological recorders wishing to use GIS to create distribution maps. To help answer his question I had a go at it myself and I thought it worth sharing what I found.

Journeys through Inner Space

The surface of Orchesella villosa (above) and the surface of Pluto (below) Some of the most memorable media images of 2015 came from NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto. Although the images of Pluto were spectacular, those that really stuck in my memory were those of the scientists themselves as they watched the images appear on their monitors, beamed back to earth by New Horizons over 3 billion miles of intervening space. Just before Christmas 2015, my friend Ben and I were treated to some views of a springtail, Orchesella villosa, under a Scanning Electron Microscope by Thom Dallimore at Edge Hill University: it was our Pluto moment.

Embracing uncertainty: version 2 of the earthworm multi-access key

Earthworm by Charlie BellThe Tom.bio earthworm multi-access key lets me access the knowlege-based of Emma Sherlock's AIDGAP key in a way that puts me in charge of the identification process. But one of the advantages of multi-access keys - dealing with uncertainty - was not very well realised in version 1 of our key. Version 2 does a much better job of dealing with uncertainty - sorting and ranking species in a much more powerful way and making for a much improved multi-access key.

On microscopy and the joy of SX

A microscope-heavy classroom at FSC Preston Montford!Ever noticed how so many microscopes seem to be called SX something or other? No? Maybe it's just the really sexy ones. Yes, I expect that's the technical reason for the SX moniker. According to the excellent website History of the Microscope, it is widely held that Dutch spectacle makers Hans & Zacharias Jansen (a father and son team) made the first optical microscope. But ask any biologist and they will tell you that it was the publication of Robert Hooke's Micrographia that made microscopy really sexy.

Bashing the squares: the BBS and NPMS

NPMS survey plotLike many UK naturalists at this time of year, last weekend I was busy playing my part as a volunteer - a citizen scientist if you like - monitoring the UK's biodiversity. I was square bashing - continuing an annual ritual of participation in the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) and starting something new by surveying, for the first time, a square for the National Plant Monitoring Scheme (NPMS).

Coincidence mapping biological records

QGIS Conicidence mappingRight now the interest in QGIS amongst biological recorders and conservationists seems almost insatiable. Yesterday I was very pleased to deliver a day's workshop on QGIS and the Tom.bio QGIS plugin for members of Lancashire Wildlife Trust's (LWT) conservation team. The Trust's Red Squirrel Project Officer used the Tom.bio Biological Records tool to produce a couple of maps, from her own records, of Red and Grey Squirrels around the Sefton Coast. She asked me if there was a way to use the tool to make a coincidence map for the two species. Well I had to admit that there wasn't really. But I had a think about it and I realised that it would be very easy to modify the tool to make this possible. So today I published a new version of the QGIS Tom.bio plugin that enables this. This video explains how to use the tool and QGIS' styling features to create a coincidence map.

OS OpenData for QGIS

Ordnance Survey OpenData in QGISDespite the fact that OS mapping is paid for by the British tax payer, anyone wishing to use OS data prior to 2010 had to pay considerable fees for the privilege of doing so. That was generally held to be iniquitous and a serious barrier to innovation and economic growth. In recognition of this, the OS started to produce, in 2010, a range of mapping products which are free to use: OS OpenData. This blog post illustrates the OS OpenData products that are available, free of charge, to QGIS users.

Molecular tools for curiosity-led natural history

The NFBR conference 2015 (photo Paula Lightfoot)Last week it was my great pleasure to attend the 2105 conference of the National Forum for Biological Recording which was jointly organised with the British Ecological Society's Macroecology Special Interest Group. In a wide-raging and memorable conference, which succeeded in bridging the gap between the academic and natural history ends of the biological recording world, one of the most interesting things for me was a workshop (and associated poster and presentation) on using molecular tools for biological recording.

Invertebrate specialists and alcohol problems

Invertebrate specialists often require copious supplies of alcoholAs someone who studies invertebrates, I often find myself turning to the bottle. Whilst I would not recommend alcohol as part of a general approach to problem solving, I wouldn't be without it for preserving specimens. The animals I'm particularly interested in - spiders, harvestmen and, latterly, earthworms and springtails - are rather soft-bodied you see, and the accoutrements beloved of the coleopterist and dipterist - pins, plastazote, gum, card and the like - are of limited value to me; instead I require a copious supply of alcohol (and lots of little tubes).

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