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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Author/Editor: N. Sivasothi
Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore.

Made with Samizdat,
based on PHPosxom,
based on Blosxom.

05 Jul 2007 - Raffles Museum News has shifted to http://news.rafflesmuseum.net

Wed 22 Nov 2006

Tue 28 Nov 2006: 10am - "Museum databases in the global village"

Category : talks

"Museum databases in the global village"

Tuesday, 28th November 2006: 10am - 12pm
A seminar and discussion with
Aaron Steele (UC Berkeley) and N. Sivasothi (NUS)

DBS Conference Room
Blk S5, Level 3,
Department of Biological Sciences
National University of Singapore
Science Drive 4
Visitors may park at Carpark 10
Click for Map.

About the talks:

I: "Going global: The evolution of Raffles Museum's specimen databases." (20 mins)
By N. Sivasothi,
Database Manager,
Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research,
National University of Singapore.

In the 1970's, data about museum specimens was recorded on a system of catalogue books. In 1999, databasing was initiated. Use of condemmed computers and favouring the ubiquitous Microsoft Excel above the unsupported proprietal MUSE software overcame the non-existent budget.

A verified database of some 19,000 specimens was eventually established for the reptile and amphibians. After a volunteer converted the database to SQL, global researchers were finally provided with web-access.

This database is now being georeferenced in preparation for HerpNET, a collaborative effort by natural history museums to establish a global network, funded by the National Science Foundation (US) and Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF).

The practical issues involved in this migration, conservation use and security will be discussed, as well as the reasons for adopting HerpNET, and the challenges ahead.

II: "Collaborative Databases on a Global Scale" (40 mins)
By Aaron Steele.
Biogeomancer, DigirMapper & Digital MVZ Projects,
Museum of Vertebrate Zoology,
University of California Berkeley, USA.

Globally distributed database networks facilitate the national and international scientific exchange of biodiversity information. The recent impact of aggregating and integrating these data from multiple collections has led to a worldwide authoritative source of knowledge about the identity, relationships, and properties of species across the globe.

In this seminar I will discuss the origins and types of collaborative databases, explain what the DiGIR (Distributed Generic Information Retrieval) Project has accomplished, and examine the HerpNET Project and BioGeomancer as a case study in how collaborative database projects are successful. We will also discuss the IT resources required to operate and maintain these systems in perpetuity.

Aaron Steele is a Herpnet programmer in Singapore to setup the RMBR Herpnet server, and to provide the capability for the similar collaborative vertebrate databases, Manis and Ornis. Although he is a geek, he is used to talking to biologists!


Posted at 4:08PM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | ,

Wed 22 Nov 2006

Ilsa Sharp drops in

Category : people

Naturalist and writer Ilsa Sharp dropped in for a chat today about Chek Jawa.

Once again I turned to the handy glass-topped table to help illustrate the many parameters involved in the issue!

Posted at 9:18AM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | ,

Wed 22 Nov 2006

CHIJ Katong Convent students on attachment

Category : education

The school holidays have begun and school students have begun appearing at the museum!

This week, six students from CHIJ Katong Convent are on attachment with the museum. They are: Denissa Lim, Deborah Tan, Andrea Yew, Leslie Chung, Suzanne Tan and Yeoh Lai Lin. They will be assisting the Curator of Insects, Ms H. K. Lua and in the process will learn about dry insect preservation.

Contributed by Avery Joseph Goh (aged 11), Yangzheng Primary School.

Posted at 7:54AM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | ,

Wed 22 Nov 2006

Expedition Santo 2006 - Straits Times report

Category : research

"Expedition Santo 2006: Global Biodiversity Survey from sea bottom to ridge crests" - Tan Heok Hui, Tan Swee Hee, Jose Christopher Mendoza and Peter Ng participated in the Santos 2006 expedition in September 2006.

In late October, they were interviewed by the local broadsheet, The Straits Times and an article appeared a couple of weeks later. I inserted photos Swee Hee sent me and Li Ling obligingly sent me her photo of a living robber crab (not from this expedition).

"NUS staff help unearth 10 new crab species."
By Jessica Lim. The Straits Times, 10 Nov 2006.

The four were part of global team which combed Pacific islands in major expedition.

CHILLI crab eaters need not apply. Four National University of Singapore (NUS) researchers did. Crab lovers in the academic sense, they joined a global research team which spent six weeks scouring the seabeds off Vanuatu, a pristine group of islands in the South Pacific. The team braved 6m swells to dredge buckets of debris from depths of up to 300m, eel bites and 12-hour days sifting through debris using tweezers.

The result: About 650 species of crabs were unearthed with at least 10 species new to science waiting to be sorted, named and photographed. The 80-strong research group from 22 countries can lay claim to being the largest marine biodiversity expedition in modern times. New species found included a furry crab with red-tipped claws, and five types of box crabs which have special shell-cutting teeth.

The islands - such as Espiritu Santo, which is the largest in the Vanuatu chain - are home to many unique species not found elsewhere. "The islands are not well explored, and they have a wide variety of pristine habitats," said Professor Peter Ng, director of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research at NUS, who was on the trip.

Up to 30 million species of organisms remain undiscovered and about 1,800 new species are discovered each year. The crabs found on the recent trip will reach Singapore in the next two months. They will then be identified and catalogued. The results will be presented to the Vanuatu government to help it decide which parts of the islands it wants to conserve.

Marine species are known to be of value to pharmaceutical researchers. For example, copper-based blood from the horseshoe crab is purified and made into test kits to detect small amounts of bacteria. Identifying species also helps point out the poisonous ones. Expedition member Tan Heok Hui, a researcher at Raffles Museum, said: "People catch poisonous crabs and eat them unknowingly. The poison attacks the nervous system and can lead to death within a day."

NUS contributed $30,000 towards the 1.2 million euros (S$2.4 million) project. The team has been on two other similar large-scale expeditions and uncovered more than 2,000 species so far.

Asked if he eats crabs, NUS researcher and team member Tan Swee Hee said he has been allergic to them since 1990. "I have killed too many crabs in my lifetime, and this is payback. I can't eat them!"


Copyright 2006 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved.

Creatures found in South Pacific seabeds

Crabby long legs is cave dweller

Photo by J. C. Mendoza

The Discoplax longipes (long legs in Latin) is a land crab that can grow up to half a metre in leg span. Like most other land crabs, it has sensory hairs on its legs which it uses to 'taste' chemicals in the air, directing it to food. The nocturnal crab is commonly found in caves near the coast, but returns to the water periodically to re-wet its gills and lay eggs.

Hermit's a feisty food thief

Photo by Koh Li Ling, from Christmas Island, September 2006.

For food, this 2.5kg hermit crab scales coconut trees, cuts the fruits down with its claws and pries them open to get to the fleshy bits. The world's largest arthropod, it can grow up to 35cm in width, inclusive of its pincers. Commonly referred to as the robber crab, it is known to creep into villagers' homes to steal food and attack people with its claws. The species is a delicacy in the islands of Vanuatu.

Photo by J. C. Mendoza
Tiny sand lover is easy to miss

Can you spot its pincers? Embedding itself in the soggy sands on the seashore is the sand grain crab.

This species is just 2mm or 3mm larger than a grain of sand.

It survives on organic matter like algae which it picks up using its small pincers.

Posted at 7:39AM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | ,

Wed 22 Nov 2006

Animal Care and Handling Workshops

Category : education

I was trying to call Swee Hee at the Systematics & Ecology Lab, but instead it was Paul Clark of the National History Museum, who answered the phone. "Swee Hee's away at a course on how to kill animals," he said with typical black humour.

It turns instead that Raffles Museum's Peter Ng, Tan Swee Hee and Ng Ngan Kee are actually attending the required lectures for their Animal Care and Handling Workshops certification.

In 2003, the National Advisory Committee for Laboratory Animal Research (NACLAR) was formed to establish national guidelines for the proper treatment and utilization of animals for scientific purposes in Singapore. In August 2003 that year, NACLAR released an e-paper for Public Consultation on draft guidelines and in October 2004, released the 158-page "Guidelines on the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes."

A month later, NUS setup an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) to oversee the implementation of the NACLAR guidelines in campus. In keeping with those guidelines, NUS staff and students involved the care and use of animals for scientific purposes have been going through an "Animal Care and Handling Workshop" conducted by NUS' Laboratory Animals Centre (LAC).

Although museum staff do not maintain live animals, all of us have or will attend the course. I was probably the first and attended the June 2005 workshop, finding myself amongst scientific research staff of a wide-ranging seniority from Science and Medical faculties and life science institutions.

It was gratifying to see such guidelines introduced at the highest level in NUS by the LAC veterinarians. Even elements such as behavioural enrichment for caged animals were introduced. I could see that the course and the practical sessions were enlightening to most laboratory workers.

I also complimented the LAC staff on the manner in which they conducted the course. I felt the respect for animals that they demonstrated in all that they did imparted a holistic philosophy that was as important as the techniques introduced to minimise suffering.

It is interesting to note that research proposals now have to demonstrate details like the necessity of the sample size identified in a specific study before proposals are approved. IACUC is headed by Professor Lam, the former head of the Department of Biological Sciences, and an experienced physiologist.

It's a significant step for NUS and quite amazing to behold! However, the SPCA has and continues to lobby for further improvements and advocates alternative methods to using live animals for experimentation.

Posted at 7:20AM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | ,