|Epipogium aphyllum, Buckinghamshire August 1971|
Having taught biology briefly, and developed a passion for Lepidoptera, I was appointed a student assistant at Leicester Museum at the beginning of my career. A biological curator in a regional museum is responsible for looking after study collections in all groups of organism. This gives the opportunity to work on that all important vocabulary that I believe is so necessary in evaluating and understand the ecology of our environment.
Leicester museum concentrated on collections of British specimens. These ranged from stuffed animals to the parasites that live in association with these animals. The museum had an active taxidermy department, and I well remember the disgust of a member of the public who had donated a dead hedgehog to the museum, when, in the museum’s acknowledgement of her presentation, it was described as a ‘fine collection of fleas and other parasites’ which had been added to a large spirit collection of small invertebrates all carefully labelled, preserved in alcohol and stored in jars. The hedgehog itself was not required for the mammal collection. The specimens had to be identified accurately before they were catalogued. What a fantastic beginning this training was for the dedicated pan lister.
Another route into expertise as a field ecologist is through conservation either through organisations such as Natural England or local county naturalists’ trusts. Staff in these organisations spend large amounts of time in the field assessing the value and health of the countryside. They cannot fail to increase their knowledge and their species vocabulary.
|Leucorrhinia dubia, Surrey June 1981|
Having spent twenty years as a professional biological museum curator, in 1988 I went freelance as an ecologist. I had hoped that my broad approach would be an asset for site evaluation, but as I launched myself into this new world, it rapidly became apparent that a broad approach would get me nowhere. Slowly, and almost without realising it, I began to specialise, and my particular group is lichens.
|Carex atrofusca, Perthshire July 1974|
A lichen is an association between a fungus, or fungi and an alga, or algae. In fact, a lichen can consist of a fungus with a second species, either living parasitically or in harmony in the association. There are one or two lichen fungi that can live in association with more than one alga, and the associations can look very different. However, even though one association may be a dull brown and the other bright green, they can only be considered as ecotypes of the fungus. Lichens are all named on their fungal partner, which in almost every case cannot survive independently. I know of no lichenologist who actually makes a list of the alga in the lichen association. In my personal list of algae, I have just one species of blue green alga that forms lichen associations.
|Eriocrania subpurpurella, Sharpthorne, Sussex April 2004|
|Crucibulus laeve, Abbot's Wood, Sussex September 1987|
|Cryptothallus mirabilis, Hampshire February 1974|
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