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Researchers unite behind museum’s threatened department

micro foss.JPGResearchers from around the world are demanding that London’s Natural History Museum reconsider its decision to axe its highly respected micro-palaeontology section.

Nature revealed the museum’s small micro-palaeo department was set for the chop in June. Since then over 1,300 people have signed an online petition to save it, established by Imperial College researcher Tom Dunkley Jones.

Scientists from as far afield as the United States and Japan have added their names in support of the research department, which the museum is cutting as part of an attempt to save £2 million by eliminating 40 jobs.

“This is a most extraordinary and ill-judged decision and must be reversed,” writes Paul Pearson, a palaeo-climate researcher at Cardiff University, UK, on the petition site.

“It was made without consultation with UK and world scientists. Micro-palaeontology is vital to researching climate change, ocean acidification, biodiversity, evolution and extinction. The Natural History Museum is the UK hub, with priceless collections and world-renowned specialists.”

Other signatories include Danielle Decrouez, director of the Natural History Museum of Geneva in Switzerland and Martin Head, an earth scientist at Brock University in Ontario.

“The NHM [Natural History Museum] houses one of the word’s premier collections of fossil dinoflagellate cysts,” says Head. “These organisms are used in paleo-environmental reconstructions and petroleum exploration. Research and curatorial staff are needed to ensure this collection is properly maintained, developed and made accessible to the research community.”

Nature has asked the NHM if it will be reconsidering its decision.

The museum has released the following statement:

The Museum is aware of the concerns and petition regarding the proposed changes and is in communication with key stakeholders. Full consultation with potentially affected staff is underway and it would be inappropriate to comment on specific posts until this consultation is complete. Every effort is being made to avoid redundancy including limiting recruitment, revisiting plans for new posts and closing vacant posts where appropriate. We are endeavouring where possible to find suitable alternative employment for affected colleagues.

More reactions from the petition

“UK will strategic and competitive scientific advantage by closing the Micro-palaeontology Research group. This closure will also cause irreparable damage to the already limited training opportunities in micro-palaeontology worldwide. More than a generation of knowledge and skill will be lost. This group has contributed invaluable studies to palaeoocenography, palaeoclimatology and our understanding and prediction of earth climate change.”

Dr Oscar Yepes

“This closure would be extremely short-sighted. The NHM should actively seek out donors from the numerous industry and government end users of micro-palaeontological information to help sustain this department into the future.”

Professor Andrew Cohen

“I am appalled by this decision: some of the world’s most important collections (Brady) will be less accessible to researchers from all over the world. And at a time the foraminiferal micro-palaeontology contributes enormously to studies in palaeoceanography, palaeoclimate, geochemical proxy development, environmental pollution, eutrophication, ocean acidification and deoxygenation and more! This is truly incredibly bad judgement.”

Dr Ellen Thomas

“Last 6 years, we have extensively worked on invaluable HMS Challenger plankton collections and original samples together with micro-palaeontolgists of the NHM, London. Definitely, NHM needs to accommodate micro-palaeontology section there.”

Professor Yoshiaki Aita

“As a teacher and former research and industrial scientist, I have helped to generate and communicate climate change scientific findings to a wider audience. Much of this information has come directly from research carried out at the micro-palaeontology group at the Natural History Museum, and its closure would be a catastrophic loss to informed scientific debate on climate change.”

Dr Alexander Mitlehner

Image: unidentified microfossil / detail from photo by wikipedia user ZooFari under creative commons

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    Ted Sanders said:

    Micro-palaeontology is vital to determining trends in global warming…at the very least it’s one of the most important research fields today if you consider what is at stake – the human species.

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