Brockholes!

Hornbeam Tree, Brockholes (c) Andrew Gray

I recently visited Brockholes, a local Nature Reserve run by the Lancashire. Manchester, and Merseyside Wildlife Trusts. It’s a place I have been meaning to visit for quite some time and was very pleasantly surprised by what I found – it really was a great place, a proper wildlife haven and excellent environmental education centre that really impressed me.

Brockholes has been established for 10 years, and during that time has developed into a very special place. There is so much to see there, whether you are a wildlife novice or a birding expert. Recent months have had exciting new bird sightings, including a Pallid Harrier and an Osprey.

Water Lily in full bloom at Brockholes (c) Andrew Gray

The really wide variety of habitats, including lakes, streams, mature woodland, and of course the River Ribble, which also flows through Brockholes, makes for some great wildlife watching – otters are also regularly seen on this stretch of the Ribble too!

The ever expanding amount of wildlife that calls Brockholes home evolves throughout the various seasons, and at the moment the reserve is full of colour, with the many wildflowers that attract different types of dragonfly and butterflies, such as the Gatekeeper and Common Blue.

Toad on his toadstool at Brockholes (c) Andrew Gray

I saw lots of Peacock butterflies during my visit, one of my favourites, as well as coming across 3 species of amphibian within the first half an hour.

You wouldn’t think for a minute Brockholes is just next to a major motorway junction (where the M6 and M61 meet), but that just makes it even more accessible. For anyone wanting to experience wildlife in the heart of Lancashire I highly recommend a visit, its packed with things to see and do for literally everyone!

BROCKHOLES

 

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The Inside Story

Frogs represent 88% of living amphibians and have a skeletal shape unique among land-dwelling vertebrates. Although frogs seem to be specially adapted to jumping, they actually engage in a wide range of locomotion styles – walking and running, climbing, swimming, and burrowing, in addition to jumping and hopping.

Laura Porro, a post doc researcher at the Royal Veterinary College, part of the University of London, is an evolutionary biomechanist and palaeontologist investigating the link between form and function in living and extinct vertebrates. She studies the evolution of feeding and locomotion in a wide range of taxa – primarily fossil and living amphibians and reptiles, and early tetrapods – through medical imaging and 3D visualisation, biomechanical modelling and experiments.

First Laura uses micro CT (computed tomography) scanning at the University of Cambridge to capture skeletal shape. CT scans produce a series of digital slices of the specimen – essentially, a 3D X-ray. She uses specialised imaging software to digitally separate the skeleton from the surrounding tissues, producing 3D skeletal models.

CT scan showing skeleton of the Lemur Leaf Frog, Agalychnis lemur

On its own, CT scanning is a great tool to capture skeletal shape – however, the X-rays have a difficult time distinguishing different soft tissues from one another. Newly-developed staining methods now permit Laura to visualise and separate soft tissue masses – individual muscles, nerves and organs – allowing her to see all of the internal structures in place without any destructive dissections. Combined with 3D PDF technology, these digital dissections – including those of rare taxa – can be shared with students and researchers around the world.

Working with some of the rare frogs from Manchester Museum’s herpetology collection has provided Laura and her research group with access to some of the rarest and most unusual amphibians, such as the the bizarre Crowned Tree Frog, Anotheca spinosa.

Screenshot of 3D fully moveable model produced from a specimen of the Crowned Tree Frog Anotheca spinosa.

Anatomical information gained from staining and scanning these specimens will form the basis of unique biomechanical models used to simulate walking and jumping in these animals for Laura’s project. Our team will also receive highly detailed digital dissections of some of the rarest frog taxa in the world, all providing an extremely valuable resource for both teaching and new cutting edge research.

Digital dissection of the model organism Xenopus laevis

Combat behaviour in Male Anotheca spinosa

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