skip to content

Museums and collections


Adapting to Threat

As our world changes the plants and animals of our planet are forced to adapt and migrate. This can be due to a range of factors such as changes in temperature, depletion of food resource, increased pests or increased predatory species.

Past Changing Climates

We can tell a lot about past climate impacts from looking at the shells of aged marine bivalves.  There is a specimen of the marine bivalve, Arctica islandica that lived for over 500 years, and several more that lived for over 300 years. This amazing longevity makes these bivalves the longest-lived animals known on Earth. 

Arctica islandica . Photograph courtesy of Prof James Scourse, University of Wales, Bangor. ©Museum of Zoology, CambridgeThe shells of Arctica islandica are providing information about past climates in the North Atlantic. The dark growth lines in the shell are caused by an annual period of slow growth, probably in late summer or autumn. It is possible to record the amount of growth during the year by measuring the distance between these growth lines. In a good year, a lot of shell is laid down, in a bad year very little. The isotopes of oxygen and carbon in the shell can give information about the sea temperature and salinity. Concentration of other elements in the shell (calcium, zinc, magnesium and others) can be measured and compared to investigate marine pollution and ocean acidification.

Find out more about how shelled creatures help us understand past climate at the Museum of Zoology:

These aren’t the only creatures that have adapted to changing climates.  The microfossils found in the sediment of deep-sea cores give crucial evidence of changes in climate. In fact the climate history of the last 2 million years has been unravelled using fossil evidence from the oceans and continents.
Find out more about microfossils at the Sedgwick Museum and the Museum of Zoology.

The Earth Science Department, where the Sedgwick Museum is situated has been looking at why some of the earliest creatures survived in those primitive early conditions and also why they then became extinct. Find out more.

Arctica islandica. Photograph courtesy of Prof James Scourse, University of Wales, Bangor. Credit: Museum of Zoology, Cambridge

Currently Under Threat

A World Without Bees: Bees, and especially honey bees, are in a major decline worldwide due to a complex range of factors thought to include climate change, pests and diseases, colony collapse disorder (whereby the worker bees abruptly abandon a hive causing the colony to die), and a decline in wildflowers due to intensive agricultural practices. And yet, honey bees are vital to our food chain as pollinators of crops accounting for about one third of our diet. Honeybees are essential to fruit-set in tomatoes, coffee, grapes, apples and other fruits in the Rose family. They also ensure seed production for oils such as Rapeseed, and play a major role in pollinating crops such as clover to provide seeds for farmers. The beautiful double Bee Borders in front of the Glasshouse Range at The Botanic Gardens have been created with some of the flowers bees love best and are abuzz from spring through to September with nectar and pollen collecting to attract more bees.

Find out more about bee borders and the worldwide decline of bees:

Bee Borders at the Botanic Garden

Bumblebee Conservation Trust: Why bees need our help

Evolution and development at the Botanic Garden

Credit: University Botanic Gardens, University of Cambridge

Coral Reef Communities: Compare a modern and fossil Coral Reef in this interactive Deep Sea Dive to see the creatures adapting to a changing environment at the Sedgwick Museum.

Polar Bears: Every year the extent of the Summer ice in the Arctic is less and less leaving little room for Polar Bears to hunt and store energy for the summer and autumn, when food is hard to find. The oil and gas business is increasingly moving into the Arctic as there are less reserves to be found and the Arctic Oceans open up in the summer as more ice is melting. This puts Polar Bears at risk of oil spills and destruction of their habitat.

Find out more about the threats to Polar Bears here and at The Polar Museum.

Credit: Alan Wilson 




Antarctic Whales: Whales and seals of the Southern Ocean have been severely exploited by man in the past, but are now mostly protected. In 1982 the International Whaling Commission decided that there should be a pause in commercial whaling. This pause is often referred to as the commercial whaling moratorium, and it is still in place today. Current research reveals that climate change is having a huge impact on whales including decreased salinity due to melting of fresh water ice, changing ocean temperatures and a decline in some of their food such as krill.

Find out more abut the threats to Whales here and at The Polar Museum.

Credit: Robert Pittman – NOAA



Future Threats

Already a threat in many countries in the world, the risk of drought and water depletion is a huge threat to plant and crop growth. The Botanic Garden has created a ‘Dry Garden’ demonstrating the range of the plants that can survive in a less water rich future.
Find out more about the Dry Garden at The Botanic Garden.



Credit: University of Cambridge Botanic Garden, University of Cambridge