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ECCo Newsletter: May 2012

Translating museum knowledge into lasting results for conservation and cultural understanding—in the midst of a great urban center and in the wildest, most remote places on Earth.

Lycosidae from a color guide to the common spiders of Chicago
Photo: Tom Murray

ECCo by the Numbers

  • 335 color guides are currently posted online for public use. The guides are used to identify species across 23 countries. 148,000 guides were downloaded in 2011.
  • 73 lbs of garlic mustard, an invasive species, were removed by stewardship volunteers on April 7 at Beaubien Woods, a natural area in the Calumet region.
  • 60 species of spiders are featured in the "Common Spiders of the Chicago Region." This popular Rapid Color Guide has been downloaded 500 times in the last two months.
  • 200 people attended a screening of the film, Journey of the Universe, on April 5.
  • 19 community partners, 19 institutional partners, and 8 technical partners worked with ECCo to develop, implement, and scale up climate action projects in four Chicago neighborhoods as part of the Chicago Community Climate Action Toolkit.
  • 11 natural sites are being researched for the RESTORE project. RESTORE explores how perceptions of nature and collective decision-making strategies affect ecological restoration practices in Chicago Wilderness, and how the different practices influence biodiversity outcomes.

Dendropsophus treefrogs mating--male is the smaller frog
Photo: Rudolf Von May


Peruvian herpetologist Pablo Venegas in a Rapid Inventory
Photo: Alvaro del Campo

Andes/Amazon News: A new treefrog from Colombia and Peru

In late October 2009, Pablo Venegas and Rudolf Von May— Peruvian herpetologists who formed part of the Field Museum’s 2009 rapid inventory team—recorded treefrogs that at the time they believed were Dendropsophus koechlini. The team was surveying a lowland rainforest between the Napo and Putumayo rivers, deep within the homelands of the Maijuna indigenous people.

Nearly two months later, a separate expedition in Leticia, Colombia uncovered more Dendropsophus treefrogs. In the genus Dendropsophus there are a dozen superficially similar species, most nearly impossible to identify. Venegas and a group of colleagues decided to tease apart how many species of Dendropsophus exist and whether all are related. They examined the DNA of 35 species and used a combination of morphological and molecular evidence to reveal two exciting discoveries.

First, the 2009 specimens from Peru and Colombia are new to science. They named the frog Dendropsophus frosti in honor of famed herpetologist Darrel Frost (Motta et al. 2012 Zootaxa 3249:18-30). The second discovery is that these superficially very similar species are more distantly related than previously thought.

The conservation prospects for the Peruvian populations of Dendropsophus frosti look promising. With ECCo’s rapid inventory as a foundation, the Peruvian government declared the Maijuna homelands a regional conservation area in February 2012. The new protected area encompasses 900,000 acres of Amazon wilderness, including the location where Venegas and Von May found the new Dendropsophus treefrog.

Preparing locally produced vegetables for a community feast
Photo: Kate McClellan


Children exploring nature in a community garden
Photo: Elisha Hall

Chicago Region News: Daycare, Cooking…and Climate Change

On the far Northwest Side, Boy Scouts install roosting boxes for bats in a neighborhood forest preserve. On the far Southeast Side, youth from a local church interview residents about energy practices. In Pilsen, staff from a Mexican hometown association and a daycare plant milkweed in a native garden that was once a vacant lot. In Bronzeville, residents tour the South Side green economy, ending with a vegan soul-food cooking demonstration in a community garden.

How are these projects linked?
They are all part of ECCo’s Chicago Community Climate Action Toolkit, which builds on research ECCo anthropologists conducted to engage communities in climate action. The projects draw on heritage traditions to implement strategies from the region’s climate plans (Chicago Wilderness Climate Action Plan for Nature and Chicago Climate Action Plan). The connection with climate may not always be obvious: roosting boxes for bats and milkweed to feed monarch butterfly larvae, for example, create important habitat corridors for climate-sensitive species. Native gardens, also important in providing habitat, go beyond: many native species have deep underground roots that hold more water and carbon than do non-native species.

See project stories told through video documentaries on the Toolkit website. The site provides 60 multimedia tools—created with more than 40 partner organizations—to help others start their own projects.

Learn more and download tools for your community:

Naturalist Wendy Paulson leads monthly bird walks on Northerly Island
Photo: Tracey Shafroth

ECCo Location: Birds at Northerly Island

Chicagoans used to know it as Meigs Field. Before that it was the scene of the 1933-34 Century of Progress World’s Fair. Earlier still, and before Daniel Burnham envisioned it as an island, it lay beneath the waters of Lake Michigan.

Northerly Island is now becoming the newest leg in a triangle of great, pedestrian-scale lakefront attractions. The Island, with its colorful plantings of prairie flowers and grasses set against the lake and downtown skyscrapers, is a natural counterpart to the urbane spaces of Millennium Park and the emporia of Navy Pier.

Birders find Northerly Island to be a perfect demonstration that in urban conservation every small piece of habitat counts for migrating birds. In February, the non-breeding season, northern waterfowl such as Common Goldeneyes and Red-breasted Mergansers visited regularly. In March, Snowy Owls, unpredictable visitors from the tundra, oddly overlapped in space and time with the first arriving Song Sparrows, Eastern Meadowlarks, Eastern Bluebirds, and Red-winged Blackbirds. By April, some of the short-distance migrants like Tree Swallows, Fox Sparrows, and Brown Thrashers had arrived.

In no other place in the world are a great skyline, a Great Lake, and a great birding spot combined quite like this.

Join us for this year’s Comer Symposium, June 2

Get Involved

Our dreams for the future influence how we think and act today. Many who look at the scientific information on the ramifications of climate change see a frightening future. Others manage to find inspiration and hope as they seek solutions and strategies for adaptation.

This year's Comer Symposium—Climate Change & The Imagined Future—featuring writers and policy makers with different perspectives, will challenge us to think in new ways about the greatest environmental challenge of our time.

  • Mark Hertsgaard, reporter, activist, and author of HOT: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth, offers a hopeful view that inspires action and imaginative solutions as he writes about the world that he imagines his daughter will live in fifty years from now.
  • David Owen, author of Conundrum and staff writer for The New Yorker, dismantles conventional wisdom about being green and challenges our highly consumer-oriented culture to learn to live sustainably.
  • Gabriel Klein, Commissioner, Department of Transportation for the City of Chicago, talks about transportation strategies—including walking—that will shape the future of our City, which has already begun to act boldly to address climate change.

Veteran reporter and WGN radio host John Williams will moderate the conversation.

Saturday, June 2: 2pm
FREE. Pre-registration required. Click here or call 312.665.7400 to register today.

Plan to use The Museum's West Entrance.

The Comer Symposium: 2008-2012
The Gary C. Comer Family, in fostering education, research, and public awareness of climate change, has funded the establishment of a five-year series of symposia at the Field Museum.

The elaenia as photographed by a professional...
Photo: Ken Kootz


...and by one of the two brothers who first spotted the bird
Photo: Ethan Gyllenhaal

ECCo Uncovered: Birders descend on Douglas Park to see a South American flycatcher called an elaenia.

The birding community throughout the country was aflutter with excitement in April about a very unexpected visitor in the Chicago Park District park in North Lawndale, a bird called an elaenia. Even the Chicago Tribune ran an article. ECCo’s Doug Stotz and University of Chicago’s graduate student Nick Block are at the center of the discussions about what species of Elaenia it is, and the Museum collections have been crucial in helping draw a conclusion. Current thinking is that this is a Small-billed Elaenia, which would be a first record for North America. Birders in the hundreds—from all over the U.S.—got to see the visiting elaenia from April 19 to 22, when it flew off to parts unknown. The young birders who initially spotted the elaenia, Ethan and Aaron, are sons of Eric Gyllenhaal who worked in our Museum’s exhibition department for several years (and clearly instilled a love of nature in his children).

The visiting flycatcher underscores the value of green space throughout our City—not just the lakefront—for migrating birds. Douglas Park was full of birds during the week that the elaenia was drawing people there: more than 100 species were reported between April 19 and 22, including American Bittern, LeConte’s Sparrow, and eight species of warblers. Until the elaenia, most Chicago-area birders had never been to Douglas Park.

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