Staff & Student News

Curator Larry Heaney (Zoology/Mammals) travelled to the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities campus on March 19 to attend the final exam for Renee Lorica, as a member of her Master of Science in Wildlife advisory committee.  Renee conducted studies of a native small wild cat, the leopard cat (Prionalurus bengalensis) on the central Philippine island of Negros (see header image).  This leopard cat is often listed as threatened with extinction, but Renee found them to be common and thriving on a diet of exotic pest rats on a sugar cane plantation, showing an unexpected but welcome level of adaptability to human-dominated environments.  Renee plans to return to the Philippines soon to put her new Master’s degree to work on related issues in conservation.


Collections Manager Christine Niezgoda (Botany) was awarded $92,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for continuation of the Global Plants Initiative project.  GPI is an international collaboration aiming to digitize and make available plant type specimens, together with other botanical resources, for scholarly purposes.  This phase of the project involves photographing type specimens for the Illinois Natural History Survey, Michigan State University, Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University (Philadelphia, PA), Yale University, University of Florida, Gainesville, Selby Botanical Garden, and the University of British Columbia.


Graduate Research Assistant Matthew Piscitelli (Anthropology) was awarded the Youth Explorer’s Grant ($5,000) by the National Geographic Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration.  His project, entitled “The Mito Architectural Tradition on the North Central Coast of Peru during the Late Archaic (3,000–1,800 B.C.),” will trace the origins of a particular form of small-scale architecture that, for the last 50 years, was believed to originate in the highlands of ancient Peru.  This prestigious grant will support Matthew’s Ph.D. dissertation fieldwork this summer.


Lu Yao, a first-year graduate student with the Committee on Evolutionary Biology (University of Chicago) has been awarded an East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes (EAPSI) grant by the National Science Foundation.  Lu has worked directly with A. Watson Armour III Curator Bob Martin and Regenstein Conservator JP Brown (both Anthropology) since she was a biology undergraduate at Northwestern University, conducting two research projects and also serving as a volunteer with the FMNH mummy-scanning project in July 2011.  EAPSI awards are granted under a flagship international fellowship program “for developing the next generation of globally engaged U.S. scientists and engineers knowledgeable about the Asian and Pacific regions.”  Applicants must be U.S. graduate students pursuing studies in fields supported by NSF and enrolled in a Master’s/Ph.D. program.  Lu will be attending an orientation meeting in Washington, D.C. on March 25–27 and will subsequently participate in the Summer Institutes program in China.  Shewill be working with host Dr. Wei Dong at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) in Beijing.  Half of her time will be spent at IVPP and the other half split between the Nanjing Provincial Museum and the Tuozidong archaeological site in Nanjing.  The aim of her research in China is to analyze cranial and dental morphology of early Pleistocene cercopithecoid monkey fossils from the Tuozidong site in China in order to gain new insights into (1) the adaptive radiation of the genus Macaca and (2) the evolution of Old World monkeys in general.

Research & Publications

Scientific Program Manager Audrey Aronowsky, Coral Reef Specialist Beth Sanzenbacher (both BioSynC) and Digital Learning Specialist Johanna Thompson (Education) attended the 2nd Global Conference for Experiential Learning in Virtual Worlds in Prague, Czech Republic from March 12–14.  Virtual worlds are revolutionizing learning and interest in using virtual worlds for education has increased dramatically in recent years.  This conference brought together educators, researchers, students, independent scholars, and facilitators from around the world to increase understanding of experiential learning in virtual worlds, to examine formal and informal learning in such worlds, and to critique both their essential characteristics and future possibilities.

                  Audrey, Beth and Johanna presented two papers during the conference, “Mixing Virtual, Real-World, & Digital Communication Elements to Create Successful Global Teams” and “Fusing Virtual, Digital, and Real World Experiences for Science Learning and Empowerment”.  Both of these papers will be published in the Conference ebook that is scheduled to be released in autumn of 2012.


MacArthur Field Biologist Steve Goodman (Zoology/Birds and Mammals) was co-author of a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , entitled “Spatial and temporal arrival patterns of Madagascar’s vertebrate fauna explained by distance, ocean currents, and ancestor type.”  Using a variety of data sets, the paper sets out to address the question of how, when, and from where Madagascar’s vertebrates arrived on the island.  This is a question that has perplexed biogeographers for many decades and is addressed using vertebrate arrival patterns implied by currently existing endemic taxa.  For each of 81 clades, the arrival date was compiled, as well as the source area, and ancestor type (obligate freshwater, terrestrial, facultative swimmer, or volant).  Probability of successful transoceanic dispersal is negatively correlated with distance traveled and influenced by ocean currents and ancestor type.  Obligate rafters show a decrease in probability of successful transoceanic dispersal from the Paleocene onward, reaching the lowest levels after the mid-Miocene.  This finding is consistent with a paleoceanographic model that predicts Early Cenozoic surface currents periodically conducive to rafting or swimming from Africa, followed by a reconfiguration to present-day flow 15–20 million years ago that significantly diminished the ability for transoceanic dispersal to Madagascar from the adjacent mainland.


Curator Gary Feinman (Anthropology) had his article “Political Hierarchies and Organizational Strategies in the Puelboan Southwest” (originally published in American Antiquity and co-authored with Kent G. Lightfoot and Steadman Upham) selected for inclusion in a revised version of the book entitled Readings in American Antiquity Archaeological Theory Selections from American Antiquity, 1962–2011.  The book features key articles, relevant to theoretical issues, which were published in the Society for American Archaeology’s flagship journal.


Lab Manager Kevin Feldheim and Research Assistant Kellie Murdoch (both Pritzker Molecular Lab), Research Associate Nobby Cordeiro (Zoology/Botany), and colleagues at two Tanzanian institutions published a note in early March describing molecular markers developed for a unique earwig species (Hemimerus vosseleri) that lives on the bodies of African Giant Pouched Rats (Cricetomys gambianus).  The title of the paper, published online in Conservation Genetics Resources, is “Isolation and development of 15 new, polymorphic microsatellite loci for an unusual, endemic African earwig (Hemimerus vosseleri).”  These markers will be used to study the population structure of Hemimerus vosseleri among different rat hosts, which will likely enhance our evolutionary and ecological perspectives of this unique and unusual rodent-insect partnership.  This study grew out of work when Nobby was a Boyd Postdoctoral Fellow with Associate Curators Margaret Thayer (Zoology/Insects) and Rick Ree (Botany), examining ecological relationships between members of different groups of organisms.

Fieldwork & Collections

Assistant Collection Manager Rebekah Baquiran and Assistant Curator Corrie Moreau (both Zoology/Insects), along with numerous staff, interns, and volunteers, have fully databased and given unique identifiers to over 10,000 individual specimens from the growing ant collections.  This includes the entire pinned ant collection and now all this data is publicly available on the Field Museum’s online database.  Beka and Corrie recently shared this entire specimen database with Antweb.org to make the Field Museum collections available to the wider scientific ant community. 


Associate Curator and Chair Ryan Williams (Anthropology) conducted fieldwork in Peru in early March in preparation for a two-month field program this summer.  The fieldwork encompasses an ambitious collections program over the next several years to document the raw material sources for ceramic production throughout the central Andes.  The collections include clays and tempers as well as ethnographic and experimental examples of traditional ceramics.  Ryan was able to make some preliminary collections and began experimental ceramic production work with a traditional ceramicist in the Azapa Valley of Northern Chile.

                  Ryan also met with Peruvian colleagues in preparation for the 2012 excavation season at Cerro Baul and surrounding sites.  Excavation foci will include Late Tiwanaku houses on the slopes of the mountain (directed by Charles Benton Postdoctoral Fellow Nicola Sharratt) as well as a temple complex on the summit of the great mesa.

Public Education & Media Coverage

On March 15, Adjunct Curator and Collections Manager Matt von Konrat (Botany) and Research Associate Matt Greif (Botany/ Wright College Instructor) embarked in a pilot program with students from Wright College.  The students participated in a Service to Science and Service Learning program with The Field Museum, receiving guidance on laboratory work where they actively engaged in data capture from digital images. The pilot program was regarded as a success, and will further develop this innovative partnership program with colleges and universities.  Critical in the Museum’s strategy is a novel network that will “broaden the human resource base available to tackle the taxonomic impediment” by having students actively engage in data capture from digitally rendered images. This approach bridges taxonomic endeavors and training with broader impact activities, and could serve to be a model in connecting biodiversity research and broadening the human resource.  Through these efforts, Matt von Konrat and Matt Greif envisageengaging over 200 students throughout the course of the project, many of whom will also gain exposure to the Museum’s world-class collections-based research institution.  Prior to the pilot study, the students visited the Botany Department and the Pritzker Molecular Lab to help connect collections-based research with the lab-based activities towards capturing data.  A brief outline of the NSF-funded project can be accessed here.


Assistant Curator Ken Angielczyk (Geology) was quoted in an article on “hidden treasures” at Chicago museums that appeared in the Arts and Entertainment section of the Chicago Tribune on March 16.  Ken discussed the skeleton of the ca. 275 million-year-old mammal relative Casea broilii that is on display in Evolving Planet.  The specimen is significant because it is one of the first terrestrial vertebrate herbivores, provides important insight into the early evolutionary history of mammals and their relatives, and is a holotype (or name-bearing specimen for its species).  The article can be found here.