Staff & Student News
Resident Graduate Student Nate Upham (University of Chicago and Zoology/Mammals) was awarded the A. Brazier Howell Honorarium from the American Society of Mammalogists to support his travel to this year’s meeting and presentation at the opening plenary session, to be held at the Peppermill Resort Spa and Casino in Reno, Nevada from June 22–26. Nate will give one of three opening talks to start the meeting, which typically attracts about 500 participants, on his dissertation research “Diversification and biogeography of a major lineage of Neotropical rodents (Caviomorpha: Octodontoidea).” Figure to the left: Density map of geographic ranges for the 193 species in Octodontoidea, including diverse spiny rat and tree rat species that inhabit Amazonia and the Atlantic Forest (dark green areas).
Graduate Research Assistants Colin LeJeune and Matthew Piscitelli (both Anthropology) were awarded Anthropology Alliance Field Internships for summer fieldwork in 2012. With the guidance and support of Curator Chapurukha Kusimba (Anthropology), Colin will use archaeological data to re-evaluate colonially biased interpretations of East Africa’s social and cultural history. More specifically, Colin will conduct archaeological survey and excavation at the ancient Swahili cultural site of Manda on Manda Island in Kenya’s Lamu district from June–August. This work is part of Colin’s long-term research agenda to investigate the impact that social complexity, inequality, urbanism and preindustrial trade had on ethnic identity formation, expression and salience in the East African past. Matthew is working with MacArthur Curator Jonathan Haas (Anthropology) to investigate the possibility that the standardization of ritual practices served as a base of authority for early leaders in ancient Peru. Matthew will use micromorphology, pollen analysis, and multi-elemental analysis on a series of superimposed temple structures to explore changes in ritual behavior over time. This work will impact models concerning emergent leadership in the first complex societies in ancient South America.
From March 5–24, paleoentomology student Chenyang Cai (Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology, Chinese Academy of Sciences) visited the Division of Insects, bringing with him another batch of exciting Mid-Jurassic (Daehugou Biota, 165 million years old) and Early Cretaceous (Jehol Biota, 125 million years old) fossils of Staphylinidae (rove beetles) and Silphidae (carrion beetles) from northeastern China. His visit last year (with Scholarship Committee support) resulted in the first Collections & Research video, “Fossil Carrion Feeders” in C&R Media Producer Federico Pardo’s The Field Revealed. Since last year, Chenyang has switched from working on his master's degree to a PhD, and is making good progress. Associate Curator Margaret Thayer and Curator Emeritus Alfred Newton (both Zoology/Insects) worked with Chenyang during his visit to finish their second and third joint papers describing new Mid-Jurassic rove beetle fossils, one first fossil of a subfamily currently found only in the Southern Hemisphere, and the other seeming to be intermediate between (and perhaps the ancestor of) two current subfamilies. Chenyang is continuing his work with the carrion beetles, and has many exciting discoveries he will be reporting in the coming year.
Research & Publications
A paper by Assistant Curator Ken Angielczyk (Geology) and Bruce Rubidge (University of the Witwatersrand) entitled “Skeletal morphology, phylogenetic relationships, and stratigraphic range of Eosimops newtoni Broom, 1921, a pylaecephalid dicynodont (Therapsida, Anomodontia) from the Middle Permian of South Africa” appeared online in Journal of Systematic Palaeontology on March 27. The paper provides a detailed redescription of E. newtoni, a dicynodont species that has been almost entirely overlooked since it was named over 90 years ago, based on several new specimens, including a nearly complete skeleton. This work is part of a larger project Bruce and Ken have been doing that seeks to revise the taxonomy and stratigraphic ranges of the previously poorly-known Middle Permian dicynodonts from South Africa. The South African fossil record from this time is one of the best in the world, and has the potential to provide key insights into questions such as whether the Middle Permian mass extinction (~260 Mya) observed in the marine fossil record also affected terrestrial communities. The paper also features a number of illustrations by Lori Grove.
Regenstein Curator John Terrell and Regenstein Postdoctoral Research Scientist Mark Golitko (both Anthropology) were at Leiden University in the Netherlands during the middle of March as invited contributors to “Inland Seas in a Global Perspective: An International Conference on the Archaeology, History and Heritage Management of Coastal Landscapes” from March 16–17. Afterwards, John lectured on human evolution at the university before traveling on to Sweden as an invited lecturer at Lund University. There he gave two public talks. The first, entitled “Why Use Social Network Analysis to Study Human History and Cultural Diversity?” was presented at the Department of Geography. The second, entitled “The Friendship Hypothesis: Evolutionary and anthropological perspectives on our human response to culturally diverse and inequitable social fields,” was delivered at the Pufendorf Institute for Advanced Studies, which serves the University as a creative environment for exploring current and emerging scientific and social issues.
Associate Curator and Chair Ryan Williams (Anthropology) presented an invited lecture at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro entitled “Building Tiwanaku” on March 22. His lecture illustrated the incorporation of stone captured from distant mountains into the monuments of the Tiwanaku capital as the state expanded throughout the altiplano. Using the FM Elemental Analysis Facility’s x-ray fluorescence spectrometer, Ryan traced individual building stones from the millennium-old site to individual quarries in the Titicaca Basin, and thus charts Tiwanaku’s expansion as it incorporated stone from distinct regions into the monuments of its capital.
From March 18–23, Robert A. Pritzker Assistant Curator of Meteoritics and Polar Studies Philipp Heck and Collections Manager James Holstein (both Geology) attended the 43rd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) near Houston, Texas. Philipp gave a talk about his latest analysis of sulfur-rich comet dust that was captured by NASA’s Stardust Mission and returned to Earth. He also presented a poster on his project exploring the origin of meteoritic nanodiamonds from the Field Museum’s Allende meteorite. Philipp is co-author on six additional presentations, including the discovery of more oxygen-rich presolar grains in comet dust and on the latest progress in the search and analysis of the first modern interstellar dust that was brought back to Earth. In addition to the scientific presentations at LPSC, Philipp and Jim participated in a very informative international meeting of curators, to exchange information and discuss common practices and challenges that meteorite curators face. Philipp was on the program committee of the LPSC and helped review the submissions and organize the scientific sessions. This year’s LPSC had a record number of more than 1,700 submitted abstracts.
Assistant Curator Corrie Moreau (Zoology/Insects) gave two invited seminars this past week. Corrie gave a departmental seminar at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, where she also served as an external oral examiner for their undergraduate biology seniors. She then flew to Central Florida University in Orlando to give an invited seminar for the Department of Biology. These seminars focused on Corrie’s research on the ant tree of life and their helpful gut bacteria.
MacArthur Field Biologist Steve Goodman (Zoology/Birds and Mammals) was the first author of a paper published in Zootaxa entitled “The genus Neoromicia (Family Vespertilionidae) in Madagascar, with the description of a new species.” Using molecular genetics, male sexual organ morphology (baculum), and cranio-dental characters, the authors describe a new species of the genus Neoromicia from Madagascar, N. robertsi sp. nov. It is presumed to be endemic to the island and is known from three specimens taken in montane areas of the eastern central region. The new species shows 1.0% and 2.8% divergence in the 12S rRNA and 16S rRNA genes, respectively, from its nearest congener and is notably larger in craniodental measurements than other members of the genus occurring on Madagascar. This new species was previously identified as N. melckorum, which is considered a junior synonym of southern African N. capensis. Neoromicia malagasyensis, an endemic to central western Madagascar, is the sister species to N. robertsi and the two are best considered vicariant species. Specimens provisionally assigned to N. malagasyensis, but notably smaller in baculum and skull size, and with different baculum morphology, probably represent another unknown species from the island. Given the apparent rarity of N. robertsi compared with other Malagasy members of this genus living in the eastern portion of Madagascar, it is considered a taxon of conservation concern.
Fieldwork & Collections
Patterns of biological diversity on many oceanic islands are strongly influenced by the volcanic eruptions that build the islands, but often little is known about the direct impact of those eruptions. In mid-March, Research Associate, Danny Balete (Zoology) completed the first survey of the mammals on Mt. Pinatubo on Luzon Island, Philippines, which dramatically erupted 21 years ago, as part of a long-term project with Curator Larry Heaney (Zoology/Mammals). Surprisingly, native mammals were abundant on the mountain from its base to the rim of the caldera, in spite of sparse vegetation that is regenerating on the volcanic debris; at least seven species of bats and five native small mammals were present. Wild pigs were also quite common. The most abundant mammal was a species of mouse (Apomys sacobianus) that had been known previously from a single specimen captured in 1956, and feared to be extinct as a result of the eruption. Overall, the results indicate that some island mammals are tolerant of natural habitat disturbance, and indeed may have evolved in the context of volcanic eruptions as “frequent” occurrences (on a geological time scale).