Staff & Student News

Collections Manager Paul Mayer (Geology), in partnership with Patricia Burke and Peter Sheehan at the Milwaukee Public Museum, was awarded $146,000 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to convert the institutions’ 31,000 handwritten, paper-based catalog records of its Silurian fossil invertebrate collections to electronic form in the KE Emu Collections Management System. The cooperative effort will create a consolidated online database with location, stratigraphic, and systematic data as well as select photographs of the extensive Upper Midwest Silurian collections. Twenty data-entry technicians, preferably undergraduate students with paleontology interests from local universities, will be hired to work directly with the collections at each museum over the next three summer seasons.  The project will improve access to the collections and make information about them more accurate, engaging, and widely available to a diverse audience of research scientists, the general public, and students of all ages.

The Board of Examiners of the Faculty of Science at the University of Potsdam (Germany) has appointed MacArthur Curator Bruce Patterson (Zoology/Mammals) as a referee and a member of the Examination Committee for doctoral candidate Julia Schad in the field of Evolutionary Genetics.  The title of her dissertation is “Evolution of Major Histocompatibility Complex genes in New World bats and their functional importance in parasite resistance and life-history decisions in the lesser bulldog bat (Noctilio albiventris).”

Research Scientist Torsten Dikow (BioSynC) attended the 31st Willi Hennig Society Meeting in Riverside, CA June 23–27. He presented a talk entitled, “Phylogeny of Apioceridae and Mydidae (Insecta: Diptera) based on morphological characters of adult flies” in which he summarized his work on these two fly families during his current NSF REVSYS grant.

Research & Publications

Administrative Assistant Dilyana Ivanova (Anthropology/America for Bulgaria Foundation Archaeological Program), returned to Chicago from her annual visit to Bulgaria on June 27.  While in Bulgaria, she was able to work closely with Dr. Emil Nankov of the American Research Center in Sofia (ARCS) (see image left).  Dilyana, Dr. Nankov and outgoing American director Dr. Denver Graninger discussed and enhanced the structure of the 2013 ARCS archaeological and anthropological grants, which are funded by the America for Bulgaria Foundation (ABF).  ABF also supports Dilyana’s position at the Museum.  With Dr. Nankov, Ivanova visited several of the museums and archeological sites across the nation that received funding through the Site Preservation and Museum Enhancement Program (SPCME). These sites and museums include Nicopolos ad Istrum, Roman town (awarded 2010), the collection facility at the "Iskra" Museum of History (awarded 2011) and the archaeological site Deultum-Debelt  (awarded 2010).  On June 18, Dilyana and Dr. Nankov attended a press conference for the completion of the Rousse Regional Museum of History’s “Bishop’s Residence from the Late Middle Ages—Archaeology, Education and Tourism” project.  There, Dilyana discussed the growing role of The Field Museum as both a host institution for Bulgarian anthropological and archaeological researchers, as well as a venue for young North American researchers to pursue scholastic endeavors in Bulgaria. 

                  In Bulgaria, Dilyana was accompanied by Intern Morgan Iddings (Anthropology/University of Notre Dame), together they visited several towns in Northern Bulgaria, but spent the majority of their time in the regional capital of Rousse.  Morgan accompanied Dilyana on this trip to continue an ongoing research project she began in 2010 focusing on the relationship between individual attitudes towards the communist past and economic status.  Her research trip was successful, as she was able to conduct many extensive interviews, as well as distribute questionnaires and conduct participant observation research.

Zoology’s Division of Mammals was actively engaged in the 92nd Annual Meeting of the American Society of Mammalogists in Reno, Nevada.  MacArthur Curator Bruce Patterson attended three Board meetings, presented Brazilian scientist Rui Cerqueira (Univ. Fed. Rio de Janeiro) for election as Honorary Member, and delivered a multi-authored oral paper entitled “Genetic perspectives on Lion Conservation Units in Eastern and Southern Africa.”  Curator Larry Heaney presented a multi-authored paper entitled “Doubling diversity: a cautionary tale from Luzon Island, Philippines.” Resident Graduate Student Nate Upham (CEB, University of Chicago), winner of the A. Brazier Howell Honorarium, delivered a plenary address in the opening session entitled “Diversification of a major lineage of Neotropical rodents (Caviomorpha: Octodontoidea): Insights from DNA sequences and fossil mandibles” and served as teller in Membership meeting balloting.  Resident Graduate Student Chris Schell (CEB, University of Chicago), in attendance at his first scientific meeting, presented a poster entitled “Influence of parental effects on the development of temperament traits in coyote offspring (Canis latrans).”  In addition to these members of the FMNH mammal community, other meeting participants included research associates and/or former students Mohammad Abu Baker, Jake Esselstyn, Doug Kelt, John Ososky, Eric Rickart, Becca Rowe, Sergio Solari, Robert Timm, Paúl Velazco, and John Yunger.  Argentinian scientist María Encarnación (Pati) Pérez, who was a CONCET-funded post-doc hosted by Bruce in Fall 2011, was announced as the recipient of the ASM’s Oliver P. Pearson Fellowship for her studies of caviomorph rodents.  A good time was had by all.

Resident Graduate Student Ben Winger and Staff Scientist Jason Weckstein (both Zoology/Birds) co-authored a paper entitled “A new species of barbet (Capitonidae: Capito) from the southern Cerros del Sira, Ucayali, Peru" with colleagues Glenn Seeholzer and Michael Harvey (Lousiana State University Museum of Natural Science) and Daniel Cáceres (Museo de Historia Natural, Universidad Nacional de San Agustín, Peru) in the July issue of The Auk.  The paper describes a gaudy new barbet (a toucan relative) of the genus Capito, found on an outlying ridge of the eastern Andes of central Peru (See header image).  This species was discovered in 2008 by Ben, Harvey, Seeholzer and Cáceres, shortly after they graduated from college, on an expedition principally supported by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and a National Geographic Society Young Explorer’s Grant (read more about the 2008 expedition in this Living Bird article).  The new species’ common name is the Sira Barbet and its scientific name, Capito fitzpatricki, honors the outstanding ornithological accomplishments of John Fitzpatrick (formerly Curator of Birds and Chair of Zoology at The Field Museum, now Director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology).  A pdf of the paper can be downloaded here.

On July 18 and 19, Robert A. Pritzker Assistant Curator for Meteoritics and Polar Studies Philipp Heck (Geology) attended the review meeting of the Electron Microscopy Center at Argonne National Laboratory held by the US Department of Energy (DOE).  Philipp is a user of the high-resolution electron microscopes at Argonne and a member of the Executive Users Committee.  He met with DOE reviewers and presented a poster on his analyses of extraterrestrial materials.

On June 16, Curator Rüdiger Bieler and Associate Curator Janet Voight (Zoology/Invertebrates) traveled to Cherry Hill, NJ to attend the Council Meeting of the American Malacological Society (AMS) prior to the opening of the Society’s annual meeting that evening.  Both had been invited to give presentations in a symposium on the “Magnitude of molluscan diversity—the known and the unknown” chaired by European colleagues Philippe Bouchet and Ira Richling.  Janet spoke on molluscan diversity at hydrothermal vents and comparable habitats, while Rüdiger focused on underestimated regional diversity based on his work in the Florida Keys.  The event was a joint meeting with the Conchologists of America (COA), which featured a symposium of past COA research grant winners.  Rüdiger, who had been the first COA awardee, contrasted the research history of two families of marine gastropods, Architectonicidae and Vermetidae.  Janet chaired the student presentation judging committee.  Former PEET student and recent postdoc in Rüdiger’s BivAToL project Ilya Temkin presented on his work on pearl oysters, a project that has its roots in Rüdiger’s and Research Associate Paula Mikkelsen’s research for the Pearls exhibition some years earlier.  Research Associate Jan Johan terPoorten highlighted his work on the Cardiidae (cockles) as part of the NSF-supported Bivalves-in-Time-and-Space project.  Vanessa Gonzalez, Ph.D. student in the BivAToL project, presented a paper coauthored by Rüdiger on the phylogenetic analysis of protein-encoding genes in bivalves.  The highlight of the meeting, other than the above-mentioned talks, was an evening reception at the Academy of Natural Sciences, where the 200th anniversary of the institution was celebrated.

In July, MacArthur Field Biologist Steve Goodman (Zoology Birds/Mammals), published three separate articles.  The first appeared in Biotropica under the title, “Trophic niche differentiation and microhabitat utilization in a species-rich montane forest small mammal community in eastern Madagascar.”  The article was co-authored with Melanie Dammhahn of the German Primate Center and Voahangy Soarimalala of the Association Vahatra and the University of Fianarantsoa. Using stable isotope analysis, it was found that the 21 small mammal species occurring at the site have different diets, with dense, but regular, packing of species in the community. 

             The second paper lists Steve as a coauthor and was published in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, with Leigh Richards as the first author.  The paper, entitled “Cranial size and shape variation in Afrotropical Otomops (Mammalia: Chiroptera: Molossidae): testing species limits using a morphometric approach,” is part of a collaborative project with a number of African, European, and Malagasy mammalogists.  Leigh will soon be presenting her Ph.D. thesis at The University of Kwa-Zulu Natal and Steve is a committee member.

            The third paper appeared online in Nature and is entitled “Averting biodiversity collapse in tropical forest protected areas.”  Steve is one of over 200 authors, led by Bill Laurence from James Cook University in Queensland.  The abstract of the article begins as follows: “The rapid disruption of tropical forests probably imperils global biodiversity more than any other contemporary phenomenon. With deforestation advancing quickly, protected areas are increasingly becoming final refuges for threatened species and natural ecosystem processes. However, many protected areas in the tropics are themselves vulnerable to human encroachment and other environmental stresses.  As pressures mount, it is vital to know whether existing reserves can sustain their biodiversity.”

Fieldwork & Collections

Associate Curator Margaret Thayer (Zoology/Insects) led the “Staph team” (rove beetles, the family Staphylinidae) that participated by invitation in the July 20–21 Kankakee Sands BioBlitz in Newton County, IN.  The other Staph team members (all Zoology/Insects, see photo) were: Curator Emeritus Al Newton; Collection Manager Emeritus Dan Summers; Collection Assistant Jim Louderman; Volunteers Drew Carhart, Robin Delapena, and Chris Grinter; Ph.D. candidate Dave Clarke; and Margaret’s REU intern Anthony Deczynski and high school interns Christian Valderrama and Kathy Zhou.  The blitz, formally titled “2012 Kankakee Sands Efroymson Family Prairie Restorations, Conrad Station, Conrad Savanna Nature Preserve, and Beaver Lake Nature Preserve BioBlitz” was organized and run by Purdue University, The Nature Conservancy (Indiana office), the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and the Indiana Academy of Science, and involved over 100 participants.  Unlike most bioblitzes, this one was research-focused, aiming to survey insects and other organisms not previously studied on several contiguous Nature Conservancy and Indiana Department of Natural Resources restoration areas and nature preserves in the historic Grand Kankakee Marsh area.  The organizers were happy to have the “Staph team” collect and study other groups, too, which resulted in many records for moths (Chris Grinter) and leaf beetles (family Chrysomelidae, Anthony Deczynski) in particular.  The very preliminary results reported by the team at the concluding lunch meeting were: at least 37 species in more than 26 genera of Staphylinidae; over two dozen species of leaf beetles; and numerous species of moths (Lepidoptera).  Examination and further identification of the collections back in Chicago has already added several genera and species, with more to come.  A summary of the results will be published by the Indiana Academy of Science, with more detailed results on their web page later.  Similar scale bioblitzes (but also including public outreach components) are planned annually in Indiana or other parts of the upper Midwest, and the organizers hope to see further Field Museum involvement.

From June 7–July 5, Assistant Curator Ken Angielczyk (Geology) was part of a team of researchers from the US, France, South Africa, and Tanzania that collected fossils in Permian- and Triassic-age rocks in the Ruhuhu Basin of southwestern Tanzania.  This work is part of an on-going project by Ken and his collaborators that examines whether the effects of and recovery from the end-Permian mass extinction (the largest mass extinction in Earth history, 252 million years ago) in Tanzania and Zambia were similar to those recorded in the better-studied Karoo Basin of South Africa.  Among the team’s discoveries this year are new mammal-relatives from Middle Permian-age rocks, as well as many important specimens of archosaurus (relatives of crocodiles, birds, and dinosaurs) from the Triassic, including at least one new species and very complete specimens of other species that were previously known from very fragmentary remains.  The new archosaur finds are particularly important because they contribute to the emerging picture that the recovery from the extinction proceeded very differently in Tanzania and Zambia than in South Africa (with Tanzanian and Zambian faunas having a much greater diversity of archosaurs), and that the diversification of archosaurs actually occurred in the Early and Middle Triassic, as opposed to the Late Triassic as previously thought.  The team also collected a number of rock samples that they will use for geochemical analyses to aid in their reconstruction of the environments in which the animals were living.  Finally, Ken and his team participated in the I Dig Tanzania! digital learning program (see below), calling the students in the program from the field to discuss their research, what it's like to conduct fieldwork in Tanzania, and interesting animals and plants that they saw.

Museum Librarian Christine Giannoni was in Cape Town, South Africa June 12–14, as part of a delegation of Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) partners working to create a BHL Africa node.  For the past several years, the BHL has been building upon its global network of partners while fulfilling their mission to build an open access digital library of biodiversity literature for the world. During these meetings, over 25 librarians, scientists and information technology managers came together at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden to discuss the possibilities for developing a BHL node in Africa.  This organization and planning meeting was generously funded by the JRS Biodiversity Foundation and was a direct follow up to the initial JRS-funded meetings hosted by the Biodiversity Synthesis Center/Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago in November, 2011.

                  Christine was among the representatives from the BHL U.S./U.K. node who were present to provide an introduction to the BHL, report on the current global environment and to lead important breakout discussions regarding various administrative and technical aspects of the BHL.  As always, BHL staff actively promoted the project and generated the enthusiasm required to engage the participants.  Please view this excellent video created to rally the meeting participants, as well as this post from the BHL Blog for further details about the meeting agenda, themes and planned outcomes.

The Department of Technology has recently made public the Museum’s IPT installation.  This means that over 1.75 million of The Field Museum’s botanical and zoological specimens are now freely available to the scientific community and public as downloadable Darwin Core Archive files.  That’s 95% or our digital holdings in those two groups!  Read more here.

Associate Curator Margaret Thayer and Curator Emeritus Al Newton (both Zoology) returned to the field in Oregon and northern California in mid-May in their continuing pursuit of the elusive larva (immature stage) of an odd North American endemic rove beetle subfamily, Empelinae. They made many good collections of other rove beetles (family Staphylinidae) and related groups, but didn’t turn up any Empelus larvae.  However, in sorting the samples, Al quite unexpectedly discovered that they collected what appears to be a previously unknown second species of Empelus, making the subfamily no longer monotypic!  This is the third new rove beetle species they’ve found in recent off-season visits to previously collected sites (see C&R News for January 6, 2012), and they plan for another trip in September.


On the way back from May field work in Oregon and California (see above), Associate Curator Margaret Thayer and Curator Emeritus Al Newton (both Zoology/Insects) visited Life Research Associate David Kistner in Chico, California, to pick up another part of his incredible rove beetle collection donation (several thousand specimens), which consists mostly of species that live with ants or termites.  Dave’s research has focused for many decades on these myrmecophilous (ant-loving) and termitophilous (termite-loving) members of the family Staphylinidae and was developed through years of fieldwork on all continents since 1960, collecting specimens directly from host colonies.  His collection (counting what he has already donated to The Field Museum) is probably the largest and most comprehensive such collection in the world, constituting an unparalleled research resource and faunal documentation.  Starting in 1955, he and his colleagues have described 130 genera, 762 species, and 21 higher taxa of rove beetles, with Dave’s collections often the only material in existence.   Now approaching his 81st birthday, Dave is still active and is wrapping up a few more papers before turning over the remainder of his collection to the museum. 

This summer, during I Dig Tanzania!  16 teens, three Museum facilitators, two Museum interns, four students from the University of Dar es Salaam, and an international team of paleontologists went on the dig of a lifetime to piece together what happened during the end-Permian mass extinction over 250 million years ago!  From June 25–July 13, the teens used the creative and participatory 3D environment of Second Life to collaborate with and conduct activities that mimic those of scientists and local community groups; such as hunting for fossils, discussing and interpreting their discoveries, encountering native flora and fauna, and learning about local cultures and politics.  Assistant Curator Ken Angielczyk (Geology) and an international team of scientists taught from remote areas in real time using satellite terminals, digital cameras, and laptop computers. The scientists demonstrated paleontological field techniques and provided daily interviews about their research on the end-Permian mass extinction, ancient climates, and vertebrate fossil discoveries.

                  Virtual and digital experiences were supplemented by real-world activities like behind the scenes museum tours where students encountered real fossils and experienced local culture first hand. This cumulated with the teens presenting their knowledge and expertise on the end-Permian mass extinction by walking Museum scientists, staff, and parents through their virtual exhibits that they designed, created and built in Second Life.   For more information, photos and videos from I Dig Tanzania! please visit the I Dig Science blog.

Public Education & Media Coverage

On July 4, Robert A. Pritzker Assistant Curator for Meteoritics and Polar Studies Philipp Heck (Geology) hosted an event for the Astronomical League’s Annual Convention 2012 in the Museum’s Simpson Theater.  Philipp gave a presentation on meteorites and presolar stardust, and Mark Hammergren, astronomer at the Adler Planetarium, talked about asteroids.  The Astronomical League is composed of over 240 local amateur astronomical societies from all across the United States and is one of the largest amateur astronomical organizations in the world. More than 200 amateur astronomers attended the event. Photo by David J. Eicher.

On July 13, C&R Media Interns Jared Berent and Kate Webbink released a new The Field Revealed episode, “Leavitt's Lichens,” featuring Steve Leavitt, who studies one of the world's most common but overlooked symbiotic systems, lichens.  Using DNA analysis he explores the hidden world of lichen evolution.  Followed up on July, 20th with “The Naming of the Shrew,” where with Adjunct Curator Julian Kerbis Peterhans (Zoology/Mammals) and postdoc Terry Demos, Bernard “Risky” Agwanda untangle the stories of mammalian evolution in eastern Africa.   In the process, they may have found a new species of elephant shrew or “sengi!”

On July 16, curators Ken Angielczyk (Geology), Leo Smith (Zoology/Fishes), and Margaret Thayer (Zoology/Insects) joined FMNH President John McCarter in an interview on the radio program Extension 720 with Milt Rosenberg.  Ken, Leo, and Margaret discussed their research, places they conduct fieldwork, the importance of the Museum’s collections in scientific research, and general questions about paleontology and evolution.

In late June, Associate Curator Margaret Thayer (Zoology/Insects) was one of the guests at the recording of a WBEZ Worldview show entitled “EcoMyths: Why eating bugs is good for your health and the environment,” coordinated by Kate Sackman of Ecomyths Alliance,in connection with Brookfield Zoo’s summer Xtreme Bugs exhibit.  The hour-long session, broadcast on July 7, was a wide-ranging discussion of insects, their role in the environment, and some of their many interactions with humans.  The other entomologist guest was Andre Copeland, interpretive programs manager at Brookfield Zoo, who is in charge of the outreach aspects of the exhibit, including the edible samples available on weekends.  The show was one in a series partnered with Ecomyths Alliance exploring various aspects of the relations of people with nature and discussing and debunking myths.  The podcastof the Worldview show is available from WBEZ’s blog pageand the Ecomyths related article is here.