The 200-plus publications by Field Museum scientists provide a snapshot of the rich diversity and excitement of research at the Museum last year. Papers in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences included a comprehensive phylogenetic visualization tool linking 2.3 million species by Rick Ree and a multi-institution team, a study of social processes during the Qin and Han Dynasties that shaped today’s China by Gary Feinman and colleagues, and the largest comparative analysis to date of the fate of species lineages through time as documented in the fossil record, co-authored by Scott Lidgard.
Other high-profile efforts included a ground-breaking study by Shannon Hackett, John Bates, and Steve Goodman documenting a rare evolutionary pathway in which three separate species of Madagascar songbirds merged together into one, an analysis of 36-million-year-old asteroid fragments and their connection to asteroid impacts and ice ages by Philipp Heck and an international team, and Kevin Feldheim and colleagues’ account of parthenogenesis in Florida sawfish—the first report of “virgin birth” in a wild population of vertebrates.
Our scientists shared their knowledge with the public during the year, connecting directly with thousands of visitors through show-and-tell events in the Museum’s halls, hundreds of students via Virtual Visits beamed into Chicago classrooms, and adult audiences through programs like Cinema Science and Evolution @ Revolution, a brewery-based evolution discussion forum.
he IRC continues to foster high-caliber science by facilitating a productive environment for collaboration, enlivened by a dynamic group of postdoctoral researchers and visiting scientists. Postdocs participated in multi-curator, cross-disciplinary programs that included studies of fossil and modern rodents, and explorations of the complexities of species delimitation. There were also new collaborations using molecular-based techniques to probe the biology and evolution of organisms as diverse as lichens, birds and ants. These efforts are pioneering new methods, resolving evolutionary puzzles, and refining species boundaries. One of the first major results of these collaborations is a forthcoming article in Scientific Reports on the genomics of species delimitation.
Through the Bass Fellows program three visiting scholars collaborated with Field Museum researchers on the biogeography and evolution of birds and mammals in Asia, genetic drift in plants using high-throughput DNA sequencing, and the application of network approaches to ecological studies.
In mid-May the IRC hosted a committee composed of six preeminent scientists to help develop standards of excellence for Field Museum research and define the vision for the next generation of Field Museum researchers. The committee developed a strong set of recommendations to shape a distinguished research agenda inspired by our collections. The newly formed Curatorial Senate developed a vision that leverages our collection strengths, current research, and cross-center collaborations. This vision is highlighted by new analytical approaches and major interdisciplinary themes that will guide the Museum’s strategic investment in research over the next decade: Tropical Diversity, Global Heritage and Resilience, and Deep Time and Earth History.