Staff & Student News

University of Chicago Resident Graduate Student Ben Winger (Zoology/Birds) returned on October 16 from seven weeks of fieldwork in northern Peru.  Ben (who is advised by Associate Curator John Bates) was collecting specimens (skins, skeletons, genetic samples and avian parasites) for his Ph.D. dissertation research on speciation in cloud forest Andean birds.  In addition to gathering valuable data for his thesis, Ben and his team collected three species that are new for the Museum's collections, and nearly 25 species that are new for the Museum's tissue collections.  This expedition is the third in a series of Bird Division expeditions to northern Peru since 2008, led by Ben and Resident Graduate Student Aaron Savit (also a Bates student). This most recent expedition visited high elevation sites (2500-3000 meters) in humid cloud forest in Amazonas Peru, near middle elevation sites that were visited by Ben, Aaron and Adjunct Curator Dave Willard in 2010.  Together, the 2010 and 2011 expeditions have led to a rich collection along an altitudinal transect of the Andes that was not represented in modern museum collections.  Accompanying in the field this year were four Peruvian biologists (Luis Cueto, Alessandra Quiñonez, Celeste Santos and Karen Verde) and one American biologist (Justin Hite).  Quiñonez, Santos and Verde are recent college graduates who work with the Center for Ornithology and Biodiversity in Lima, Peru.  Cueto, an ornithologist from Arequipa, Peru has been instrumental on the past three Field Museum Bird Division expeditions to Peru.  Hite is a field ornithologist who attended Cornell University with Ben for their undergraduate degrees.

Associate Curator Scott Lidgard (Geology) was the guest speaker at the Minnesota Center for the Philosophy of Science at the University of Minnesota on October 15.  His working manuscript, “Living fossils and protracted evolutionary stasis,” was the subject of the seminar discussion among philosophers and biologists.  The term “living fossil” is now applied to entities as diverse as viroids, ribozymes, proteins, genes, organelles, cell types, individual species, taxonomic groups containing few-to-many species, and even gene pools of human ethnic groups.  So is “living fossil” just a rhetorical device, or does it have useful meaning?  Scott argues that the term can be transformed into a well-structured concept, but first , the conditions that minimally determine boundaries for a domain in which living fossils can be analyzed need to be developed; scientists need to understand the historical context of its many meanings, then deconstruct the different parts of those meanings into chunks that can actually be studied and described.  These chunks break the problem into three important properties: durations of entities being compared, variation (or deviation) in the values or alternate states of traits belonging to these entities, and rates of change in these traits.  Scott reports that the discussions with philosophers were challenging, original, and intriguing, and that he left with great encouragement and few scars.

In mid October, Curator Rüdiger Bieler (Zoology/Invertebrates) hosted the 3rd Annual Meeting of the participants of the NSF-funded “Bivalves-in-Time-and Space” project at the Biodiversity Synthesis Center.  The BiTS project seeks to develop bivalves as a preeminent model for macroevolutionary studies.  The meeting focused on the phylogenetic analyses of morphological and molecular data in two large groups of clams (cockles/Cardiidae and venus clams/Veneridae) and brought collaborators from throughout the U.S. and The Netherlands to the Museum.

Postdoctoral Research Scientist Nate Smith (Geology) recently attended the IV Latin American Congress on Vertebrate Paleontology in San Juan Argentina from September 20–24.  Nate presented a poster “Anatomy and affinities of large archosauromorphs (Reptilia: Diapsida) from the lower Fremouw Formation (Early Triassic) of Antarctica” related to a paper published in the July issue of Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology that included co-authors Associate Curator and Chair Pete Makovicky (Geology), and former Geology undergrad interns Jake Crandall and Spencer Hellert (both Augustana College).  Nate was also a co-author on a presentation entitled “Archosauromorph bone histology reveals early evolution of elevated growth and metabolic rates.”  Before and following the meeting, Nate also spent time working in the collections of the Museo de Cienceias Naturales in San Juan, Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales in Buenos Aires, and the Museo de Ciencias Naturales de La Plata in La Plata.

Resident Graduate Student Erika Arnold (Zoology/Mammals & Insects) successfully defended her doctoral dissertation proposal Wednesday in Biological Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  Her dissertation will be “Explaining variation in tick populations on white-footed mice,” exploring the interactions of host and parasite in this common and medically important study system—white-footed mice are the reservoirs of Lyme disease in North American forests and become infected with this pathogen by ticks.  Members of Erika’s graduate committee include Research Associates Carl Dick (Western Kentucky University), Hank Howe (UIC), and MacArthur Curator Bruce Patterson (Zoology/Mammals).  Erika is now busily preparing this proposal for submission to the National Science Foundation by its November 10 deadline.

Meeker Postdoctoral Fellow Melanie Hopkins and Associate Curator Scott Lidgard (both Geology) presented recent work at the Geological Society of America annual meeting held in Minneapolis from October 9–12.  The talk, entitled “Does trait selection by paleontologists influence patterns of tempo and mode in the fossil record?” used an extensive database of morphological trends through geologic time from all major fossil groups to test for the relative frequencies of different types of species evolutionary patterns.  For example, the lack of change over time (evolutionary stasis) differs from a gradual directional trend.  They also showed how patterns of trait change intersect with the choice of characters used in classification.  Most traits that show stasis within species have been used in classification, while the majority of traits that show directional change or haphazard patterns (a “random walk”) within species have not been used in classification.  In addition, not all single traits within a species lineage show the same evolutionary pattern.  The more lineage traits analyzed, the more likely this conflict in patterns will be seen.  These results strongly argue for a more comprehensive description of trait change, including more extensive use of multivariate methods to analyze multiple traits simultaneously, before we can begin to understand the processes that underlie patterns of change within species over geologic time scales.  This is a critical part of understanding the theory of “punctuated equilibrium,” which is now taught almost universally in university courses on evolution.

C&R welcomes new BioSynC intern Charlotte Collins, from the Latin School of Chicago; Charlotte will be working with Postdoctoral Research Scientist Joshua Drew.  She’ll be using the EOL and The Field Museum’s Invertebrate Collections to look at character evolution in crayfish.  This internship is a direct result of The Field Museum hosting 12 high school students from the Latin School last March as part of their “Exploring Biodiversity using the Encyclopedia of Life” project.

Research & Publications

Zoology’s Division of Mammals has three long-term visitors from South America working in its superb Neotropical collections.  Dr. Maria Encarnacion (“Pati”) Pérez is here on a CONICET-funded postdoc to study both fossil and recent mammal specimens at The Field Museum.  These collections will enlarge her understanding of cavioid rodents, a major radiation of rodents that includes both the guinea pig and the world’s largest rodents.  Because she is investigating questions similar to those currently being investigated by University of Chicago grad student Nate Upham (CEB) and MacArthur Curator of Mammals Bruce Patterson (Zoology/Mammals), her visit is especially stimulating and productive.  Pati is joined in the collections by Daniela Russoni and Bárbara de Andrade Costa, both are doctoral students at the Universidade de Sao Paulo in Brazil.  Dani and Bárbara are students of Dr. Gabriel Marroig, working on morphological integration of the mammal skull in two explosively diverse Neotropical groups: Dani is exploring skull morphology in the New World leaf-nosed bats (Phyllostomidae) while Bárbara is studying cranial variation in the sigmodontine rodents (Neotropical rats and mice).  They will be in residence until early December.

Rowe Family Curator Olivier Rieppel (Geology) had two papers published in October.  The first paper, entitled “Revised paleoecology of placodonts—with a comment on ‘The shallow marine placodont Cyamodus of the central European Germanic Basin: its evolution, paleobiogeography and paleoecology’ by C.G. Diedrich (Historical Biology)” appeared in Historical Biology and is a rebuttal of a recent publication that treats placodonts as fossil equivalents to living sea cows, grazing on algae.  Placodonts are Triassic (around 220 Million years before present) marine reptiles with a crushing dentition suitable for feeding on hard-shelled invertebrate prey.  Such a feeding strategy is further consistent with skull anatomy and jaw adductor muscle reconstructions, as well as with reconstructions of the paleo-habitat of placodonts.  The idea that placodonts may have grazed on algae is consequently rejected.

Olivier’s second paper, “Adolf Naef (1883-1949), systematic morphology and phylogenetics,” appeared in the Journal for Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research and deals with the Swiss systematist and anatomist Adolf Naef, who worked primarily on cephalopods (squids and their relatives) from the Gulf of Naples.  Wikipedia places Adolf Naef at the beginning of cladistics, the modern method currently used to reconstruct evolutionary trees.  A deeper analysis of Adolf Naef’s writings reveals a much more complex mind, however, as Naef based his systematic morphology on the transcendental idealism developed by the 18th Century German philosopher Immanuel Kant. 

Serving as President of the Institute of Malacology (an organization that publishes Malacologia, the leading scientific journal in molluscan science), Curator Rüdiger Bieler (Zoology/Invertebrates) organized a meeting of the Institute’s board at the Zoological Museum of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in mid-October.  The journal now has complete on-line presence, with all volumes before 2007 openly accessible via the Biodiversity Heritage Library and recent issues available via BioOne service.  The Field Museum continues to host the Malacologia web site.

In October, Postdoctoral Research Scientist Nate Smith (Geology) published a paper entitled “Body mass and foraging ecology predict evolutionary patterns of skeletal pneumaticity in the diverse ‘waterbird’ clade” online in the journal Evolution.  Nate’s study evaluated patterns of skeletal pneumaticity (air-filled bone) across a diversity of birds to demonstrate that this complex morphological feature is correlated with both body mass and pursuit-diving foraging ecology. These relationships likely represent energy-saving adaptations that serve to: 1) reduce mass and the cost of aerial and terrestrial locomotion; and 2) reduce buoyancy and the cost of locomotion beneath the water surface.  These and other patterns demonstrate the promise of utilizing avian skeletal pneumaticity as a study system for exploring broader issues of morphological convergence, adaptation, and constraint.

Research Associate Danny Balete arrived from the Philippines on October 24 for six weeks of intensive work with Curator Larry Heaney (both Zoology/Mammals) on the evolution, ecology, and conservation of Philippine mammals.  Danny brought with him the voucher specimens from the three different mountain ranges on Luzon Island where he led the project’s field team during the 2011 field season.  The specimens will be cataloged into the research collection of the Division of Mammals, with skulls cleaned in the bug colony, and used for studies of anatomy and taxonomy.  Danny and Larry hope to complete and submit manuscripts that describe three previously unknown species of shrew-mice from the cloud forests of Luzon, and two or three reports on the detailed biodiversity surveys of key sites that they have conducted recently.  One primary objective is gathering the data necessary for preparing the first field guide to the mammals of Luzon, as a means of promoting conservation in an area with one of the world’s greatest densities of unique species of mammals.  The project, including field studies and Danny’s travels, is funded principally by a grant from the Negaunee Foundation.

Meeker Postdoctoral Fellow Melanie Hopkins (Geology) has two papers in the November issue of Evolution.  One is a paper co-authored with Sylvain Gerber at the University of Bath entitled “Mosaic heterochrony and evolutionary modularity: The trilobite genus Zacanthopsis as a case study.”  The study is an investigation of developmental morphological change during the evolution of an ancestral species of trilobite into a descendent species.  The second paper, “The influence of morphological variation and geographic range size on species longevity in late Cambrian trilobites,” is work from her doctoral dissertation.  Of particular importance is the finding that species that endure the longest in the fossil record tend to show less variation than shorter duration species. One possible explanation for this is that species with more variation tend to have greater rates of morphological evolution.  In addition, this project is among few to study extinction in the fossil record at the species-level.

Melanie also just returned from a week visiting the Ordovician trilobite collections at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.  Data collected from this trip as well as from collections at The Field Museum and elsewhere will be used to look at differences between morphological diversification in different environments of Laurentia (ancient North America).

In late October, MacArthur Field Biologist Steve Goodman (Zoology/Birds and Mammals) published three articles in the journal Malagasy Nature, which is published in Madagascar by the Association Vahatra.  The papers include “A case of the sympatric occurrence ofMicrogale brevicaudata and M. grandidieri (Afrosoricida, Tenrecidae) in the Beanka Forest, Maintirano,” “ Inventaire de chauves-souris dans la concession forestière de Kirindy CNFEREF, Morondava, Madagascar,” and “Bats of the Beanka Forest, a limestone karstic zone near Maintirano, central western Madagascar.”

Steve, with Marie Jeanne Raherilalao, also finished a book entitled Histoire naturelle des familles et sous-familles endémiques d’oiseaux de Madagascar.  The book will be the third published in 2011, edited by Marie Jeanne and Steve in the series Guides sur la diversité biologique de Madagascar.  It will be printed in Madagascar with distribution planned for early December.  An additional four volumes will be published in the series over the next two years.

Fieldwork & Collections

This fall, the Library acquired The genera of recent and fossil shellsfor the use of students, in conchology and geology by G.B. Sowerby.  This important work introduces a large number of new molluscan genera and species.  It is a difficult work to obtain completely, as it was issued in 42 parts over a period of about 14 years (1821–1834).  It was one of the key British works in this field of science that was missing from The Museum’s Library.  This acquisition was secured from Dick Petit, Research Associate in the Division of Invertebrates and collaborator with Curator Rüdiger Bieler (Zoology/Invertebrates).

The Universities of Aberdeen, Durham, Oxford and Cornell recently sent several scientists including archaeologists and zoologists to sample and study the collection of mammals at the Field Museum for one week in October, and sung the collection’s praises in the University of Aberdeen's newsletter (, with Professor Keith Dobney of the Archaeology Department at Aberdeen quoted as saying “These collections are a unique but sadly diminishing and under-used resource but they are incredibly important in our attempts to understand the natural world and the growing impact humans are having on it.  We are very lucky and privileged to have been allowed access to such important material.”  The FMNH staff scientists in the Division of Mammals facilitated the visit.

Postdoctoral Research Scientist Torsten Dikow (BioSynC) visited the Illinois Natural History Survey(INHS) in Urbana-Champaign, IL on October 26 to pick up a large number of mydas-fly specimens collected all over the world by fly researcher Dr. Mike Irwin.  Interesting specimens from this collection include new species of mydas flies from India and Argentina as well as material of rare genera from Chile, Madagascar, and Namibia.  Torsten also spent a few hours in the INHS collection itself and among unsorted robber flies discovered three specimens of the genus Carebaricus from Argentina. Carebaricus  is most closely related to robber flies from Australia and was previously known only from five specimens all deposited in the Museu de Zoologia (MZUSP) in São Paulo, Brazil.  These new specimens from La Rioja province in north-western Argentina might represent a yet undescribed species.

Public Education & Media Coverage

The Department of Anthropology hosted a “Night of the Bulgarian Archaeology” at The Field Museum on October 21.  The event took place at Montgomery Lecture Hall and in the West Lobby. The evening was a celebration of Bulgarian history and culture that centered on the Bulgarian Archaeological Program, which the Department of Anthropology has developed in collaboration with the American Research Center in Sofia, Bulgaria, over the past two years.  The program is generously supported by the America for Bulgaria Foundation (ABF).  Representatives attended the event from ABF, the Anthropology Department, and the Bulgarian community; among the guests were representatives from several different Balkan countries, including Greece, Bosnia and Serbia.

Associate Curator and Director of the Program William Parkinson formally opened the lecture, briefly presenting the history of this archaeological grant program in Bulgaria.  The first lecturer was Dr. Todor Petev, administrative director of the U.S. office of the American Research Center in Sofia (ARCS) and a special guest.  He shared information about the center and its role in building cooperation between American and Bulgarian scholars, as well as about the promotion and development of Bulgarian archaeological and cultural heritage.  ABF Archaeological Program Assistant Dilyana Ivanova introduced the structure and results of the ABF Archaeological Program at The Field Museum and the grant opportunities that the program provides.  Dilyana talked more in detail about the ten ABF-funded proposals in Bulgaria from 2010 and 2011.  The final speaker, Dr. Tsenka Tsanova is a native Bulgarian and the first ABF postdoctoral fellow at the museum.  She discussed the research that she is going to complete during her tenure as a fellow at the Museum.
The lecture was followed by a reception in the West Lobby of the museum that was accompanied by Bulgarian music performed by the Balkan Rhythm Band “Verea” and by an exhibition of artwork by the Chicago-based Bulgarian artist Kina Bagovska.

On October 20, MacArthur Curator Jonathan Haas (Anthropology) appeared on the NPR program All Things Considered.  The segment, What Slew An Ancient Mastodon? DNA Tells Tale, highlighted anew report in Science on a mastodon found in Washington State.   The bones from the mastodon showed cut marks from human tools and one vertebra punctured by a bone spear point.  The remains were radiocarbon dated at 13,800 years ago, several hundred years prior to the Clovis culture that is sometimes referred to as the first occupants of the Americas.  Jonathan discussed the significance of the discovery in terms of clarifying the picture of when humans may have arrived in the New World.