Staff & Student News

Postdoctoral Research Scientist Nate Smith (Geology) was awarded an NSF grant ($110,781 over two years) as part of his collaborative proposal “Revisionary Systematics of Fossil and Living Caribbean Faviid and Mussid Reef Corals (Cnidaria, Anthozoa, Scleractinia)” with Nancy Budd (who received $270,539 over two years) at the University of Iowa.  Assistant Curator and Chair Pete Makovicky (Geology) was a co-PI on the proposal.  This project will produce a taxonomic monograph examining the evolution and divergence of a group of Caribbean reef corals from related Mediterranean and Indo-Pacific species beginning ~55 million years ago and will analyze 79 living and ~380 fossil species.  Molecular and morphological datasets will be integrated for the first time, and include novel microscopic features.  The evolutionary history of Caribbean reefs will be reconstructed, and the effects of past biogeographic events on present-day biodiversity will be assessed. 

Coral reefs are the most diverse marine ecosystem and are increasingly threatened by climate change, ocean acidification, overfishing, and anthropogenic disturbance.  Reefs are constructed by 18 families and more than 800 species of scleractinian coral.  Molecular analyses disagree with traditional classification, implying that 13 of 18 families are not natural groups and revealing significant gaps in knowledge of their evolution.  This project will fill these gaps and influence conservation priorities that are based on species numbers without consideration of evolutionary distinctiveness.  A Postdoctoral scholar, graduate student, and four undergraduates will be trained in coral systematics. Results will be publically disseminated via an online taxonomic database, NMITA and the Encyclopedia of Life.

The Botany Department welcomes a new postdoctoral scholar, Wen-Bin Yu from the Kunming Institute of Botany in Yunnan, China.  Wen-Bin will work for one year with Associate Curator Rick Ree on his recently funded NSF grant to study the biogeography and evolution of Pedicularis (louseworts).  Wen-Bin is a recent PhD graduate who did his dissertation on the systematics of Pedicularis, so he is well qualified for the job.

On October 28, Robert A. Pritzker Assistant Curator of Meteoritics and Polar Studies Philipp Heck (Geology) gave a seminar talk at the UCLA Department of Earth and Space Sciences about his NASA-funded project on atom probe tomography of nanodiamonds from meteorites.  Phil’s talk was followed by two workshops in Hawaii—the bi-annual Geochemistry Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry Workshop, and the Workshop on Formation of the First Solids in the Solar System—where Philipp presented the latest results from his project to an international audience of planetary scientists. Philipp and his team of collaborators have been developing atom probe tomography, a novel analytical technique, to analyze nanodiamonds atom by atom since 2009.  The main objective of this project is to answer the two-decade-old question of the presolar vs. solar system origin of the relatively abundant meteoritic nanodiamonds.  Pristine meteorites from The Field Museum’s collection are the sources of the diamonds used in Philipp’s project.

Regenstein Postdoctoral Fellow Mark Golitko, Boone Postdoctoral Fellow Lisa Niziolek, and Charles Benton Postdoctoral Fellow Nicola Sharratt (all Anthropology) along with Resident Graduate Students Matthew Piscitelli and Rebecca Seifried (University of Illinois at Chicago) attended the 110th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association entitled “Traces, Tidemarks and Legacies” in Montreal, Canada from November 16–20.  Mark discussed warfare during the European Neolithic (“Violent Conflict in the Early Neolithic Linearbandkeramik (LBK) Culture of Central Europe”).  Lisa and Matt reported on the results of the compositional analysis—undertaken at the museum's Elemental Analysis Facility—of decorated earthenware from the late prehistoric/early historic Philippines (“Ceramic Production Patterns and Decorated Earthenware in the Prehispanic Philippines”).  Becky presented a poster on settlement patterns during the historic period of the Mediterranean (“Run for the Hills!  Settlement Patterns and Conflict on the Mani Peninsula, Greece”).  Every year, thousands of cultural, linguistic, physical, and archaeological anthropologists from around the world meet at the AAAs to discuss current research and issues in the discipline.

Research Scientist Jason Weckstein and Resident Graduate Student Aaron Savit (both Zoology/Birds) attended the Neotropical Ornithogical Congress in Cuzco, Peru from November 8–14.  The Congress had over 700 participants and was twice as large as this year’s American Ornithological Union meeting.  Jason presented a multi-authored paper on the phylogeography of lice from tinamous, an endemic Neotropical bird family.  Co-authors included Thomas Valqui (Centro de Ornitologia y Biodiversidad, Peru) and former resident student Holly Lutz (Zoology/Birds).  Aaron presented a talk on the affects of habitat on the diversification of Tangara tanagers, a highly diverse and beautiful group of Neotropical birds.

In late November, MacArthur Field Biologist Steve Goodman (Zoology/Birds and Mammals) spent several days on La Réunion, where he gave a talk and attended several meetings.  Steve gave a plenary presentation at a meeting at the l’Université de la Réunion associated with infectious diseases in the southwest Indian Ocean region.  The presentation was about the endemic and introduced mammal fauna of the region.  Steve also attended two council meetings at a partner institution “Centre de Recherche et de Veille sur les maladies émergentes dans l'Océan Indien” associated with: 1) “Faune sauvage” assessing the role of wild animals of the region as reservoirs and possible vectors of a variety of different potential emerging diseases, and 2) “Run Emerge” associated with post-doctoral research within the region, largely associated with disease research.  Additionally, two students that Steve has worked closely with presented their DEA diplomas (largely equivalent to a Masters) at l’Université d’Antananarivo.  Haridas Zafindranoro presented “Etude comparative des communautés des faunes micromammifères des deux blocs forestiers de Beanka dans la région de Melaky,” and Fabienne Rakotondramanana presented “Etudes bio-ecologiques et morphologique des chauves-souris de Kirindy CNFEREF, Morondava.”  Steve leaves in early December for a few weeks of fieldwork in the southwest corner of Madagascar, in a poorly known area of spiny bush.

Curator Emeritus Michael Dillon (Botany) was an invited lecturer at the joint meeting of the Chilean Societies of Botany, Evolution, Ecology, and Genetics, held at the Hotel Patagónica in Puerto Varas, from November 6–10.  Michael’s hour-long talk (delivered in Spanish) was entitled “Nolana (Solanaceae): sistemática, biogeografía y evolución.”  More than 600 students, researchers, and educators attend these annual meetings.

Research & Publications

Postdoctoral Research Scientist Nate Smith, Associate Curator and Chair Pete Makovicky, and Assistant Curator Ken Angielczyk (all Geology), recently had their paper, “Best practices for justifying fossil calibrations” published online in the journal Systematic Biology.  This paper represents a large collaborative effort by vertebrate paleontologists to present a series of criteria for rigorously identifying and implementing fossil calibration points for molecular analyses of divergence times. The paper stemmed from a workshop (sponsored in part by the Encyclopedia of Life and former FMNH postdoc Jim Parham) at the 2009 Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meetings in Bristol, UK, and is part of on ongoing effort by researchers to standardize the use of fossil calibrations.

Resident Graduate Student Dave Clarke (Zoology/Insects) published a paper entitled “Testing the phylogenetic utility of morphological character systems, with a revision of Creophilus Leach (Coleoptera: Staphylinidae)” in the November issue of the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. The paper explores the relative usefulness of various kinds of morphological data (genitalia, sensory structures, exoskeletal features) for resolving the phylogeny of a small group of carrion- and beach-dwelling rove beetles.  It also presents a modern revision of the taxonomy of Creophilus and describes two new species.  One of these, C. galapagensis, is endemic to the Galapagos Islands and appears to have been first collected by Charles Darwin himself during the famous Voyage of the Beagle expedition.  The genus Creophilus is distributed nearly worldwide (but notably absent from sub-Saharan Africa) andincludes species almost entirely restricted to carrion (dead animals)—a microhabitat association that has promoted the study of these beetles in a forensic context.  The revision will therefore further facilitate the use of these beetles in forensic entomology by aiding identification of closely related species and presenting all known distributional and ecological information.  The paper can be accessed here.

Fieldwork & Collections

The Library is pleased to report that 20 titles related to African biodiversity have been digitized for inclusion in the Biodiversity Heritage Library.  This was made possible by the generous support of the Museum’s Africa Council.  The BHL is a consortium of 12 natural history and botanical garden libraries that work together to make biodiversity literature available to the widest possible audience via digitization of print collections.  One of the digitized titles originally published in 1882, Faune et flore des pays Çomalis (Afrique orientale), contains descriptions of plant and animals species from East Africa.  You can view more titles digitized from The Field Museum Library collections here.  The Library is preparing a second shipment of materials for digitization at the Internet Archive scanning center in Ft. Wayne, Indiana in the next several weeks.

After presenting at the Chilean Societies meetings (see above), Curator Emeritus Michael Dillon (Botany) drove south to reach Isla Chiloé where he collected Nolana paradoxa on the western coast of the island.  Isla Chiloé marks the southern terminus for the genus Nolana and completes Mike’s quest to visit all localities where this handsome genus of 90 species occurs between Isla Galapágos (0°) and this location near Cucao (42°38’S).  The island, which measures 9000 km² (5592 mi²) or slightly larger than the state of Connecticut, is only accessible via transport ferries, which cross the four-mile distance to the mainland (see header image).

Public Education & Media Coverage

This week The Field Revealed brings you a new video entitled “The X-Ray Fluorescence Lab” please enjoy this window into the behind-the-scenes work in C&R and share with your friends and family!

In late November the Departments of Technology and Collections and Research launched the Museum's first ever iOS App, Specimania.  If you've ever wondered what treasures lie hidden within The Field Museum’s vaults and are curious about the creatures that lurk within its halls, unlock the Museum’s secrets via a new, downloadable iPhone and iPad app that contains collectible cards featuring unbelievable artifacts, animals, fossils, plants and more from the institution’s vast collections.  In less than two weeks Specimania has already been downloaded nearly 600 times!


On November 23, the Philippine ambassador to the United States, Mr. Jose L. Cuisia, Jr., toured part of the Museum’s Zoology and Anthropology collections.  Accompanying Ambassador Cuisia was Madame Vicky Cuisia, Consul General Leo M. Herrera-Lim of Chicago’s Philippine Consulate, and Mrs. Fides Herrera-Lim.  Curator Larry Heaney (Zoology/Mammals) began the tour with an explanation of how the Philippines is home to one of the world’s greatest concentrations of unique (endemic) biodiversity, as a result of the unique geological and climatic history of the Philippines.  The Philippine visitors were also surprised to learn that our research programs are currently discovering from three to five previously unknown mammal species each year in the Philippine archipelago; certainly among the highest rates of discovery globally.  Larry illustrated these points with some of the spectacular mammal specimens collected during a collaborative project at the end of WW II by the Field Museum, Philippine National Museum, and the US Naval Medical Research Unit.  The visit continued with Collections Assistant Ryan Gross (Anthropology) showing Ambassador Cuisia and guests the Anthropology department’s Philippine collection.  As part of It’s new Regenstein Pacific Outreach Project (RPOP), the department is currently partnering with Chicago’s Filipino-American community in the curation of this world-famous collection of over 10,000 objects.  The Philippine visitors were impressed to see the array of musical instruments, personal adornments, tapestries, weapons, and ceramics found in the collection, most of which were amassed during field expeditions between 1907 and 1910.  The guests asked a great many probing questions, and left with a greater understanding of the Museum’s Zoology and Anthropology research programs and the Philippine collections.  Field Museum researchers look forward to their next visit!