Staff & Student News

In early-December, Adjunct Curator and Collections Manager Matt von Konrat and Research Associate Matt Grief (both Botany) were awarded a continuing grant of $310,309 over three years.  The National Science Foundation-funded project will begin on April 1, 2012.  The award was made under the auspices of the new NSF program Advancing Revisionary Taxonomy and Systematics (ARTS) within the Division of Environmental Biology.  The project is entitled “Collaborative Research: A model systematic treatment of a hyper-diverse lineage descended from early land plants (Frullania, Frullaniaceae, Marchantiophyta).” Blanka and Jon Shaw of Duke University, the partnering instituion will collaborate on the project.  The research team will conduct a modern and novel taxonomic treatment of a hyper-diverse group of early land plants in the liverwort genus Frullania.  Liverworts (Marchantiophyta) are pivotal in the understanding of early land plant evolution and exist as important components of the vegetation in many regions of the world.  The project represents an unprecedented investigation of this scale on a leafy liverwort genus, so-called because of the leafy plant structure.  Unique to the project is the development of a strong network of institutions, participating in Service to Science and Service Learning programs bridging science and training.  The project has a strong outreach strategy including pod and video casts, contributing to the Plants of the World Educator Guide, and participation in the Educator Open House, including over 300 Chicago-area educators.  The scientists involved in this research will also provide a liverwort identification field course.  The full abstract can be accessed here.  This makes the third NSF grant to Matt this year!

From December 5–9, Robert A. Pritzker Assistant Curator of Meteoritics and Polar Studies Philipp Heck (Geology) co-organized and attended a symposium on laboratory analysis of extraterrestrial dust returned to Earth by space missions held at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco, CA.  The AGU Fall Meeting is the largest Earth and Planetary Science conference and featured about 18,000 presentations this year!  Intern Asna Ansari (Geology) and Philipp Heck presented the latest results of the preliminary examination of interstellar dust returned by NASA’s Stardust Mission.  Graduate student Reto Trappitsch (University of Chicago) presented a new method of volume determination of small particles he developed with his advisors Andrew Davis (Geology) and Philipp.  Reto used the Museum’s Scanning Electron Microscope to image minerals from the Physical Geology Collection at different angles and calculated volumes by integrating fitted geometric models.  Andrew Davis presented the latest on the unique state-of-the-art resonance ionization mass spectrometer his group is building at the University of Chicago.  At the meeting, Research Associate and former Field Museum postdoctoral research scientist, Nicolas Dauphas (Geology) received the highest honor of the AGU, the James B. Macelwane Medal, for his outstanding and significant contributions to geo- and cosmochemistry as a scientist younger than 36 years old.  Nicolas also gave a presentation about his recent study suggesting Mars is rather a planetary embryo than a true planet.

Bryologist Dr. Itambo Malombe is visiting the Botany Department for three weeks in December, where he will be working with Adjunct Curator and Collections Manager Matt von Konrat and on the bryophyte collections.  Dr. Malombe is the Senior Research Scientist/Head of the Botany Department of the National Museums of Kenya.  The Africa Council generously supported his visit.

Research & Publications

Assistant Curator Ken Angielczyk (Geology) is a co-author (with past Resident Graduate Student Christian Kammerer and past Postdoctoral Research Scientist Jörg Fröbisch) of a monograph entitled “A comprehensive taxonomic revision of Dicynodon (Therapsida, Anomodontia) and its implications for dicynodont phylogeny, biogeography, and biostratigaphy” that appeared online on December 14 in the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Memoir series.  In the monograph, Christian, Ken and Jörg review the 168 nominal species of the wastebasket genus Dicynodon that have been described since Sir Richard Owen erected the taxon in 1845.  Most of the species are synonyms of other anomodont species, but a total of 16 species are valid.  Christian, Ken and Jörg accommodate them within 15 genera that fall within several groups of anomodonts.  The monograph also includes the most comprehensive phylogenetic analysis of Anomodontia (the group of ancient mammal-relatives to which Dicynodon belongs) undertaken to date.  This analysis helps answer several long-standing questions about the relationships of anomodonts, such as whether all the species of Dicynodon are more closely related to each other than to other anomodonts (no), and whether species of Dicynodon represent Permian ancestors of the various lineages of anomodonts known from the Triassic (also no).  Christian, Ken, and Jörg discuss the geographic distribution of Dicynodon, and how it can be used for determining the relative ages of rocks in different areas (biostratigraphy).  Finally, the revised picture of anomodont diversity provided by the work greatly improves the knowledge of how anomodonts, which were abundant terrestrial herbivores, were affected by the end-Permian mass extinction (the largest mass extinction in Earth history, approximately 252 million years ago) and how they re-diversified after the event.  Work on this project began in 2009, when Christian was still a graduate student at the University of Chicago and Jörg was working in the Geology Department as a postdoctoral researcher funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, and drew upon data they collected in the collections of 34 museums located in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America.  Cover art for the monograph and a lovely reconstruction of the head of Dicynodon were drafted by Marlene Donnelly.

In December, Adjunct Curator and Collections Manager Matt von Konrat, Associate Curator and Chair Thorsten Lumbsch, Adjunct Curator and Collections Manager Robert Lücking and Associate Anders Hagborg (all Botany) together had four papers appear in a special issue of the journal Telopea.  The special issue was dedicated to bryophytes, ferns and lycophytes, as well as lichenised fungi from the islands of Fiji, and represented a truly international collaborative effort with 15 researchers.  The papers represent the latest results of recent field trips to Fiji led by Matt.  Remarkably, almost 200 species of bryophytes and lichens are reported for Fiji for the first time, thereby dramatically increasing the number of known species to the islands for this group of organisms.  All papers of the special volume can be accessed here.  The four papers include a historical account and overview of these organisms in Fiji led by Matt, new lichenised fungi led by Thorsten and Robert, new liverworts records led by collaborator Dr. Tamas Pócs with Matt as one of a series of co-authors, and the first-ever liverwort checklist for Fiji led by close colleague Lars Söderström as well as Anders and Matt.

Resident Graduate Student Matthew Nelsen, together with Research Assistant/Associate Carrie Andrew, Collections Manager Robert Lucking and Associate Curator and Chair Thorsten Lumbsch (all Botany) recently published a paper in Fungal Diversity, together with former Botany summer intern Joelle Mbatchou, as well as Adriano Spielmann (Cidade Universitaria, Brazil).  The work focused on identifying relationships of lichen-forming fungi in the primarily non-lichen-forming class Dothideomycetes.  The paper confirmed previous results by the same group, which identified several independent lineages of lichen-forming fungi.  The work was extended by adding newly sequenced species of the genus Arthopyrenia and Julella, which were found to belong to a completely different order than previously supposed.  Instead, the sequenced taxa belong to the primarily lichen-forming order Trypetheliales.      

Matt, Carrie and Robert were also part of a paper published in the most recent issue of the Journal of European Phycology.  This work was part of an international collaborative effort lead by researchers at the Natural History Museum (London) and Duke University.  The study explored the diversity of algae associated with a group of lichen-forming fungi (Verrucariales) that is loosely related to medically important fungi such as Penicillium and Aspergillus.  The algae associating with these fungi are rather unusual for lichen-associated algae and have been rarely studied.  

Additionally, Matt, Thorsten, former Botany summer intern Natali Chavez and Research Assistant Erin Sackett-Hermann (Pritzker Lab) published a paper in the last issue of the Lichenologist, together with several colleagues from Estonia, Sweden and Spain.  This paper resulted from a collaboration established during the Parmeliaceae Synthesis meeting held at the BioSynC (Field Museum) in May of 2011, and focused on investigating the evolutionary relationships among fungal species in a clade of lichen-forming fungi that are primarily restricted to the Northern Hemisphere (where they exhibit pronounced diversity in southeastern Asia and North America).  This paper extended previous studies, solidifying relationships among taxa and illustrating the morphological plasticity of this group.  

In mid-December, MacArthur Field Biologist Steve Goodman (Zoology/Birds and Mammals) published a paper with Professor Harald Schliemann in Verhandlungen des Naturwissenschaftlichen Vereins in Hamburg entitled “A new study on the structure and function of the adhesive organs of the Old World sucker-footed bat (Myzopoda: Myzopodidae)of Madagascar.”  Professor Schliemann was one of the directors of Steve’s thesis presented at The University of Hamburg some years back and the research associated with this recent paper started during Steve’s tenure in Hamburg.  Dr. Schliemann has since retired, but continues to work on the extraordinary sucker-like foot and wrist structures found in this endemic Malagasy bat.

Fieldwork & Collections

Associate Curator Rick Ree (Botany and BioSynC) traveled to Brazil from December 5–15, to collect plant specimens in the region around Diamantina, in the province of Minas Gerais.  The trip was part of an ongoing collaboration with colleagues at the University of Sao Paolo to study the evolutionary diversification of Velloziaceae, a Southern Hemisphere plant family with spectacular variation in flower morphology.  DNA sequencing for the project is being conducted in the Pritzker Lab.  After returning to Sao Paolo, Rick gave an invited lecture at USP about his research on louseworts (Pedicularis spp.) in the Hengduan Mountains of China.

In November and December, Curator Gary Feinman and Adjunct Curator Linda Nicholas (both Anthropology), in conjunction with colleagues and students from Shandong University, completed the coastal Shandong systematic archaeological settlement pattern survey.  The collaborative project required 16 field seasons to cover this system of coastal basins by foot.  The roughly 2,000-square-kilometer region is one of the (if not the) largest full-coverage archaeological survey regions in all of East Asia. 

The 2011 season was particularly significant as one of the largest Late Neolithic settlements (3–4 square kilometers in size) in the entire study region was mapped.  This site, which spans two adjacent modern villages and the riverine area between, was likely one of the three major Longshan settlements that dominated the region during the centuries that followed the area’s initial colonization by farming peoples.  In addition to this large Neolithic settlement, an unusual (and seemingly sacred) complex of roughly 50 Han tombs and earthworks that were positioned along a single piedmont ridge was also recorded at the northern edge of the study area as were several sizable Han settlement centers that were in the orbit of the Qin-Han provincial capital, Langyatai, mapped by the Field Museum-Shandong University team in 2008.  (Header image is Linda Nicholas atop a Han Tomb)

Public Education & Media Coverage

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


Postdoctoral Research Scientist Joshua Drew (BioSynC) was featured in the Naked Oceans podcast for their “Critter of the Month” segment.  He answered the question, “If you were a marine critter, which one would you be, and why?"   

On October 14, Regenstein Collections Manager of Christopher Philipp (Anthropology) was welcomed by the students and faculty of the American Samoa Community College (ASCC) as part of his visit to both American Samoa and the Independent State of Samoa.  While on campus, Philipp gave a presentation on the Regenstein Curatorship’s work in Samoa and collecting program in Western Polynesia and the ways partnerships can be formed between museums and communities for both the preservation and sharing of information and experiences centered around material culture.  The purpose of this recent trip was to establish relationships, partnerships, and ultimately a program of collecting material culture in both Samoas.  It is important to create such partnerships because many times the Field Museum collections lack the Pacific Islander’s own perspective on what is exhibited, studied, and cared for.