Staff & Student News

Curator Chap Kusimba (Anthropology) spent three weeks in Guangzhou, China as a guest of the School of Sociology, Anthropology and Archaeology at Sun Yat-Sen University.  The purpose of his visit was to use the Archaeology Department’s vast ceramic collection to identify and securely date Chinese ceramic artifacts he excavated from Kenya as part of his NSF and NEH-supported research as well as to develop a China-East Africa collaborative research program with his Chinese counterpart, Professor Tiequan Zhu.

While at Sun Yat-Sen University, Chap delivered three lectures, participated in a conference on “Ancient trade in the Indian Ocean,” and visited ancient ceramic kiln industrial complexes in Changsha (see image left), Human Province and Fo Shan in Guangzhou Province.  He also visited several museums, including the Hunan Provincial Museum and Guangzhou Provincial Museum.  Following Chap’s visit with Dean Guoqing Ma of the School on Sociology, Anthropology, and Archaeology, it was agreed that a long-term collaborative research program on ancient trade in the Indian Ocean to be carried out in Kenya, India, Sri Lanka and China be developed.  Upon learning that Chap planned to be in Kenya this January, Dean Ma agreed to visit Chap (with his colleagues, Professor Huili Zhang of the Business School and Professor Tiequan Zhu of Archaeology) to assess the potential for this collaboration.  The expected outcome of the Dean Ma’s Kenya visit will be to develop a joint China-Kenya research collaboration in the Indian Ocean in collaboration with Pwani University in Kenya, University of Illinois, the Field Museum, and Sub Yat-Sen University.

The first lecture, entitled “Ways of Knowing Ancient African Experiences: Two examples from East Africa,” was given to Anthropology and Archaeology students and faculty.  The lecture discussed the methodologies that Chap has employed to understand urban and rural communities.   He showed how anthropologists could fruitfully use an interdisciplinary perspective to understand the past.  In the second lecture, “Understanding the Development of Urbanism in Ancient East Africa,” Chap addressed the still poorly known elements of preindustrial regional networks of alliance and interaction spheres between the urban and rural polities.  Specifically, he discussed results of his research on the Kenyan coast and its hinterland to show how the coast–hinterland relationship’s development influenced the regional political economy.  The final lecture, entitled “Trade, Traders, and Urbanism in Ancient East Africa,” outlined the new trading model that Chap and his former student Dr. Rahul Oka of the University of Notre Dame have developed to study ancient and modern trading systems.  He use data drawn from the Western Indian Ocean maritime networks to demonstrate how and in what ways archaeologists interested in the evolution of global trade could profitably use the trading systems model.

Adjunct Curator and Collections Manager Matt von Konrat (Botany) received great news to start 2012, with the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund awarding him a $15,000 grant to support a liverwort (early land plants) workshop and fieldwork in Fiji.  Liverworts are being increasingly recognized by New Zealand people (and around the world) as beautiful and important contributions to global biodiversity, as important environmental indicators and as potential indicators of global warming.  At the end of 2010 two liverworts—the highly threatened Frullania wairua (itself known only from a seriously threatened tree, Bartlett’s Rata) and Lejeunea hawaikiana—received a top 10 listing in the annual New Zealand Plant Conservation Network “vote for your favorite plant” competition.  Frullania wairua was described by Matt in 2005. 

In response to an invitation from the German Council of Science and Humanities, A. Watson Armour III Curator Bob Martin (Anthropology) visited the University of Göttingen from December 19–21 as part of a 10-member team charged with the task of evaluating its Institutional Strategy.  In 2005, the German Federal Government and State Governments together initiated the Excellence Initiative as a new instrument to support top-level university research, to develop internationally competitive research universities, and improve the quality of German universities and research institutions at large.  In the first program phase starting in 2006, nine universities were selected for substantial funding of their Institutional Strategies.  Bob took part in an initial evaluation of the University of Göttingen in 2007, and that university was selected for funding on the basis of the official report submitted.  The second program phase is scheduled to begin in June and Bob has been invited to help evaluate the request for continued funding submitted by the University of Göttingen.  A novel feature of the continuation request, which particularly attracted his interest, is a plan to coordinate 27 different collections across the university, including an extensive and historically important array of human anatomical specimens.  An intensive series of meetings took place throughout the three-day visit, including interviews with university representatives, ranging from students to the President, and discussions with politicians, leaders of allied institutions and funding agencies.  The final afternoon was devoted to compilation of the evaluation team’s draft report, and all concerned eagerly await its outcome. 

Associate Curator Margaret Thayer and Curator Emeritus Al Newton (both Zoology/Insects) attended the 2011 meeting of the Entomological Collections Network from November 12–13 and then the 59th Annual Meeting of the Entomological Society of America from November 13–16 in Reno, NV.  Margaret gave an invited talk entitled “EMu@FMNH—A Three-Year Update” in the Arthropod Collection Databases symposium at the ECN meeting, providing an overview of The Field Museum’s implementation of the EMu collection database and Emu’s features in general in comparison to other collection database systems.  Margaret also attended the meeting of the Editorial Board of Thomas Say Publications, the ESA’s monograph series.

During the week of December 5, 2011 the Zoology Department’s Division of Amphibians and Reptiles hosted Alex Figueroa, a graduate student from the University of New Orleans.  Figueroa, a Field Museum Scholarship recipient for 2011, focused his research on the ecomorphology of arboreal snakes.  Charles Linkem, a doctoral candidate at the University of Kansas also visited the Division the same week to examine the Museum’s holdings of the family Scincidae.

In early December last year, A. Watson Armour III Curator Bob Martin (Anthropology) participated in a debate entitled “Who Was the Hobbit?” at the California Academy of Sciences, hosted by the Leakey Foundation.  The video recording of the debate is now available online here.  The video shows Dr. Ian Tattersall (Curator Emeritus, Anthropology, American Museum Natural History, New York) presenting the case for recognizing the Flores hominid as a new species and Bob presenting the contrary view that the “hobbit” is a modern human suffering from microcephaly.

Research & Publications

In January, Curator Gary Feinman (Anthropology) and Christopher T. Fisher (Colorado State University) published a brief essay in Anthropology News entitled “Rhymes with the Past.”  The short piece argues for the importance of archaeological research for contemporary studies of sustainability.

In October, 2011, Associate Curator Margaret Thayer (Zoology) published a brief paper in the Coleopterists Bulletin, co-authored by the colleague who collected several specimens of the very rare species Eudectus crassicornis of omaliine rove beetle (Staphylinidae: Omaliinae) in traps in his wooded back yard in Athens, GA.  This was the first record of the genus and species from Georgia, and extended its range northward considerably from southern Louisiana and the Florida panhandle.  A key factor in the seeming rarity of the species—like some others—is its apparent preference for cool-season activity; its relatives are all cool-climate lovers, occurring further north and often at high elevations.


As of January 1, extensive new changes have taken effect regarding how plant scientists name new plants, algae, and fungi.  Traditionally, the publication of new plant names, which is governed by the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (ICBN), has never allowed publication of new names in anything other than print on paper.  Adjunct Curator and Collections Manager Matt von Konrat, Research Associate Matt Greif (both Botany), Lynika Strozier (previous Field Museum Intern) and their colleagues from New Zealand (Peter de Lange described the species with Matt) and Germany (Jörn Hentschel, Jochen Heinrichs) published the first electronically-described liverwort species on January 2.  The paper was published in PhytoKeys, an open-access journal known for applying cutting edge technologies in publishing and dissemination to accelerate biodiversity research.  PhytoKeys is pioneering an electronic-only publishing workflow in a series of papers published over the course of the first week of January, 2012.  The free, open access paper describes a new liverwort species from New Zealand here.  More about this exciting new publication can be accessed here.  The general press release announcing this new era in botanical history can be found at this link, and Matt's press release specifically about his publication can be viewed here.

Robert A. Pritzker Assistant Curator of Meteoritics and Polar Studies Philipp Heck (Geology) and collaborators from the NASA Astrobiology Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison report the discovery of the mineral silician magnetite as the dominant iron oxide in the 2.5 billion year old Dales Gorge banded iron formation from Hamersley, Western Australia.  Their study is published in the January issue of the peer-reviewed journal American Mineralogist.  Silician magnetite is an iron oxide that contains up to three percent of silicon.  According to the new study it remained stable because organic matter was present at the time of formation on the seafloor 2.5 billion years ago. This makes silician magnetite a potential biosignature in banded iron formations, and useful for future studies in astrobiology.  The abstract of the paper can be found here

Research Associate and Tropical Plant Taxonomist Nancy Hensold (Botany/ECCo) is senior author of a paper in Phytotaxa, describing the flowering plant species Syngonanthus restingensis (Eriocaulaceae).  This rare plant of sandy coastal shrublands of Brazil is the first species in its genus shown to reproduce asexually by pseudovivipary.  The plants produce tiny flowers and seeds in compact clusters, but after flowering, the flower stalks bend down and produce plantlets at the tip which root in the soil.  The species was first collected in 1953, and several times thereafter.  When first noticed as new among several unnamed herbarium collections, pseudovivipary was undetectable.  However, a photo taken in 2010 by a park naturalist in Rio de Janeiro showed tiny rosettes forming at the tip of the flower heads.  Co-author Adriana Oliveira searched for the plant in July and confirmed vigorous pseudoviviparous reproduction.  Apparently, by flowering time in August the evidence of this feature— flower stalks connecting the plants— has decomposed.  The species has several other features unusual in its genus and occurs in one of the most threatened habitats in Brazil.  Dr. Ana Maria Giulietti also co-authored the paper, which can be seen here.

Research Associate Nobby Cordeiro (Zoology/Botany) and Assistant Collections Manager Tom Gnoske (Zoology/Birds) published a paper together with Roosevelt University students and Field Museum Interns Lee Swanson and Rasheed Sanyaolu, with colleagues Eric Lonsdorf (Lincoln Park Zoo) and Chris Whelan (Illinois Natural History Survey) in the journal Bird Study.  The paper is entitled “Differential response of nest predators to the presence of a decoy parent in artificial nests” and summarizes a study using taxidermic decoys of American Robin (Turdus migratorius) specimens that functioned as parents attending nests.  Specimens of American Robins are consistently brought to the museum by volunteers, most of which have succumbed to windows on buildings or vehicles.  Using 25 specimens that were carefully mounted as parents attending nests, the team performed an experiment in a local forest preserve to examine if parental attendance at nests reduced the potential for predation of eggs.  Nests with decoys were paired with nests without decoys (control), all of which had eggs in them.  Interestingly, while simulating parental attendance heavily reduced the predatory events, nests that did not have decoys were chiefly attacked by bird predators, whereas nests with parent decoys were primarily attacked by mammalian predators.  John Bates and Dave Willard (both Zoology/Birds) along with Bill Stanley (Zoology/Mammals) provided extensive logistical support toward this study.

Fieldwork & Collections

Associate Curator Margaret Thayer and Curator Emeritus Al Newton (both Zoology/Insects) did a few days of chilly fieldwork in western Oregon and northern California from November 8–11, 2011 before turning back to Reno for the ECN and ESA meetings (see Staff & Student News).  They were searching in particular for the unknown and elusive larvae of a rare and very odd rove beetle (Staphylinidae), Empelus brunnipennis—the only member of the subfamily Empelinae—that lives from California to Alaska.  Although they made half a dozen collections of the tiny round adults on fungi and in forest leaf litter, unfortunately no suspicious larvae turned up.  They did, however, collect two brand-new rove beetle species they've never seen before despite collecting at the same and nearby sites at other seasons (and studying thousands of museum specimens), and also several rarely-collected species they had never collected before, including the strangely weevil-like Tanyrhinus singularis, which seems to feed on mushrooms, although investigation of its gut contents is needed for confirmation.  

On November 30, 2011 several members of the Zoology Department visited North Central College in Naperville, IL to assess a potential donation of several hundred of the biology department’s zoological specimens no longer in use.  Collection Manager Alan Resetar, Assistant Collection Manager Kathleen Kelly (both Zoology/Amphibians and Reptiles), and Collection Assistant Mary Hennen (Zoology/Birds) packed the specimens, which ranged from recent local fauna to some ornithological material dating to the mid-1800s.  NCC Biological Sciences Department head Dr. Stephen Johnston worked with Kathleen to organize the donation and re-establish ties for future partnerships between the two institutions.

The Zoology Department’s Division of Amphibians and Reptiles hosted paleontologist Dr. James Farlow from Indiana University-Purdue University Ft. Wayne on December 29, 2011.  He was gathering osteological data from recent tortoises to compare with fossil tortoise remains.  Assistant Collection Manager Kathleen Kelly and Collection Manager Alan Resetar (Zoology/Amphibians and Reptiles)assisted Dr. Farlow in handling and measuring some of the oversized giant tortoise shells.



Research Scientist Torsten Dikow (BioSynC) traveled to Australia from December 2–17, 2011 to conduct fieldwork and visit three museum collections in order to study Australian flower-loving flies, robber flies, and mydas flies (see header).  Torsten first travelled to Perth where he visited the Western Australian Museum and spent six days in the field in southwestern Australia.  He was able to collect several species of importance for his NSF-funded project on the taxonomy and evolutionary relationships of flower-loving flies, robber flies, and mydas flies including the rarely collected genus Neorhaphiomidas.  Torsten then studied the extensive insect collections at the Australian National Insect Collection in Canberra and the Australian Museum in Sydney where he was able to identify an undescribed species of yet another rare Mydidae genus named Anomalomydas.

Public Education & Media Coverage

This week C&R Media Producer Federico Pardo and Chris O'Brien bring you a new video entitled “Botanical Exploration in Fiji” please enjoy this window into the behind-the-scenes work in C&R and share with your friends and family!

Assistant Curator Corrie Moreau (Zoology/Insects) was interviewed by Nature and Live Science about a recently published study on super soldier ants (see links for interviews).  Corrie was asked to comment on the recent discovery of an evolutionary conserved developmental pathway in the ant genus Pheidole because her previous work demonstrated that super soldiers have evolved multiple times within the genus.  This new work by Rajakumar and colleagues used hormone therapy to show that this ability to “turn on” super soldiers is found across the Pheidole tree of life, but is only switched on very rarely.

On December 14, 2011 Collection Manager Alan Resetar (Zoology/Amphibians and Reptiles) hosted a tour for a Purdue University-Calumet Campus administrator.  They also discussed potential interactions between their biology students and the Amphibians and Reptiles Division in 2012.

In December, 2011 a press conference took place at Association Vahatra in Antananarivo to present the latest book in the series Guides sur la diversite biologique de Madagascar.  This new book, written by Marie Jeanne Raherilalao and Field Biologist Steve Goodman (Zoology/Birds and Mammals) is entitled Histoire naturelle des familles et sous-familles endémiques d’oiseaux de Madagascar.  Using simple language it reviews the evolutionary history of the endemic families and sub-families of Malagasy birds, as well as aspects of their fascinating natural history, biology, and distributions.  The series is intended primarily for the Malagasy public, particularly individuals that might be interested in their natural patrimony, but do not have access to information.  About 500 copies will be distributed free to Malagasy researchers, students, schools, libraries, etc.  The Malagasy media covered the event with radio and TV interviews, as well as a few articles in the local press.