Staff & Student News

Associate Registrar Gloria Levitt (Anthropology) attended the Grand Opening Gala of the University of Utah’s Natural History Museum of Utah, at the Rio Tinto Center in Salt Lake City.  Gloria was an invited guest of NHMU Paleontology Collections Assistant, Carolyn G. Levitt.  "The Grand Opening, held November 17, 2011, was a wonderful event, showcasing new and innovative techniques in exhibit design," said Gloria, who was given a personal tour of the new venue.  "The new museum is absolutely beautiful.  Congratulations to the NHMU" (see image, left).

Associate Curator Bill Parkinson (Anthropology) was invited to the Department of Anthropology at the University of Georgia to present a lecture entitled “Early Village Social Dynamics in Southeastern Europe” on January 13.  After the establishment of farming and herding communities in southeastern Europe during the late 7th millennium BC, the long-term trajectories of social change in different parts of southeastern Europe diverged significantly.  By the end of the 2nd millennium BC complex bureaucratic, palatially-centered, states emerged in the Aegean, but the societies in the Carpathian Basin did not develop similarly bureaucratically complex economic and political systems until the Roman period.  Bill’s talk explored these different long-term trajectories, focusing specifically on the ongoing field research conducted by the Körös Regional Archaeological Project on the Great Hungarian Plain and The Diros Project on the Mani Peninsula of southern Greece.

The Field Museum had a strong showing at the recent (January 3–7) Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology meeting in Charleston, SC, the premier annual meeting for Comparative Biomechanics.  Presenting work on Biomechanics, Curator and Chair Mark Westneat (Zoology/Fishes) explained his research on new computational modeling of skulls, graduate student Charlie McCord presented her work on triggerfish morphometrics and muscle duplication, graduate student Joanna Mandecki presented on the mechanisms of visual and locomotor coordination in fishes, and graduate student Aaron Olsen presented his research on the biomechanics of cranial kinesis in birds (all University of Chicago).  In addition, Research Associates Melina Hale and Callum Ross (University of Chicago/Zoology) presented their research on sensory mechanisms in pectoral fins of fishes, and the rhythmicity of feeding and locomotion in vertebrates, respectively.  It was a great meeting and showcased the diversity of research in Zoology involving biomechanics, and the efforts of our ongoing collaborative NSF IGERT training grant in Neuromechanics.

Resident Graduate Student Nate Upham (University of Chicago and Zoology/Mammals) returned from Argentina and Chile in December, where he had been collecting data at natural history museums and interacting with collaborators since mid-September.  Nate’s dissertation research, which is supervised by MacArthur Curator Bruce Patterson (Zoology/Mammals), focuses on the evolutionary diversification of the rodent lineage Octodontoidea that includes 193 modern species of spiny rats, degus, tuco-tucos, and hutias distributed throughout the Neotropics.  Visits to four Argentine museums were directed at Octodontoidea’s abundant Cenozoic fossil record, the majority of which is derived from Patagonian and Pampean sediments.  After visits to two excellent museums in Buenos Aires, Nate traveled to the seaside Museo de Ciencias Naturales Lorenzo Scaglia in Mar del Plata where he examined as well as collected specimens with the help of curator Alejandro Dondas.  Nate then traveled 1,200 km south into the Atlantic Patagonia to examine a range of recently collected rodent fossils at the Museo Paleontologico Edigio Feruglio in Trelew, aided by curator Diego Pol.  Photographing fossil rodent mandibles was the focus of these visits, with the aim to examine their evolutionary changes through time in relation to modern species and a DNA-based phylogeny of the group.  This research was funded in part by the NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant awarded to Bruce and Nate in February: “Fossils and phylogeny: investigating the timing of diversification in a diverse lineage of Neotropical rodents (Caviomorpha: Octodontoidea).”

The Botany Department welcomed postdoctoral scientist Olena Peregrym from Ukraine, where she holds a research position at the M.G. Kholodny Institute of Botany in Kiev.  Olena is an expert on the morphology of Pedicularis (louseworts), especially with regard to the microstructure of pollen and seeds.  She is here for six months (January–June), and will be working with Associate Curator Rick Ree on his NSF-funded project on the global phylogeny and biogeography of Pedicularis, one of the largest North Temperate genera of flowering plants.

On January 10–11, BioSynC hosted the “Parmeliaceae: Towards a worldwide checklist and a phylogenetic classification of the largest family of lichen-forming fungi” meeting in Bangkok, Thailand.  This meeting was a second in a series of two meetings devoted to this lichen family, and took place within the framework of the 7th IAL symposium.  There were 340 participants from 52 countries in attendance at IAL, which made the event a unique opportunity to hold a synthesis meeting with a diverse number of global participants.  The synthesis meeting, organized by Associate Curator and Chair Thorsten Lumbsch (Botany) made important progress in creating the checklist, and created new lichen data partnerships with the EOL.

Outreach Coordinator Beth Sanzenbacher (BioSynC) gave a 90-minute workshop on ways to use EOL for outreach, which paralleled an important theme of both the synthesis meeting and the symposium—connecting global audiences to lichen research.  Additionally, Beth worked with Kawinnat Buaruang (Nhong) on ways to use EOL to share information about lichens with Thai National Park Rangers and the general public.  Nhong is a researcher and lecturer in the Department of Biology at Ramkhamhaeng University, Bangkok, and finds it vital for locals to know about lichens.  With the rising air pollution in Southeast Asia, lichens are valuable indicators to assess the health of an area.  The more locals know about lichens, the better able they can assess and ensure the health of their communities.

Research & Publications

Associate Curator Margaret Thayer and Curator Emeritus Al Newton (both Zoology/Insects) are the first two authors of a paper published in final form online on January 6 in the journal Cretaceous Research, based on studies of numerous Cretaceous amber fossil rove beetles (family Staphylinidae) from Myanmar (Burma) and Lebanon.  The paper reports the completely unexpected discovery in those fossils of the sister group, or closest relative, of the southern South American species Solierius obscurus (Solier, 1849), previously the sole known member of the subfamily Solieriinae.  Margaret and her coauthors describe a new genus, Prosolierius, and three new species for the Burmese fossils, the first known for the subfamily.  This quadruples the overall size of the subfamily and dramatically extends its known geographical and temporal range.  The much lower current species richness in the group supports a relict status for the living Solierius obscurus, whose exact relationships within Staphylinidae have been—appropriately to its specific name—somewhat obscure.  A 2009 paper coauthored by Al provided good evidence for its placement within the enormous Staphylinine group of subfamilies, so the Prosolierius fossils—with previously known fossils of other subfamilies—further document the ancient worldwide distribution of the Staphylinine group and its active diversification in the Cretaceous.  This in turn supports the likely origin of that subgroup before the Late Jurassic and of the family Staphylinidae as a whole significantly earlier.  Note: Under the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, the new genus and species will not be officially published until the printed version of the paper appears in the April journal issue.

MacArthur Curator Bruce Patterson (Zoology/Mammals) co-authored a paper with colleagues from the University of Connecticut on the spatial organization of vertebrate communities in the Peruvian Andes.  Entitled “Vertebrate metacommunity structure along an extensive elevational gradient in the tropics: a comparison of bats, rodents and birds,” the article appeared in an online issue of Global Ecology and Biogeography.  Drawing on the rich empirical foundations created by FMNH surveys of mammals and birds in Manu, the study examined the different types of community organization shown by different groups of vertebrates over a 3 km vertical gradient.  By happy coincidence, One of Bruce's former MSc students, Greg Mikkelson (now an Associate Professor at McGill University), helped to create the analytical paradigm of “metacommunities” they used to simultaneously evaluate various idealized but contrasting distribution patterns.  Their analyses showed that rodents and birds exhibit Clementsian structure (where groups of species replace other such groups along the gradient) whereas bats show strongly nested structure, as Bruce had earlier shown in papers in Journal of Biogeography (1998) and Journal of Zoology (1996).  The article is downloadable here.

Curator Gary Feinman and Adjunct Curator Linda Nicholas (both Anthropology) are pleased to announce that the community of Santiago Matatlán, Oaxaca, Mexico, where they excavated for 10 years at the archaeological site of El Palmillo, has created a website that presents their community museum and its principal themes.  The major findings of Gary and Linda’s excavations at El Palmillo are prominently displayed on the website, including many pictures of the excavations and artifacts taken by Linda.  Please visit the Museo Comunitario de Santiago Matatlán’s new website here.

Fieldwork & Collections

In mid-January, MacArthur Curator Bruce Patterson (Zoology/Mammals) returned from a month of fieldwork in western Kenya on “The Bats of Kenya” project.  The work was conducted with Zoology Research Associates Paul Webala (Kenya Wildlife Service) and Carl Dick (Western Kentucky University) under the aegis of the KWS, which manages both parks and wildlife.  KWS has granted the researchers free entrance and residence in protected areas throughout the country for a period of three years, reducing their budget substantially—park entrance fees run as high as $80 per person per day.  Funding for the fieldwork was provided by the residue of their NSF grant on the phylogenetics of bat flies, which complemented support from former Earthwatch volunteers Bud and Onnolee Trapp, who made a major commitment to Webala’s postdoctoral development by helping him purchase a field vehicle.  Over 28 days in Kenya, the team collected bats, their echolocation calls, roosting habits, and parasites in Saiwa Swamp National Park, Cheranganie National Forest, Mt. Elgon National Park, Kakamega National Reserve and National Forest, Kisumu Impala Sanctuary, Ndere Island National Park, Ruma National Park, and Lake Nakuru National Park, all with the assistance of the Kenya Wildlife Service.  The highpoint of the trip was participating in KWS’s release of 4 black rhinos into Ruma NP, which is being restocked to safeguard remaining rhinos and to promote tourism and investment in western Kenya—Bruce took the accompanying photo from atop the rhino's transfer crate!  This work would have been impossible without the valued collaboration of the Museum’s Finance department, who provided ongoing and critical last-minute assistance that allowed the fieldwork to commence on time.  Special thanks go to Deborah Bekken, Pamela Clayburn, Ann Berends, Pat Fournier, Lakita Mongomery, and Jim Croft.

Public Education & Media Coverage

This week the Field Revealed and C&R Media Producer Federico Pardo would like to share Plant Mounting, featuring Darlene Dowdy-Pritchett in the Botany Department.  When botanists from The Field Museum collect plants in the field, they need to be prepared and mounted properly before archiving them in the collections. The former is Darlene's job. Although this process is very artistic, it still follows specific parameters so scientists can study these plants in the future.  Check it out and get inspired to do your own plant mounts at home!

The Biodiversity Heritage Library’s “Book of the Week” is from The Field Museum Library! Check out the blog post hereGreat and Small Game of Africa (1899) was recently digitized through the support of the Museum's Africa Council.  You can also see a set of the beautiful illustrations from the volume on Flickr. (see header image)

On December 17, A. Watson Armour III Curator Bob Martin (Anthropology)was a guest on Milt Rosenberg's late-night show on WGN Radio Extension.  The topic for discussion and subsequent phone-in questions was human evolution, and Bob was able to share the sound stage with fellow guest Dr. Callum Ross from the Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy at the University of Chicago.  The discussion was lively and wide-ranging.  In answer to the usual question as to whether human evolution is still happening, Bob pointed out that a third of births in the USA are now cesarians.  If present trends continue, women will end up like bulldogs, unable to give birth without medical intervention.  At the end of the show, Milt asked Bob about current developments at The Field Museum, so he took the opportunity to make a plug for the mummy-scanning project and the upcoming special exhibit Out of the Vaults, which will open on February 17.

On January 17, Museum Librarian Christine Giannoni gave a tour to 22 students and teachers from Elmhurst College as part of their “Great Libraries of Chicago” honors-level undergraduate course.  This behind-the-scenes tour included a question and answer session regarding concerns unique to museum libraries as well as time spent viewing items in the rare book collection.