Staff & Student News

The Pritzker Lab for Molecular Systematics and Evolution held a short course on next-generation DNA sequencing from February 6–10.  The course was taught by Paul Grabowski, a graduate student at the University of Chicago who is proficient at a genotyping-by-sequencing (GBS) protocol that allows the entire genome of any organism to be efficiently scanned for genetic variation.  GBS and related protocols are on the verge of dramatically altering how biodiversity scientists study genetic relationships within and between species, by allowing vast amounts of data to be generated at low cost.  The course attracted broad interest from Pritzker Lab members and affiliated institutions (Chicago Botanic Garden, Morton Arboretum, UIC), with over 30 people attending the daily lectures.  Due to space constraints, lab participation was limited to 15 people.  The course was organized by Associate Curator Rick Ree (Botany) and A. Watson Armour III Lab Manager Kevin Feldheim (Pritzker Lab).

Associate Curator Rick Ree (Botany) traveled to Durham, NC from February 1–2 to attend the advisory board meeting of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent).  The advisory board reviews proposals for working groups, catalysis meetings, postdoctoral fellowships, and sabbaticals at NESCent, and provides strategic guidance on other matters.  During the course of the meeting, Rick was elected to be the new chair of the board.

Research & Publications

Staff Scientist Jason Weckstein (Zoology/Birds) co-authored a paper entitled “Two new species of Cotingacola Carriker, 1956 (Phthiraptera: Ischnocera: Philopteridae) from Amazonian Brazil, with comments on host-specificity” with Michel Valim (former Postdoc in Zoology/Birds, now São Paulo Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow) in the March volume of Systematic Parasitology.  The paper describes two new species of chewing lice from a spectacular family of birds the Cotingidae and describes patterns of host specificity and parasite niche specialization.  More importantly, in this paper Research Assistant Josh Engel (Zoology/Birds) and former Research Assistant Holly Lutz (Zoology/Birds, now a Ph.D. student at Cornell University) were both given the somewhat dubious honor of having a louse named after them (Cotingacola engeli and Cotingacola lutzi).  Josh and Holly now join the ranks of Doug Stotz (ECCo) and John Fitzpatrick (formerly FMNH Zoology/Birds, now Director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology) who also have Cotingacola species named after them (Cotingacola stotzi and Cotingacola fitzpatricki).  A pdf of the paper can be downloaded here.

Graduate student Katie Rollins, along with Illinois State University faculty Angelo Capparello and Sabine Loew (Research Associate, Zoology), have co-authored a paper that examined the cause of death of migratory bats found at a wind farm (where turbines generate electricity) in Illinois, published in the January issue of Veterinary Pathology.  In particular, they sought to discover if the cause of death was direct traumatic injury resulting from contact with the turbine blades, or if the cause of death was “barotrauma,” injury to the lungs due to a sudden, rapid change in air pressure caused by the turning blades.  Bats in The Field Museum’s mammal collection that died from collision with buildings (especially windows) served as crucial controls and showed that collision with a stationary object can cause death without external trauma or fractures.  Comparison with those control bats clarified that most of the 262 bat fatalities at the wind farm were due to traumatic injuries and only 6% may have died from barotrauma.  This study highlights the proximate cause of direct trauma and death to migrating bats, and the need for mitigation solutions to reduce the risk of bat collision with turning turbine blades.

Fieldwork & Collections

From January 28–February 11, Research Scientist Torsten Dikow (BioSynC) traveled to Namibia to conduct fieldwork in the Namib Desert (see header image).  Torsten visited several places in the Namib-Skeleton Coast National Park including coastal habitats near Swakopmund, the heart of the desert at the Gobabeb Training & Research Centre, as well as the eastern edge of the desert.  He collected some 20 species of robber flies (Asilidae) and two species of the rare family Mydidae (mydas flies).  Specimens of both species of mydas flies in the genus Namibimydas will be added to a recently submitted manuscript on this genus and provide current records of the presence of these flies in the desert.  Among the robber flies collected are several interesting species including specimens of a new species in the recently described genus Astiptomyia, which will soon be scientifically described.  Torsten also gave a presentation about taxonomic research on desert flies to the students and interns at the Gobabeb Training & Research Centre. This field trip was funded by the Women’s Board Field Dreams award, entitled “Exploring enigmatic flies in the Namib Desert,” and will also be important for Torsten’s current NSF REVSYS project that deals with the taxonomy and evolutionary relationships of robber flies, mydas flies, and flower-loving flies.

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