Staff & Student News

Lu Yao, a graduate student with the Committee on Evolutionary Biology at the University of Chicago working with A. Watson Armour III Curator Bob Martin (Anthropology), has notched up another success.  Bob recently reported that she had been awarded an EAPSI (East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes) grant by NSF to participate in the Summer Institutes program in China.  Now Lu has been notified that she has received an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship to support her Ph.D. research in the field of primate evolution.  Her award letter states: “Your selection was based on your outstanding abilities and accomplishments, as well as your potential to contribute to strengthening the vitality of the US science and engineering enterprise.”

Charles Benton Postdoctoral Research Scientist Nicola Sharratt and Associate Curator and Chair Ryan Williams (both Anthropology) received a National Geographic Society CRE grant for $19,780.  The grant will support their summer 2012 excavations of Tiwanaku houses at the 1,000 year-old site of Tumilaca la Chimba, Moquegua, Peru.  The project will also include eight undergraduates from University of Illinois at Chicago, and four graduate students from UIC and Northwestern.  This grant complements a grant Nicola has received from the Curtiss and Mary Brennan Foundation for fieldwork at Tumilaca.

Associate Curator and Chair Peter Makovicky (Geology) visited the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas at Austin on March 30, where he joined fellow committee members for the Ph.D. defense of Clint Boyd.  Peter also gave a lecture on “Trophic Evolution in Theropod Dinosaurs” highlighting research that he and former Meeker Postdoctoral Fellow Lindsay Zanno have been collaborating on over the last two years.

Research & Publications

At the end of March, Associate Curator Janet Voight (Zoology/Invertebrates) published a paper, entitled “At the bottom of the deep blue sea: a new wood-boring bivalve (Mollusca, Pholadidae, Xylophaga) from the Cape Verde Abyssal Plain (subtropical Atlantic),” in Zoosystema with Michel Segonzac of the Museum of Natural History in Paris, France describing a new species of wood-boring bivalve.  The recognition and formal description of a new wood-boring bivalve isn’t spectacular news, as there is every reason to think that there are a lot of them out there in the world’s oceans, but the collection locality is news.  This animal is known only from one place on Earth, 1,600 km west of Mauritania on the coast of Saharan Africa at 4,626 m depth.  The animals were collected from a small block of wood that Michel tied to a piece of oceanographic gear that was sunk to the bottom and left in place for seven months (216 days).  During that time, the gear documented that the site is oligotrophic, nutrient-poor, and inhabited only by a few small animals. Additionally, it has minimal current; thus there is little input of nutrition from above.  When recovered, however, the block of wood was thoroughly riddled with bivalves with an estimated 170 boreholes per cm2.  Where did these bivalves that can only survive by boring into and eating wood come from and how did they get there?  Answers to those questions are yet to be determined, but describing the species and assigning a name initiate the exploration.  Figure to the left: collection locality of the new species Xylophaga alexisi Voight and Segonzac described in the March 2012 edition of the journal Zoosystema.

In late March, MacArthur Field Biologist Steve Goodman (Zoology/Birds and Mammals) published an article in Animal Conservation entitled “Genetic population structure in the boky-boky (Carnivora: Eupleridae), a conservation flagship species in the dry deciduous forests of central western Madagascar.”  Nothing was previously known about the genetic structure of the boky-boky, Mungotictis decemlineata, an endemic carnivoran restricted to lowland central western Madagascar.  This presumed forest-dependent species inhabits dry deciduous forests, which have been severely reduced in surface area with about 60% destroyed or degraded by humans during the past 60 years.  Mungotictis d. decemlineata is limited to the remnant forests of the central and southern Menabe, and using samples collected from across this zone, a phylogeographic study was conducted based on three mitochondrial and nuclear fragments (2,424 bp).  Forty-seven central Menabe individuals from four principal localities and two from the southern Menabe from a single locality were included.  The highest uncorrected sequence divergence separating specimens was 1.65 % across a zone of 130 km delimited by the Tsiribihina River to the north and the Mangoky River to the south; this area includes most of the geographical range of M. d. decemlineata. Phylogenetic trees, haplotype networks and exact test of population differentiation did not reveal any meaningful geographic partitioning of genetic variation.  However, shallow genetic structure was found, which Steve and his team ascribe to isolation-by-distance.  Two different scenarios are proposed to explain the lack of meaningful phylogeographical structure in Mungotictis within the central and southern Menabe.  These include 1) in the context of this species being forest-dependent, dispersal during periods when forest cover was more continuous, giving rise to a genetic meta-population or 2) that it is able to cross non-forested zones and broadly disperses, leading to high levels of genetic homogeneity.  Current inferences and coalescent modeling favors the first hypothesis although small sample sizes from certain areas of its range hamper robust conclusions.  The short and medium-term future of this taxon is in jeopardy associated with habitat destruction across its geographical range.

Postdoctoral Research Scientist Nate Smith (Geology) attended the NESCent workshop “Synthesizing and databasing fossil calibrations: divergence dating and beyond” in Durham, NC from March 29–April 1.  This workshop is related to an ongoing project that is developing new protocols for vetting fossil calibrations to be utilized for molecular divergence time estimation, and is also designing an online database of peer-reviewed and easily searchable calibrations.  A “best practices” paper published in Systematic Biology that stemmed from an earlier meeting of the working group is freely available here.

Fieldwork & Collections

Research Assistant Alexandra Westrich and Assistant Curator Corrie Moreau (both Zoology/Insects) have completed the databasing and curation of the Robert E. Gregg type ant (Formicidae) collection.  This single collection includes a total of 73 ant species with 14 primary type, 252 secondary type, and 60 invalid type specimens.  Alexandra fully databased and created 383 new records that have been incorporated into Field Museum’s collection database and are freely available via The Field Museum All Arthropod Collection database.  As part of this project Alexandra carefully point-mount pinned over 325 individual specimens (in the photo you can see Alexandra with an example of the Gregg type ant collection). 

Public Education & Media Coverage

Please visit the Maori Meeting House and hang out on its new furniture!  These tables and chairs were custom designed and built at The Field Museum.  The furniture and lighting now encourage visitors to quietly linger inside the house, located on the Museum’s upper floor behind the Traveling the Pacific and Pacific Spirit exhibitions, and will make community meetings there more comfortable.  The furniture is also designed to minimize harm to the house’s carvings and tukutuku panels.  Special thanks go to Justen Kanthack, Nicole Beals, Mike Paha, JP Brown, Mary Ann Bloom, and John Terrell for their work on this project.

Emirates Airlines contacted MacArthur Curator Bruce Patterson (Zoology/Mammals) for a feature article on the Tsavo lions for its in-flight magazine Open Skies.  Emirates hosts 2.3 million travelers per month, visiting six continents, and it seemed like a good opportunity to showcase the Man-eating lions of Tsavo once again.  Submitted in mid-March, it was published two weeks later, after unseen editorial alterations (Bruce’s suggested title “Meet the man-eaters” was changed, undoubtedly in deference to Emirates’ in-flight meal service, and the discussion of genetics and manelessness was truncated).  A copy of the article can be found here.