Staff & Student News

The 2012 FMNH REU interns have been selected.  C&R’s biodiversity-research and collections-based REU program (PI Petra Sierwald, Zoology, Co-PI Ken Angielczyk, Geology) is as popular as ever.  Field Museum curators provided eight carefully crafted undergraduate research projects for the 2012 season.  This year, we received 223 applications from 34 states, ranging from Texas to Vermont and New Jersey to Oregon.  Of those, 55 applicants are from Illinois and Indiana.  The applicants are enrolled in a total of 110 universities and colleges.  

And the lucky winners are:

  • Associate Curator and Chair Thorsten Lumbsch (Botany) will mentor REU intern Bradley Loomis, a sophomore inBiology from Green Mountain College examining the morphological evolution of lichens. 
  • Associate Curator Ken Angielczyk (Geology) will mentor Florence Lin, a freshman in Anthropology from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, reconstructing a serially sectioned Dicynodont skull.  
  • Franco Gallastegui, a junior in Biology and Geophysical Sciences from University of Chicago will investigate the trophic niche evolution in therapod dinosaurs under Associate Curator and Chair Pete Makovicky’s (Geology) guidance. 
  • Elizabeth Savrann, a sophomore in Biology and Geology from Oberlin College will work with Curator Rudiger Bieler and Postdoctoral Research Scientist Sid Staubach (both Zoology/Invertebrates) on Rudiger’s NSF Tree-of-Life grant (BivAToL) reconstructing the evolution of clams, mussels and oysters.
  • Assistant Curator Corrie Moreau and Postdoctoral Research Scientist Steffi Kautz (both Zoology/Insects) selected Arista Tischner, a junior in Biology from the University of Illinois at Chicago as the 2012 REU intern in Corrie’s ant lab, examining the origin of giant bullet ants.
  • Associate Curator Margaret Thayer (Zoology/Insects) accepted Anthony Deczynski, a junior in Entomology/Wildlife Conservation at the University of Delaware into her extensive research program of beetle biodiversity.
  • Daniel Montgomery, a junior in Biology from Indiana State University, will work with Curator John Bates on his ongoing research of the genetic structure of birds in the Albertine rift of Africa with Project Coordinator Josh Engel (both Zoology/Birds). 
  • Jennie Lee, a junior in Biological Sciences from University of Chicago, will be part of John Bates’ and Staff Research Scientist Jason Weckstein’s (both Zoology/Insects) project on an Amazonian speciation ring in toucans. 

The REU students will start arriving at the Field Museum on June 4.  All will present their research at our Undergraduate Research Symposium on Saturday, August 11.  Please mark your calendars and participate in the symposium.  Petra wishes to thank the fellow curators for their continued support of the REU program.  Once again, the REU application and selection process went smoothly due to Research Assistant and Scholarship Committee Secretary Stephanie Ware’s constant attention to detail and hard work.

Resident Graduate Student Dave Clarke (Zoology/Insects) received a Research Achievement Award at the Graduate Student Recognition Day held on April 26 at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The award was based on his recent publication of a monograph on the New Zealand rove beetle genus Agnosthaetus, and other research activities over the last year.


The Anthropology Department welcomed several visiting scientists in April-May including doctoral candidate Claire Heckel (New York University) and Dr. Elise Tartar (French National Center for Scientific Research, Ethnologie Prehistorique). Claire and Elise examined the Field Museum’s archaeological collections from several sites in Southwestern France dating to the Aurignacian Period, approximately 45,000–35,000 years ago.  

                  Their current research focuses on bone, antler, and ivory tools and ornaments such as beads to better understand the production techniques used by prehistoric peoples and to determine the settlement patterns of Aurignacian hunter-gatherers throughout the region.  A team under the direction of Dr. Randall White (New York University) is currently excavating remaining deposits at one of the sites, Abri Blanchard, in Aquitaine, France.

Research & Publications

Curator Gary Feinman and Adjunct Curator Linda Nicholas (both Anthropology) are two of the authors of a recent volume published this May in China (in Chinese).  The book title in English is Regional Settlement Pattern Survey in the Coastal Area of Southeastern Shandong, China.

                  The volume was authored by the Sino-American Joint Archaeological Team in the Rizhao Area (Fang Hui, Anne Underhill, Gary Feinman, Linda Nicholas, Luan Fengshi, Yu Haiguang, and Cai Fengshu) and was published by the Cultural Relic Press, Beijing, China.  It reports on the first 13 years of the Sino-American archaeological survey research in coastal Shandong.  The book cover, which features two images taken by Linda Nicholas is attached (I will remove that eventually).


Postdoctoral Research Scientist Nate Smith’s (Geology) paper entitled “Body mass and foraging ecology predict evolutionary patterns of skeletal pneumaticity in the diverse ‘waterbird’ clade,”  was published in the April issue of the journal Evolution.  The paper evaluated patterns of skeletal pneumaticity (air-filled bone) across a diversity of avian taxa to demonstrate that this complex morphological character system is correlated with both body mass and pursuit-diving foraging ecology.  These relationships likely represent energy-saving adaptations that serve to respectively, 1) reduce mass and the cost of aerial and terrestrial locomotion; and 2) reduce buoyancy and the cost of locomotion beneath the water surface.  These and other patterns demonstrate the promise of utilizing avian skeletal pneumaticity as a study system for exploring broader issues of morphological convergence, adaptation, and constraint.  A pdf of the paper can be found here on Nate’s website.  This research was part of Nate’s dissertation, and was supported in part by a Field Museum Brown Family Graduate Student Fellowship.

Associate Curator Bill Parkinson (Anthropology) participated as a member of the Program for the Annual Meeting Committee (PAMC) for the Archaeological Institute of America on April 27–28 at the Hilton Hotel, Chicago.  The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) is a nonprofit group as well as North America’s oldest and largest organization devoted to the world of archaeology; the AIA was founded in 1879 and chartered by the United States Congress in 1906.  Today, the AIA has nearly 250,000 Members belonging to more than 100 Local Societies in the United States, Canada, and overseas.  The PAMC has broad responsibilities for organizing the presentations of scholarly papers at the Annual Meeting of the AIA.

In late April, Associate Curator Janet Voight (Zoology/Invertebrates) traveled to Britain at the invitation of the Malacological Society of London to give the keynote lecture at the Society’s annual meeting.  This year the meeting was held at the Institute of Marine Sciences of the University of Portsmouth with the theme of Mollusca Life Histories.  Portsmouth, on the English Channel, offered an ideal backdrop to a meeting with lectures focusing on different molluscs, mostly marine.  Janet’s talk, “If a Tree Sinks in the Ocean: Life and Evolution of the Deep-sea Wood-boring Bivalves,” gave an overview of her work on the Xylophagainae, the deep-sea bivalves that are obligate borers into vegetation that has sunk to the bottom of the ocean and how that work is contributing to a better understanding of the animals and how they cope with what appears to be an utterly unpredictable habitat.

                  Once she committed to travel to Britain, Janet was invited to visit scientists at the Centre d'Estudis Avancats de Blanes, Catalunya (Spain).  Janet, Blanes Director Daniel Martin, and Postdoc Chiara Romano had been in email contact for nearly three years, and the opportunity to finally meet them and see the wood-boring bivalves of the wood-boring genus Xylophaga that they have collected over the last several years (both with deployments and trawling) was too good to pass up.  At Blanes, these scientists are investigating the fauna of the offshore canyon that extends into the northwest Mediterranean Sea, just west of the Pyrenees, which forms the border with France.  They have been amazed at the animals that exploit wood.  Janet had had the opportunity to examine specimens that they had sent to her (and which were deposited into the Museum’s collections) for identification and had looked at many photos that were shared via DropBox.  Janet had thought that the deep canyon off Blanes supported populations of Xylophaga dorsalis and two undescribed species of Xylophaga, although one of those species showed an unusual level of variation.  Janet fully expected that the trip would simply give her a chance to see more specimens and therefore better document the unusual variation.  However, a morning spent looking at the 26 specimens assigned to “Species 3” revealed that in fact these should be termed “3 Species”.

                  At the end of what turned out to be a very long day, the group agreed that  the collections contained Xylophaga dorsalis and four rather than two previously unknown species.  In addition, working through some wood-borer material collected by trawl, they located a member of a genus previously unknown to exist in the Mediterranean Sea.  Janet used the next afternoon, in London, to assess how well the Xylophaga dorsalis from the Mediterranean compared to specimens in the Natural History Museum London collections from the English Channel and North Sea. Needless to say, for those who enjoy wood-boring bivalves, it was an excellent trip!

Associate Curator Bill Parkinson (Anthropology) presented a lecture to the Milwaukee Chapter of the Archaeological Institute of America on April 29.  Bill’s lecture, entitled “The Archaeology of Early European Village Societies,” discussed the evolution of early European villages.  After tens of thousands of years of making a living by hunting and gathering wild resources in the natural environment, some human societies began to adopt more sedentary lifeways centered on the exploitation of domesticated plants and animals.  In southern Europe, these “Neolithic” farmers began to establish villages about 9,000 years ago.  This lecture explored the social dynamics of early village societies in the Neolithic Period and Bronze Age, and discussed research recently carried out by Bill and his colleagues in Greece and Hungary.

Fieldwork & Collections

Curator Larry Heaney returned on April 25 from nearly four weeks in the Philippines with Research Associate Danny Balete (both Zoology/Mammals).  They spent over two weeks on Mt. Banahaw, a dormant volcano about 40 miles south of Manila, surveying mammals near the 7,000-foot peak of the mountain.  The specimens and data will help to complete their decade-long survey of mammals on Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines, providing detailed information on the ecology and conservation status of the fauna, and specimens that will help to document the evolutionary diversification of this highly distinctive fauna.  Their field camp was in cool, wet montane forest; tables for the “kitchen” and “laboratory” were hand-made on the spot. 

                  After completing their field survey, Larry and Danny attended the annual meeting of the Wildlife Conservation Society of the Philippines (April 17–20), hosted by the National Museum of the Philippines and De LaSalle University.  Over 250 people from more than 60 institutions and 20 countries attended.  Larry is serving as the Chair of the Threatened Mammals Species Committee, which provides assessments of the conservation status of mammals for the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources, for their official list of protected species.  Larry also met in Manila with Senator Edgardo Angara, a senior member of the Philippine Senate, about greatly expanding the currently small national park in Aurora Province, where the project’s recent field work has documented the presence of at least six previously unknown species of mammals, an extraordinary level of localized mammalian diversity.

Assistant Curator Ken Angielczyk (Geology) was part of an international team of researchers that conducted fieldwork in Permian rocks in the Parnaíba Basin of northeastern Brazil from April 11–May 2.  Ken and his collaborators are interested in this area because it preserves a terrestrial vertebrate fauna from the central part of the ancient supercontinent of Pangaea, which has received relatively little attention compared to better-studied areas in places like the southwestern United States, Russia, and southern Africa.  Among the material the team collected are three to four new species of archaic amphibians and a variety of sharks, ratfish, lungfish, coelacanths, and ray-finned fish, greatly increasing the diversity of Permian fossils known from the basin.  The specimens promise to provide new insight into the factors controlling biogeographic patterns in the Permian Period of Earth history (approximately 300 to 250 million years ago).  While in the field, Ken contributed a series of posts to the Scientist at Work blog at the New York Times (which describe some of the team's work and discoveries, as well as the places they visited.)

Public Education & Media Coverage

Museum Librarian Christine Giannoni was featured in the Biodiversity Heritage Library’s “BHL and Our Users” blog post for May.  You can read the entry here.  Christine has been an active member and advocate for the BHL since 2007, connecting researchers, students and librarians with this vital resource.  Field Museum Library collections included in the BHL corpus include the Museum's scientific publication, Fieldiana, as well as titles from our Rare Book Room.