Staff & Student News

Kenyan visitors Paul Webala (Moi University and Research Associate in Zoology) and Ruth Keeru (National Museums of Kenya) returned home on May 15 after a 45-day visit to The Field Museum, working on the “Bats of Kenya” project with MacArthur Curator Bruce Patterson (Zoology/Mammals).  The costs of Paul’s trip were defrayed by a gift from Bud and Onnolee Trapp, while the Council on Africa supported Ruth’s visit.  Working with Bruce, Paul helped prepare two grant proposals for additional fieldwork and revise a submitted manuscript; Resident Graduate Student Nate Upham (Zoology/Mammals and University of Chicago) introduced Paul to PCR techniques in the Pritzker Lab.  Working with Collections Assistant Anna Goldman and Negaunee Collection Manager Bill Stanley (both Zoology/Mammals), Ruth helped prepare and catalogue bat specimens collected during expeditions in 2006, 2011, and 2012.  They both greatly appreciated the warm, welcoming reception that Field Museum staff—from one end of the building to the other—extend to their numerous international visitors.

Although some might not consider it so, Staff Scientist Jason Weckstein (Zoology/Birds) was recently honored by having a new species of louse named after him.  This newly described louse, Bizarrifrons wecksteini, parasitizes the Amazonian Oropendola (Psarocolius bifasciatus bifasciatus) a large neotropical blackbird.  Bizarrifrons wecksteini was named in a paper published by Michel Valim (former Zoology/Birds postdoc, now São Paulo Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow, Museu de Zoologia da Universidade de São Paulo) and Ricardo Palma (Curator of Insects, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa) entitled “Redescription of two species and descriptions of three new species of the louse genus Bizarrifrons Eichler, 1938 (Phthiraptera: Ischnocera: Philopteridae)” in the April volume of Zootaxa.  Several specimens of each of the species described in this paper are deposited in The Field Museum’s insect collection.

Research & Publications

MacArthur Curator Bruce Patterson (Zoology/Mammals) was the banquet speaker at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Cenozoic Research, held at the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford, IL.  “TerQua 2012” featured contributions in paleontology that spanned the Tertiary and Quaternary periods.  At the business meeting, Bruce was elected an honorary member of the society.  His talk on the Tsavo lions focused on manelessness—a trait that Tsavo lions share with Pleistocene lions in Europe—and range contraction and extinction, a grim prospect of recent trends in modern lions.

Curator Gary Feinman (Anthropology), is the co-author of a Perspective piece recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The essay, entitled "Archaeology as a Social Science" was authored by Michael E. Smith, Gary M. Feinman, Robert D. Drennan, Timothy Earle, and Ian Morris and appears in the May 15, 2012 issue of the journal (V. 109, #20, pp. 7617–7621). The article makes the argument that  because of advances in methods and theory, archaeology now addresses issues central to debates in the social sciences in a far more sophisticated manner than ever before. Coupled with methodological innovations, multiscalar archaeological studies around the world have produced a wealth of new data that provide a unique perspective on long-term changes in human societies, as they document variation in human behavior and institutions before the modern era. The authors illustrate these points with three examples: changes in human settlements, the roles of markets and states in deep history, and changes in standards of living. Alternative pathways toward complexity suggest how common processes may operate under contrasting ecologies, populations, and economic integration.

Fieldwork & Collections

Associate Curator John Bates, Assistant Collections Manager Tom Gnoske, and Research Assistant Josh Engel (all Zoology/Birds) returned in early May from a month of fieldwork in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Despite the difficulties of working in the Congo, the trip was a great success.  The team, which included five colleagues from the government research station CRSN-Lwiro and the Université Officielle de Bukavu, spent a week surveying birds and small mammals in forest patches on the eastern escarpment of the Itombwe Plateau (See header image) and week in montane forest in Kahuzi-Biega National Park.  Among the highlights of the trip was finding the first records of Cinnyris rockefelleri in over a half-century (see photo).  John and Josh finished the trip in Uganda with the specific goal of finding and tape-recording Laniarius willardi, the bush-shrike that was described in 2010 and named in honor of Emeritus Collections Manager/Adjunct Curator Dave Willard (Zoology/Birds).  With the help of Alfred Twinomujuni, a Ugandan birdwatching guide who first worked with the Museum in 1997, they found the bird in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and were able to record and photograph a pair of the rare shrike.  The team brought back several hundred bird and mammal specimens along with their associated tissues and ectoparasites as part of their ongoing research in the region.

Staff Scientist Jason Weckstein, Emeritus Collections Manager/Adjunct Curator Dave Willard, and Intern Luke Campillo (all Zoology/Birds) traveled to Nicaragua from April 16–30, where they surveyed birds and their parasites at two cloud forest localities.  The first site was Reserva Natural Miraflor-Moropotente in the Central Nicaraguan Highlands and the second site was an isolated “island” of cloud forest in the Reserva Natural Volcan Mombacho.  One of the exciting parts of the trip was that the team was able to study migrant bird species on their way north to North American breeding areas.  Many of these species pass through Chicago.  Over the last five years Field Museum scientists have also been collecting parasite specimens from migrant birds here in Chicago and thus the samples collected during the Nicaragua expedition will help us to begin to understand the seasonality and annual cycle of parasites and pathogens from North American migrant birds.

Public Education & Media Coverage

A delegation of four visiting researchers from the National Library of China visited the Museum on May 10 to view several of the items in the Chinese Rubbings collection.  They were accompanied by Ted Foss and Yuan Zhou from the University of Chicago.  Zhang Zhiqing, Deputy Director-General of the National Library of China, provided new information concerning the Lanting Xu, an album-mounted rubbing of a work by the famous calligrapher Wang Xizhi.  Although anthropologists have always known this copy to be significant, Mr. Zhang stated that he felt this might be the oldest surviving copy of the Lanting Xu.  The stone carving from which this copy is taken was made in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618–907), and that stone was later lost.  The Lanting Xu rubbing was created during the Song Dynasty (AD 960–1279), and copies from this early date are very rare and often fake.  This one, though, displays several features that demonstrate its authenticity.  Also, the marginal inscriptions are well-known, in at least one case being penned by the court tutor to the Qianlong Emperor’s son. 

                  The group also examined numerous other rubbings from the collection, and was impressed by the level of conservation and collections care devoted to them.  The delegates were in Chicago to attend the “Texting China” conference at the University of Chicago later that week.  Collections Manager Jamie Kelly and Adjunct Curator Deborah Bekken (both Anthropology) organized their visit to the Museum.