Staff & Student News

The Division of Amphibians and Reptiles hosted Visiting Scholar scholarship recipient David Sanchez Ramirez from May 9–22.  Sanchez, a graduate student at the University of Texas at Arlington, made extensive use of the Division’s tadpole collection.  His research focused on gathering larval morphological characters and their ontogenetic variation within Anura: Hylidae: Hylinae.  Associate Curator John Bates (Zoology/Birds) and Collection Manager Alan Resetar (Zoology/Amphibians and Reptiles) sponsored David’s visit. Photo by Kathleen Kelly.

Associate Curator Bill Parkinson (Anthropology) received a new grant from the America for Bulgaria Foundation (ABF) in the amount of $156,950 for soliciting and reviewing proposals for archaeological research and site preservation in Bulgaria and the Balkans.  In addition to providing funding for two Bulgarian postdoctoral researchers who will be in residence at The Field Museum in 2012–2013, the grant also provides funding for a scientific advisory committee to review grant proposals for the foundation.  The grant to the Museum also includes continued funding for Dilyana Ivanova’s position in Anthropology as ABF Administrative Assistant.  This is the third award in support of the ongoing relationship between The Field Museum and ABF.

In April and May, several international visitors worked in the collections and conducted scientific research with the Mycology and Lichenology group of the Botany Department.  Dr. Khwanruan Papong (“Poo”) from Maharasakam University in Thailand returned to the Museum to work with MacArthur Associate Curator and Chair Thorsten Lumbsch and Collections Manager Robert Luecking on thelotremoid Graphidaceae in Thailand and Vietnam, and the lichen diversity of Fiji. Poo received funding from the FMNH Scholarship Committee for this visit.  Dr. Pradeep Divakar from Universidad Complutense de Madrid in Spain also travels to the Museum regularly; he used this visit to work on finishing four different manuscripts with Thorsten and Postdoctoral Research Scientist Steven Leavitt.  Dr. Divakar’s visit was supported by Thorsten’s NSF grant and a joint grant he has with Divakar’s colleague Prof. Ana Crespo in Madrid.  Last not least, Dr. George Mugambi (Research Associate and Curator of Fungi at the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi) spent six weeks from late April throughout May to work with Assistant Curator Sabine Huhndorf and Thorsten on diversity and evolution of fungi in Kenya.  He spent most of his research time in the Pritzker Lab and generated a lot of sequences for papers that will describe new species from East Africa.  George’s visit was made possible by a grant of the Council on Africa at the Field Museum.

Research & Publications

Associate Curator Janet Voight (Zoology/Invertebrates) and three colleagues had a short paper published on the journal Conservation Biology’s early view web site shortly before Memorial Day.  The paper, entitled “Scientific Gear as a Vector for Non-Native Species at Deep-Sea Hydrothermal Vents” reports an enigmatic collection of hydrothermal vent limpets from a hydrothermally inactive area on Juan de Fuca Ridge where Janet had deployed wood.  The enigma with the limpets is that they shouldn’t have been there.   Although their collection from the area of the wood supported Janet’s hypothesis that vent species might be present in non-vent habitats, there was something about them that didn’t ring true.  As Janet was preparing a manuscript about their collection from a non-hydrothermally active area, the species Lepetodrilus gordensis from over 650 km south of the site was described.  Comparing the description, FMNH collections from Janet’s earlier cruises and the specimens in question confirmed that they were indeed members of this new species. 

                  Why were they there or, more importantly, what were they doing in the sampler on ALVIN?  Janet couldn’t definitively answer that question.   She called on Abby Reft for DNA sequencing in the Pritzker Lab, on Ray Lee of Washington State University for analysis of stable isotopes (which usually provide a clear signal of animals who eat at hydrothermal vents vs. those that do not) and for all-around expertise in Lepetodrilus biology on Amanda Bates, whose dissertation work at University of Victoria, BC, focused on the genus and who is now a postdoc in Conservation at the University of Tasmania.  These scientists pooled their expertise to refute the possibility that the limpets were collected from near the hydrothermally inactive area near wood deployment.  They concluded that in fact, these animals were leftovers from the previous dive on Gorda Ridge.   Even though the ALVIN and its sampler had been onboard the R/V ATLANTIS for over 36 hours after the dive on Gorda Ridge while the ship steamed to the northern site, and a member of the science party had been responsible for cleaning the suction sampler, these limpets had spent that time somewhere in the suction sampler.   And they lived.

                  If there had been a problem with the sampler during the wood recovery dive, the suction sample operator would have reversed power, and blown the non-native limpets onto Juan de Fuca Ridge.  However, the sampler worked fine and sucked these limpets into the collection cylinder where they were duly recovered, preserved and are now cataloged as from Juan de Fuca Ridge.  If they had been released on Juan de Fuca Ridge, perhaps they would not have established a population as resident aliens.   But they might have carried parasites or disease agents that could have infected the Juan de Fuca limpets of the same genus.   And vent limpets have parasites, at least on Juan de Fuca Ridge.  Big, castrating parasites.  

                  Janet’s fairly confident the crisis was averted, but used this event as the basis of the paper, cautioning deep-sea researchers that vent habitats are not immune to biological invasions, despite their isolation and physical rigors.  The message for the rest of the world is, if this could happen at deep-sea hydrothermal vent, it can happen anywhere.  Be careful.  See Public Education & Media Coverage below for more details.

Photo above: Lepetodrilus fucensis in situ, limpets crawl onto scientific gear.  Photo by: Ray Lee, Washington State University.

In mid-May, the University of Chicago Press released the book Bones, Clones, and Biomes: the history and geography of Recent Neotropical mammals.  This edited volume was produced in concert with two symposia convened at the 10th International Mammal Congress in Mendoza (Argentina) in 2009.  It brought together paleontologists, neontologists, anatomists, molecular biologists, and biogeographers from eight countries to address the question of “Why, how, and when did the New World tropics come to harbor almost 30% of all the world’s mammal species?”  Classical books on this topic by G.G. Simpson and P. Hershkovitz lacked reference to plate tectonics, absolute dating, and molecular phylogenetics that have opened up important new vistas in the interim.  Edited by MacArthur Curator Bruce Patterson (Zoology/Mammals) and Leonora Costa (Univ. Espírito Santo, Brazil), the new book features contributions that address Neotropical mammals in chronological and spatial groupings that extend from the Mesozoic forward and from the Antilles and Central America south to Tierra del Fuego.  In addition to editing and introducing the volume, Bruce co-authored a chapter with Research Associates Sergio Solari (Univ. Antioquia, Colombia) and Paul Velazco (AMNH) entitled “Hierarchical organization of Neotropical mammal diversity and its historical basis” and authored with the same two collaborators another entitled “The role of the Andes in the diversification and biogeography of Neotropical mammals.” The book is described by the press and “blurbed” by colleagues here.

On May 15, Associate Curator Petra Sierwald (Zoology/Insects) and colleagues published a paper, entitled “Millipede Taxonomy after 250 Years: Classification and Taxonomic Practices in a Mega-Diverse yet Understudied Arthropod Group,” in PlosOne.  The paper emphasizes the difficulty of deriving reliable global species diversity estimates, due to a lack of synthetic revisionary work and rigorous phylogenetics applied to the group, which results in a poorly supported classification scheme.  The first author of the paper, Michael Brewer, was a Ph.D. student in Petra and Research Associate Jason Bond’s (Auburn University, Alabama) NSF-funded PEET grant.  He successfully defended his Ph.D. thesis on millipede phylogenomic advances in March and now joins UC-Berkeley as a postdoctoral fellow.  Jason, Michael and Petra will continue their collaboration on millipede phylogeny.

A paper by Regenstein Postdoctoral Fellow Mark Golitko, Curator Gary Feinman, Curator and Chair Ryan Williams (all Anthropology) and James Meierhoff (UIC) entitled “Complexities of Collapse: the evidence of Maya obsidian as revealed by social network graphical analysis” appeared online in mid-May in Antiquity.

On April 10, Curator Alaka Wali (Anthropology) presented the annual “Anthropology Marsico Visiting Scholar” Lecture at the University of Denver.  Her lecture, entitled “Civic Aesthetics and Difference: The Circulation of Art in Chicago’s Public Spaces” discussed the relationship between cultural diversity and art-production in the Chicago neighborhoods where she has been conducting applied research for the past 10 years.

On May 9, Robert A. Pritzker Assistant Curator of Meteoritics and Polar Studies Philipp Heck (Geology) gave an invited talk at the Argonne National Laboratory 2012 Users Meeting.  Philipp talked about laboratory analysis of extraterrestrial dust and presented examples of cosmic dust studies that he performs in collaboration with Argonne National Laboratory.

Associate Curator Rick Ree (Botany and BioSynC) traveled to the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) from May 15–19 to meet with the 10 other principal investigators regarding their recently awarded NSF grant “Open Tree of Life.”  The OpenTree project is a large-scale bioinformatics initiative to synthesize a first-draft comprehensive evolutionary tree of all 2 million named species, and develop resources and software to facilitate ongoing updates to the tree as new studies are published.  A press release from the lead PI at Duke University (Karen Cranston, formerly a postdoc in BioSynC) can be found here.

Fieldwork & Collections

On May 8, the Geology Department received a high-quality meteorite from a fireball that exploded over California and Nevada last month.  The 4.6 billion-year-old meteorite, donated by private collector and C&R Committee Member Terry Boudreaux, is extremely rare and valuable to science.  It weighs about one-third of an ounce (10 grams) and has been tentatively classified as carbonaceous chondrite.  Robert A. Pritzker Assistant Curator of Meteoritics and Polar Studies Philipp Heck is a member of the international research consortium that will study this meteorite.  He has been collaborating with scientists at the Open University in the UK and Washington University in St. Louis to study the isotopic composition of the meteorite and search for presolar stardust.  Philipp is also able to use the facilities at The Field Museum to study this special meteorite. 

                 This significant donation was featured on several local news media, such as WBEZ, ABC 7 Chicago, WTTW, Chicago Sun-Times, and the Chicago Tribune, and Collections Manager James Holstein was interviewed on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight (See Header Image).

View photo gallery of the event at  Photos by Karen Bean.


Public Education & Media Coverage

The paper by Janet Voight and colleagues in Conservation Biology (see Research & Publications above) was in essence the first definitive report of how alien species could be introduced to new deep-sea habitats.  As it involved animals from hydrothermal vents and ALVIN, one of the few human-occupied deep-sea vehicles (and people love that) the journal and the publisher Wiley issued a press release.  We can only assume it was broadly distributed as Janet had the opportunity to interview with science writers from the BBC, MSNBC, Nature News, Science Now, National Geographic News, and Science Omega among others.  Public Relations Director Nancy O’Shea was a great help in managing it all.

                  The morning after a day full of interviews, Janet, a shy person at heart, trepidatiously opened an email from an unknown person with the title of the paper as the subject, dreading another interview request.  Its author, however, had read the BBC news story and was concerned that the Remotely Operated Vehicle her husband works with might be contributing to the spread of non-native species.  She wrote to ask for a pdf, so she could share it and try to avert any problems.  The genuine interest in that email, stimulated by her scientific publication and work with the news media, gave Janet the strength to get up and do what needed to be done for the rest of the day, adding greater depths to Field Museum’s Conservation Science worldwide. 

Assistant Curator Corrie Moreau (Zoology/Insects) was interviewed for NPR’s News Blog The Two-Way about the NPR AntCam.

Associate Curator Bill Parkinson (Anthropology) presented a public lecture at the University Club of Chicago entitled “Genghis Khan: The Mongolian Empire in Context.”  In his lunchtime talk, Bill discussed Genghis Khan and the Mongolian Empire in light of the current anthropological understanding of other empires, ancient and modern.  Whereas the Mongolian Empire shared several characteristics with other ancient empires—for example, it expanded quickly and collapsed into “Balkanized” states soon thereafter—it also differed from most other empires in significant ways—for example, it was not agrarian-based and it did not have a capital city.  By studying how ancient empires came about and by examining the ways in which they were successful, and how they failed, historians stand to learn a great deal about the modern world, which is dominated by economic and political relationships that find their historical roots in these ancient empires. 

On May 11, A. Watson Armour III Curator Bob Martin (Anthropology) gave an invited presentation entitled “Evolutionary Relationships of the Neanderthals” for the Earth Science Club of Northern Illinois (ESCONI) at the College of Dupage in Glen Ellyn.  Bob’s presentation reviewed the fossil record for the latter stages of human evolution and explained the historical tendency to interpret Neanderthals as direct ancestors of modern humans.  Accumulating evidence, recently complemented by DNA sequence information, has indicated instead that Neanderthals developed as a parallel lineage, probably best regarded as the separate species Homo neanderthalensis.  Bob emphasized aspects of his own research, notably a virtual reconstruction of two Neanderthal skulls from Gibraltar that confirm the marked distinctions between Neanderthals and modern humans. ESCONI is a well-established association, now celebrating its 63rd year, which fosters interests in paleontology, archaeology and mineralogy.  Several members of ESCONI who attended the presentation have long-standing connections with the Geology Department: Karen Nordquist and Irene Broede (both Volunteers in Vertebrate Paleontology and Education) and Don and Mary Ann Cronauer (contributors of fossils to our collections and long-standing FMNH Members).  ESCONI members also include several other volunteers who were unable to attend that particular meeting:  Dave Dolak, Len Buzyna, Gale, Richard Guzik, and Jack Wittry.  It is also noteworthy that ESCONI members have contributed directly to FMNH collections.  For example, Robert Coleman donated some fossil fishes, while Rob Sula (who invited Bob to give the lecture) donated a fossil egg.

Photo right: This issue of Evolutionary Anthropology, with a reconstruction of the adult Neanderthal skull from Gibraltar, contains an article by Bob and colleagues on "virtual anthropology" based on CT-scanning.