Staff & Student News

Graduate Research Assistant Danielle Riebe (Anthropology) received the Némedi Janos Scholarship to attend an intensive Hungarian language course this summer at the University of Debrecen, Hungary.  As a Ph.D. candidate in the joint Anthropology Ph.D. program between The Field Museum and the University of Illinois at Chicago, Danielle will use this opportunity to build her Hungarian language skills in preparation for her dissertation research in Hungary, which examines the organization of prehistoric social boundaries on the Great Hungarian Plain.



Research & Publications

Postdoctoral Research Scientist Stefanie Kautz and Assistant Curator Corrie Moreau, (both Zoology/Insects) had a paper published on May 25, entitled “Host Plant Use by Competing Acacia-Ants: Mutualists Monopolize While Parasites Share Hosts,” in the journal PLoS ONE.   In this paper protective ant-plant mutualisms are investigated.  These systems are often exploited by non-defending parasitic ants and represent prominent model systems for ecology and evolutionary biology.  The mutualist Pseudomyrmex ferrugineus is an obligate plant-ant and fully depends on acacias for nesting space and food.  The parasite Pseudomyrmex gracilis (see above image) facultatively nests on acacias and uses host-derived food rewards but also external food sources.  Integrative analyses showed that an individual acacia might be inhabited by the workers of several P. gracilis queens, whereas one P. ferrugineus colony monopolizes one or more host trees.  Despite these differences in social organization, neither of the species exhibited aggressive behavior among conspecific workers sharing a tree regardless of their relatedness.  This lack of aggression corresponds to the high similarity of cuticular hydrocarbon profiles among ants living on the same tree.  Corrie and Stephanie argue that in ecological terms, the non-aggressive behavior of non-sibling P. gracilis workers—regardless of the route to achieve this social structure—enables this species to efficiently occupy and exploit a host plant.  By contrast, single large and long-lived colonies of the mutualist P. ferrugineus monopolize individual host plants and defend them aggressively against invaders from other trees.  Our findings highlight the necessity for using several methods in combination to fully understand how differing life history strategies affect social organization in ants.   You can download a free copy of the paper here

BioSynC hosted a synthesis meeting entitled “Asiloidea flies and cybertaxonomic tools” from May 28–30, which was organized by Postdoctoral Research Associate Torsten Dikow (BioSynC).  15 participants from Australia, Brazil, China, Sweden, and the U.S., including eight undergraduate and graduate students, came together to share information on the use of cybertaxonomic tools to automatically disseminate species information to varied, online, public databases and ultimately the Encyclopedia of Life.  The meeting was very productive. New, emerging tools were presented and a new workflow for the description of new species and dissemination of information of these species was formulated.  A manuscript describing the advantages of this workflow is now being prepared by the participants in order to make it more widely known in the scientific community.  This synthesis meeting was co-funded by BioSynC and Torsten’s NSF REVSYS grant on Asiloidea flies.

MacArthur Field Biologist Steve Goodman (Zoology/Birds and Mammals) presented his latest book, entitled Les Carnivora de Madagascar, at a public launch and press conference in Antananarivo.  The book was published by the Association Vahatra in the series Guides sur la diversité biologique de Madagascar (Guides to the biological diversity of Madagascar).  This is the fourth book in the series published in the past 18 months that Steve has either authored or co-authored.  About 80 Malagasy scientists and students and members of the national press, television, and radio corps attended the event, which was held at the Association Vahatra office.  The book series is written in non-technical French, and has become increasingly popular.  It aims to spread information on the extraordinary biodiversity of the island to a non-scientific audience, at least in part to increase awareness and conservation interest.  The next volume in the series, will focus on amphibians of the dry forests, and should be published in late 2012.

Postdoctoral Research Associate Torsten Dikow (BioSynC) published an article with the taxonomic revision of two southern African genera of mydas flies (Mydidae) in the journal African Invertebrates.  Torsten added four new species to the four African myadas flies species already known, one of which was recently collected by him during his field work on Namibia in February (co-funded by a Field Dreams award and his NSF REVSYS grant).  Information about all eight species of Namibimydas and Nothomydas is not only published in the article, but is available through a number of online data depositories such as the Global Biodiversity Information FacilityMorphbank: Biological Imaging, ZooBank, and on the project web-site in form of an illustrated identification key.  The article is entitled “Review of Namibimydas Hesse, 1972 and Nothomydas Hesse, 1969 (Diptera: Mydidae: Syllegomydinae: Halterorchini) with the description of new species,” and can be downloaded here.

As a former Miller Fellow, Assistant Curator Corrie Moreau (Zoology/Insects) attended the invitation-only Annual UC Berkeley Miller Interdisciplinary Symposium from June 1–3.  This yearly symposium is held in Tomales Bay in Marin County, California and participation is to promote discussion of cutting-edge science among leading researchers through a weekend of scientific interaction and discussion.   You can learn more about the Miller Institute here.

Administrative Assistant Dilyana Ivanova (Anthropology) attended the 9th Joint North American and Bulgarian Conferencefrom May 30–June 2, hosted by the University of Oregon in Eugene.  This conference was co-organized by the Bulgarian Studies Association, the University of Oregon and the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.  During the conference Dilyana discussed the role of the Museum’s Anthropology Department developing Bulgarian archaeological infrastructure in the context of a joint grant program with the American Research Center in Sofia (ARCS).  The program is sponsored by the America for Bulgarian Foundation (ABF).  Her brief presentation followed Professor Liliana Simeonova’s (BAS) opening talk, which highlighted the role of the ARCS for the development of the Bulgarian-American collaborative research in humanities and social studies.  Dilyana presented a poster and other promotional materials on Archaeological and Anthropological Grant Opportunities provided by The Field Museum and ARCS via funding by ABF.  She also gave a presentation entitled “Historical Transformations and Public Entertainment: A Case Study of the Public Festivities in Bulgaria (1944–1989)” based on her dissertation research at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Institute of Ethnology and Folkloristic Studies with Ethnographic Museum.

Fieldwork & Collections

Adjunct Curator and Collections Manager Robert Lücking (Botany) held an OTS Specialty Course on lichens in Las Cruces Biological Station during the last two weeks of May.  The course focused on the biology and taxonomy of tropical lichens and their use as bioindicators of ecosystem health.  Las Cruces is an excellent venue for this purpose since it harbors an extraordinary lichen diversity (over 500 species identified so far) and research at the station focuses on rain forest fragmentation.  Robert’s course had 11 student participants and four faculty members from seven countries: the United States, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica, Colombia, Germany, and Thailand. Projects undertaken as part of the course included a survey of gap lichen communities, an analysis of functional beta-diversity in disturbed versus undisturbed forest, a test of the use of lichens as bioindicators of forest conservation status, and the elaboration of a lichen tour guide including watching lichens at night with a UV lamp (see header image).  The latter turned out to be very popular!

At the end of May, Research Associate Danny Balete (Zoology), Sweepea Veluz (Philippine National Museum), and their team completed a month-long inventory of the mammals of Lubang Island, a tiny (94 sq. miles) island southwest of Manila, separated from the main island by a deepwater channel.  In spite of heavy rains, the results are remarkable: two and perhaps three of the small mammals they captured appear to be unique to the island, making it by far the smallest island in SE Asia to have any unique species of mammals.  One of them is a small arboreal mouse with a long prehensile tail; it can suspend itself from the tip of its tail while it feeds.  Danny will bring the specimens to Chicago in early August for detailed study as part of the Philippine Mammal Project with Curator Larry Heaney (Zoology/Mammals).

The Anthropology Department hosted a special visit to the collections by elders from the Northern Arapahoe and Eastern Shoshone tribes from Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.  The elders came to help document the artifacts that pertain to their culture groups as part of a documentary film project that will result in a “virtual museum” for the Reservation for use to educate youth about their cultural heritage.  The elders (among the few in both groups who still speak their indigenous languages) deeply appreciated that the objects were safely kept and made accessible to them.  The film and high-resolution images of the objects will be provided to the Anthropology Department.  Collections Manager Jamie Kelly accompanied the group for the whole of their visit and provided expert advice on the collections.  Anthropology thanks the Public Relations and Exhibitions Departments for their support.  Image courtesy of: Alpheus Media.  

In early June, Postdoctoral Research Scientist Nate Smith (Geology) returned from teaching a ten-day field course on the vertebrate paleontology of the White River Badlands.  This is an undergraduate course offered in the Geology Department at Augustana College (Rock Island, IL) that Nate has co-instructed with Research Associate William Hammer (Geology) since 2004.  This year represented the 30th anniversary of the trip!  Students learned about the geology and paleontology of the White River Badlands, and collected fossil mammals, turtles, and invertebrates on the 7,000+ acre Shalimar Ranch just north of Harrison, Nebraska.  Additionally, Augustana students take trips to Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, Fort Robinson, Badlands National Park, and the Black Hills.

Public Education & Media Coverage

In late May, Graduate Research Assistant Matthew Piscitelli (Anthropology) was interviewed by National Geographic News in order to provide commentary on a recently discovered tomb at the ancient site of Pachacamac in Peru.  A recent National Geographic grantee that has previously worked with human remains from the Museum’s Ancon Collection, Matthew was asked to reveal the significance of the false heads attached to mummy bundles placed within a large tomb found at Pachacamac.  Although Matthew himself was not involved in the excavations, his current dissertation research is based at the Late Archaic (3,000-1,800 B.C.) site of Huaricanga farther north along the Peruvian coast.  See the story here.

A. Watson Armour III Curator Bob Martin (Anthropology) traveled to San Francisco in late April to give a keynote presentation in the LeakeyFoundation symposium “The Female in Evolution,” a brief interview was recorded in the “Dig Deeper” series.  This series is a long-term project undertaken by the Leakey Foundation to make researchers in the field of human evolution more widely known to a general audience.  Bob’s interview has just been posted on Youtube and can be watched using the following link