Staff & Student News

Associate Curator Bill Parkinson (Anthropology) received a grant from the National Geographic Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration (NG-CRE) to support archaeological field work in southern Greece.  Bill and his colleagues were awarded $23,360 in support of their project entitled “The Diros Project, 2012: Greek-American Collaborative Archaeological Research in Southern Greece.”  This award provides funding for four weeks of research in and around Alepotrypa Cave, Diros Bay, Mani Peninsula, Greece (see header image).  The first large agricultural villages in Europe emerged toward the end of the Neolithic period, nearly seven thousand years ago.  By studying how marginal regions like the Mani were exploited by early agricultural populations, the project’s research will flesh out the cultural background of the important political and economic transformations that occurred during the subsequent Bronze Age, and which eventually paved the way for the emergence of the Mycenaean states.  Bill and his team also have received support from the Institute for Aegean Prehistory, the Anthropology Alliance of The Field Museum, and the Field Museum Women’s Board Field Dreams program.  Above photo is a view of excavations in progress inside Alepotrypa Cave in the Mani Peninsula, southern Greece. Photo by W.A. Parkinson.

MacArthur Curator Bruce Patterson (Zoology/Mammals), Zoology Research Associate Paul Webala (Moi University, Kenya) and Dave Waldien (Bat Conservation International) were awarded a grant of $90,095 from the JRS Biodiversity Foundation.  Their proposal “Bats of Kenya: distribution, status, ecology and public health,” seeks to elucidate the systematics, biogeography, and ecology of the country’s rich bat fauna (at least 107 species are known, second in Africa only to D.R.C.).  Research Associate Carl Dick (Western Kentucky University) is a named collaborator and the Kenya Wildlife Service has granted these scientists open access to their world-class parks and reserves to pursue this research program.  The grant will cover curation of 15,000 Kenyan bat specimens already in Museum collections and additional fieldwork, during which newly-collected samples will document vocalizations, diets, parasites, and pathogens.  Thelibrary of bat vocalizations (most with museum vouchers) will eventually permit remote, passive monitoring of bat populations and activities.  By the conclusion of the grant, the team hopes to assemble a book-length monograph on the Bats of Kenya.

On June 11, MacArthur Field Biologist Steve Goodman (Zoology/Birds and Mammals) acted as a co-director of a thesis presented at the University of Antananarivo by Beza Ramasindrazana.  The thesis was entitled “Etudes morphologique, taxinomique et bioacoustique des chauves-souris insectivores de Madagascar: cas de bio-ecologie des Miniopteridae et des Hipposideridae.”  Beza received the highest possible grade on his thesis.  He has worked closely with Steve over the years and will soon take up a post-doctoral position at a lab on La Réunion to study the systematics of bat blood parasites and the cycle of transmission.

Dr. Gunther Köhler, Curator of Herpetology at the Research Institute Senckenberg in Frankfurt am Main,Germany, visited the Division of Amphibians and Reptiles from June 5–15, where he examined the extensive collection of nearly 5,000 Panamanian amphibians and reptiles.  Dr. Köhler is an expert on the entire Central American herpetofauna as well as the author of several monographs and numerous papers on this region’s fauna.  Dr. Köhler is a 2012 Visiting Scholar scholarship recipient.  For information on Dr. Köhler’s institution and research, go here

Dr. Köhler is also an accomplished country music composer and performer with the group Flaggstaff and is proficient in the steel guitar, guitar and mandolin.  A YouTube video of Flaggstaff playing Old Glory, a song about the American flag based on a poem and put to music by Dr. Köhler, can be found here.

Research & Publications

Fieldwork & Collections

In May, Adjunct Curator and Collections Manager Matt von Konrat (Botany) and colleague Blanka Shaw (Duke University) spent three weeksconducting fieldwork in Fiji.  The islands of Fiji are part of the Polynesia-Micronesia biodiversity hotspot—one of thirty-five in the world.  Alarmingly, Conservation International recognized this hotspot as the epicenter of the current global extinction crisis.  Matt and Blanka werecollecting early land plants (liverworts, mosses and hornworts), especially focusing on the liverwort genus Frullania.  Over 1,600 specimens were collected from the largest island, Viti Levu, and the second largest island, Vanua Levu.  Critical to the success of the expedition was the support and guidance provided by collaborators Alivereti Naikatini and Senilolia Heilala, both with University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji.  The fieldwork was a combination of a long-term project in the region led by Matt, focusing on the biodiversity and conservation of these organisms, as well as collecting material for an NSF-funded project investigating the liverwort genus Frullania.  The field trip also provided an opportunity to help provide training to bryology masters student Mereia Tabua and botanist Senilolia Heilala, both also with University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji.  The fieldwork received generous support from NSF, the Negaunee Foundation and the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund.

The Field Museum’s collection of more than 22-million biological specimens are of incalculable scientific value.  Specimen data, e.g., locality, collecting dates and details of collecting methods, not only inform us of existing biodiversity, but permits predictions of shifting species ranges in accordance with climate and land-use change.  Putting these data to use requires having them at our “fingertips” in electronic form.  Digitization of Field Museum’s specimen data is a challenging proposal considering the size of the collections. 

In the last week of May, Associate Curator Petra Sierwald (Zoology/Insects) participated in an NSF-sponsored workshop on the development of robust and efficient collection and specimen digitization workflows, including various forms of specimen imaging.  13 collections were presented detailing their digitization methods.  Workflows for digitization, with and without specimen imaging, were boldly broken down into individual sets of steps, which can be performed by different groups of people and at different times.  Automation of individual tasks is a focus of new developments aimed towards improving the efficiency of data capture.  Imaging of labels and entering data from the label images is also an important and widely-used component.  Working groups were established to improve accuracy of OCR, and efforts are now underway to form working groups on voice recognition for collection digitization and the development of taxonomic authority files.  The workshop was hosted by the NSF-funded iDIGBio HUB at the Florida Natural History Museum in Gainesville. 

On June 7, the Botany Department received 25,000 bryophyte specimens (mosses, liverworts and hornworts) from Southern Illinois University (SIU) in Carbondale.  Adjunct Curator and Collections Manager Matt von Konrat and colleague Blanka Shaw (Duke University), traveled to SIU where they helped pack these specimens that had been bequeathed to the Museum by Drs. Barbara Crandall-Stotler and Raymond Stotler.  The specimens were part of their personal herbarium, as well as from the American Bryological and Lichenological Society Hepatic Exchange herbarium.  Dr. Stotler has been the curator of the ABLS hepatic herbarium (ex-ABSH) since 1973, and he and Dr. Crandall-Stotler served consecutively as the Director of the ABLS Hepatic Exchange from 1971–1982 and 1982–2000, respectively.  Both Raymond and Barbara still have active bryological programs and are internationally regarded as distinguished scholars and educators.  The impetus, in part, was driven by the need to database and digitize this important collection as part of the NSF-funded, multi-institutional project entitled “Collaborative Research-North American Lichens and Bryophytes: Sensitive Indicators of Environmental Quality and Change.”  The collection will greatly enhance the significance of the bryological holdings of The Field Museum, and both Emeritus Curator John Engel and Matt are tremendously grateful to Raymond and Barbara for this valuable addition.

Public Education & Media Coverage

Associate Curator Janet Voight (Zoology/Invertebrates) remains a media celebrity after the May 23 online debut of her paper with colleagues in Conservation Biology, but her 15 minutes of fame is now on the decided ebb.  The last two weeks have generated only one new web sensation each.  First, the National Science Foundation’s Top Discoveries web page featured a story on the hydrothermal vent limpets (see above image) that Janet documented had hitched a ride on gear on ALVIN between ridge segments.  This is similar to other stories that appeared prior, with one very important exception.  It quotes Brian Midson of NSF’s Division of Ocean Sciences as saying that “Potential cross-fertilization and contamination of hydrothermal vents and other sites need to be considered during pre and post-dive activities.  This new information will result in future discussions between shipboard crew and research scientists about the need for rigorous cleaning and inspection of sampling gear and vehicles, before and after every dive."

This was exactly the result the publication was intended to have!  Then, the Naked Oceans podcast, a monthly web-hosted news feature, highlighted the story in their news, as well as in the Ocean Aliens edition.

On June 12, Adjunct Curator and Collections Manager Matt von Konrat and Research Associate Matt Greif (both Botany) conducted a pilot program with students from Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU), connecting biodiversity studies and systematics to the class’ curriculum.  The classroom activity was kindly coordinated by Dr. Thomas Campbell, an instructor at NEIU.  This is the second pilot where von Konrat and Greif guided the students through a laboratory where they actively engaged in data capture from digital images.  The pilot is working towards bridging taxonomic endeavor and training with broader impact activities, and could serve to be a model in connecting biodiversity research and broadening the human resource. The effort is part of an NSF-funded project, which can be can be accessed here

The noted physical anthropologist Dr. Robert Sussman (center), former editor of the American Anthropologist, and one of the world’s leading experts on primate evolution, visited the Department of Anthropology on June 5 to give an Armour Symposium lecture on “A History of Race and Racism” to a full house in the Zoology Classroom.  Here he is shown meeting afterwards with A. Watson Armour III Curator Robert D. Martin (left), and Regenstein Curator of Pacific Anthropology John Edward Terrell (right) at the Firehouse Restaurant on Michigan Avenue not far from the Museum to discuss their current research and book-writing projects on evolution, both primate and human.