Staff & Student News

Postdoctoral Research Scientist Torsten Dikow (BioSynC) welcomed Intern Stephanie Leon, who will be working with him over the next 10 weeks on a taxonomic revision of the mydas-fly genus Namadytes from southern Africa.  Stephanie just graduated with a major in entomology from the University of California at Riverside.  The aim of the internship is to review all five known species, describe any new species and to publish the taxonomic revision in the cybertaxonomy journal ZooKeys.  Additionally, the gathered information will be disseminated to online databases, including the Encyclopedia of Life, so that researchers and students all over the world have access to the information.  Torsten’s current NSF REVSYS grant that deals with the taxonomy and evolutionary relationships of robber flies, mydas flies, and flower-loving flies funds Stephanie’s research.

The Anthropology Department welcomed several visiting scholars in May and June.  Dr. Laurie Webster (University of Arizona) was sponsored by MacArthur Curator Jonathan Haas.  She visited the Museum from May 22–June 12 to continue her detailed survey and photo-documentation of approximately 260 archaeological textiles, baskets, and other perishable artifacts from southeastern Utah.  This project is the first phase of a larger, long-term effort to document early collections of archaeological perishable artifacts from Basketmaker and ancestral Pueblo sites in the Four Corners region of the U.S. Southwest. 
                  Visiting Scholar Fredeliza Campos (University of Hong Kong) was sponsored by Regenstein Curator John Terrell.  She visited the Museum from June 11–22 to continue her detailed survey and photo-documentation of over 300 musical instruments from the Philippines that were collected by Field Museum archaeologists in the early 20th century.  The aim of Fredeliza’s survey is to understand changes in musical practices over the past hundred years through a typological analysis of musical instruments from early to more recent collections held by several institutions including The Field Museum, which has examples of some of the earliest, extant musical instruments from  the Philippine archipelago (see header image).
                  Visiting Scholar Dr. Sara Yeung (University of Virginia) was sponsored by Associate Curator and Chair Ryan Williams.  She visited the Museum from June 11–22 to study Chinese ink rubbings of steles engraved with paintings of popular subjects including landscapes, plants, and figures to determine the original context and functions of the steles.  Dr. Yeung also examined Chinese ink rubbings from dharani pillar with engravings of esoteric Buddhist figures that date to the Tang dynasty (A.D. 618–907).  Additionally, she studied the authenticity of the Museum’s collection of Chinese paintings, many of which were collected in the early twentieth century by Berthold Laufer, who was the Museum’s first curator for the Asian Anthropology collections.

Resident Graduate Student Rebecca Dikow (University of Chicago, Zoology/Fishes) successfully defended her doctoral dissertation on June 15.  Rebecca’s adviser was Leo Smith (Zoology/Fishes) with Richard and Jill Chaifetz Associate Curator Shannon Hackett (Zoology/Birds), Rowe Family Curator of Evolutionary Biology Olivier Rieppel (Geology), Michael Coates (University of Chicago), Dion Antonopoulos (Argonne) and Ward Wheeler (AMNH) serving on her committee.  Her dissertation is entitled, “Genome-level homology and phylogeny: case studies using Vibrionaceae and Shewanellaceae (Gammaproteobacteria).”  In this dissertation, Rebecca presents three new complete genome sequences and puts forth phylogenetic hypotheses for two families of bacteria based on complete genome data.  She also provides a critique of the use of genes as partitions in phylogenetic analyses based on her empirical results and on theoretical and philosophical concerns.  She has been offered a postdoctoral fellowship as part of a new Genomics Initiative at the Smithsonian (jointly between the National Museum of Natural History and the Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics at the National Zoo) beginning in the fall.  The Field Museum Women’s Board has funded Rebecca for the past year.

Postdoctoral Research Scientist Joshua Drew (BioSynC) joined the faculty of the department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology at Columbia University in New York City.  Josh will also be heading their MA program in Conservation Biology.

Dr Philip Piper visited the Zoology Department’s Division of Mammals on a Field Museum of Natural History scholarship from June 11–22.  Dr. Piper is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow from the School of Archaeology and Anthropology, Australian National University, Canberra. He is a zooarchaeologist studying animal bone remains from archaeological sites in Mainland and Island Southeast Asia, with a focus on the cultural, social and economic transition; from hunting to animal management.  The study entails the identification and analysis of thousands of bone fragments recovered from various Paleolithic and early Neolithic settlement sites across the region. Dr Piper’s research at The Field Museum has therefore focused on problems revolving around the identification of fragmentary mammal and reptile remains commonly recovered from the archaeological record, and the production of a digital and metrical “library.”  This has entailed the collation of numerous photographic images and measurements of various skeletal elements from different modern mammal and reptile taxa held at the Museum, which has one of the world’s best collections of vertebrate skeletons from Southeast Asia.

Research & Publications

Associate Curator and Chair Thorsten Lumbsch (Botany) co-authored a paper entitled “Transoceanic Dispersal and Subsequent Diversification on Separate Continents Shaped Diversity of the Xanthoparmelia pulla Group (Ascomycota)” published in the online journal PLoS ONE.  The publication is a result of his collaboration with the research group of Ana Crespo in Madrid (Spain). The aim of this publication was to explore the biogeography and the evolutionary patterns of a group of lichenized fungi called the Xanthoparmelia pulla group, a widespread group of one of largest genera of macrolichens.  Thorsten and his colleagues used molecular data and a dated evolutionary tree to find out where these organisms originated and how they were distributed over time.  Instead of having widespread species as in the current species delimitation, the results showed that most “species” consisted of several species, each confined to one continent.  They also found that chemistry is a better predictor of evolutionary relationships than morphology.  South Africa was identified as the area where the group originally radiated during the Miocene.  From this center of radiation the different lineages migrated by long-distance dispersal to others continents, where secondary radiations developed.  The study also showed that a secondary lineage migrated from Australia to South America via long-distance dispersal and subsequent continental radiation. Subsequently this group migrated from South America to western North America and currently occurs in California.  Such a migration from South to North America after the closing of the isthmus of Panama is well known from other organisms (just think of possums in Chicago) but has not been demonstrated in lichens so far.

Resident Graduate Student Dave Clarke (Zoology/Insects) led a workshop at the “Asiloidea flies and cybertaxonomic tools” synthesis meeting recently hosted by BioSynC (May 28–30) and organized by Postdoctoral Research Scientist Torsten Dikow (BioSynC).  The goal of the workshop was to provide an overview of the DEscriptive Language for TAxonomy System (the DELTA System) that is used for encoding taxonomic (character) data and automatically processing it into natural language species descriptions, traditional paper-based and electronic multi-access identification keys, and other related functions integral to the workflow of monographic research and electronic dissemination of biodiversity data.  There has been revived interest in continuing the development of the DELTA System as an environment for taxonomic computing, and since it is freely available software the workshop was useful to those participants interested in an alternative to commercial software that is largely comparable in functionality.

Fieldwork & Collections

Public Education & Media Coverage

Adjunct Curator Gary Merrill (Botany), Collection Assistant James Louderman (Zoology/Insects) and Collection Manager Alan Resetar (Zoology/Amphibians and Reptiles) participated in the fourth BioBlitz on June 9 at Spicer Lake Nature Preserve County Park near South Bend in St. Joseph County Indiana, sponsored by the St Joseph County Park District.  A population of the declining cricket frog (Acris crepitans) as well as many interesting bryophytes and insects were found.  A short audio clip from the BioBlitz with a calling cricket frog making its characteristic clicking can be heard here.  We did not want to disturb the frogs so there is no cute frog footage—only cattails and calls.

Associate Curator Bill Parkinson (Anthropology) and Museum Librarian Christine Giannoni addressed the directors and staff of the America for Bulgaria Foundation at a dinner the foundation hosted in the Library on June 19.  Since 2009, the America for Bulgaria Foundation has been supporting an initiative that supports collaboration between the Department of Anthropology and the American Research Center in Sofia to fund archaeological and anthropological research in southeastern Europe.  Before dinner, Bill gave the group a behind-the-scenes tour of the Anthropology Oversized rooms in the Collections Resource Center.  John McCarter greeted the group in the library and Christine gave tours of the Rare Book Room.  Bill addressed the group during dinner, when he discussed the future of the collaborative relationship between the museum and the American Research Center in Sofia.

Scientific Program Manager Audrey Aronowsky, Coral Reef Specialist Beth Sanzenbacher (both BioSynC), and Digital Learning Specialists Johanna Thompson and Krystal Villanosa (both Education) presented at the 8th Annual Games, Learning, and Society Conference in Madison, WI.  The papers they presented included “Sometimes Paper IS Enough: The Case of The Field Museum's Biodiversity Scavenger Hunt,” “When simple is not best: issues that arose using WhyReef in the Conservation Connection digital learning program” and “Game of Bones: design decisions and feedback for a vertical slice.”  More information on these and other digital outreach and learning projects is available here