Staff & Student News

Postdoctoral Research Scientist Nate Smith (Geology) has accepted a tenure-track position in the Dept. of Biology at Howard University in Washington DC, starting in late August.  Nate has spent seven years at the Museum, first as a Resident Graduate Student through the University of Chicago’s Committee on Evolutionary Biology and then as a NSF funded postdoc and Bucksbaum Young Scientist.  During this time Nate has been extremely productive—his research has been published in top tier journals such as Science, Proceedings of the Royal Society B and Evolution, and he has received three grant awards from NSF.  Nate has also been an outstanding museum citizen helping with numerous outreach activities (, Science@FMNH podcasts, Members’ Nights), intern training, and donor tours.   The Geology Department wishes him the best of luck in his new position and hope he visits often as a newly minted Research Associate.

Research Associate Danny Balete arrived from the Philippines on August 1, and will be working with Curator Larry Heaney (Zoology/Mammals) until late November.  Danny and Larry are in the final phase of a 12-year project documenting the diversity of mammals on Luzon Island, the largest and geologically most complex island in the Philippines.  The specimens that Danny brought with him are from the latest, and perhaps last, of the surveys of predicted but undocumented centers of mammalian diversity on the island.  These surveys have increased the number of non-flying mammals on Luzon by 96% thus far—from 28 to 55, with 27 of them previously unknown to science.  The autumn will be devoted to preparing manuscripts on the results of the Luzon mammal project, including both descriptions of new species and papers on patterns of distribution and ecology, and on conservation priorities.

Research & Publications

Mario Zapata, the 2011 Timothy C. Plowman Scholarship Award winner, visited the Botany Department for two weeks (July 23–August 7) before continuing on to the Missouri Botanical Garden and the New York Botanical Garden.  Mr. Zapata is a curator at the Museo de Historia Natural on the campus of Universidad Privada Antenor Orrego in Trujillo, Peru.  Sadly, on June 5, 2010 a fire at the Peruvian museum destroyed the entire herbarium of over 14,000 botanical collections.  While at The Field Museum, Mario and his host, Curator Emeritus Michael Dillon, pulled nearly 5000 un-mounted duplicates of Peruvian flowering plants from Mike’s research collection holdings. The collections will be sent to Peru with the support from the American Society of Plant Taxonomist, who recently pledged funds to help rebuild the herbarium at UPAO.  Further, his visit allowed for research on the family Asteraceae and an examination of herbarium collection management techniques.

Associate Curator and Chair Peter Makovicky (Geology) co-authored a paper with former Geology Resident Graduate Student Brandon Kilbourne, which has appeared early on-line in Journal of Morphology.  The paper, entitled “Postnatal long bone growth in terrestrial placental mammals: allometry, life history, and organismal traits” examined how limb bone lengths and circumferences scale with growth in 22 species of mammals.  Although previous studies on a limited handful of species had found mammalian limb bones to scale with positive allometry (i.e. to grow proportionately more slender with age), our study showed that isometry was a more taxonomically widespread pattern, and negative allomtery (bones getting more robust with age) was also observed in some ungulates.  These results contradict a hypothesis that positive limb scaling is related to endothermy.  In the paper, the authors examined the relationship of scaling coefficients and a series of other life history parameters.  Overall, scaling showed a negative relationship with body mass and growth rate, though results differed according to which bone was considered and how phylogeny was accounted for.  Scaling patterns may be partly explained by where on the altricial-precocial spectrum a species falls, with precocial taxa exhibiting either isometric or negatively allometric scaling patterns.

Adjunct Curator and Collections Manager Matt von Konrat (Botany) was a co-author on a paper published in the August issue of the journal Fossil Record.  Long time collaborator Jochen Heinrichs (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany) was lead author on the paper.  The paper documented the sporophyte (the spore bearing phase of a bryophyte) of the extinct Frullania varians based on an inclusion in Late Oligocene Bitterfeld amber from Germany.  The paper was significant because it described fossil elaters and spores as well as capsule wall details of Frullaniaceae for the first time.

Curator Gary Feinman (Anthropology) was an invited participant in the interdisciplinary workshop “The Principles of Complexity: Life, Scale, and Civilization,” at the Santa Fe Institute.  Gary participated in a panel and also presented a paper, entitled “Framing the Rise and Variability of Past Complex Societies.”

The Botany Department’s Bryology division hosted three visitors during July to research the collections.  Dr. Juan Larraín (Universidad de Concepción, Chile) visited for two weeks and worked with Emeritus Curator John Engel and Adjunct Curator and Collections Manager Matt von Konrat on their NSF-funded project “Anthocerophyta and Bryophyta of the Cape Horn Archipelago: Floristics and Implications for Conservation.”  Dr. Larraín will be returning to The Field Museum in a new capacity, as a postdoctoral fellow, later this year, to work with Matt von Konrat on his NSF-funded project “A model systematic treatment of a hyper-diverse lineage descended from early land plants (Frullania, Frullaniaceae, Marchantiophyta).” Ms. Andrea Sass (Eszterházy College, Eger, Hungary) and Mereia Tabua (University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji) also visited for two weeks in July.  This was part of a capacity building program to help train young bryologists working on bryophytes (mosses, liverworts and hornworts) of the South Pacific.  Both Andrea and Mereia are integral to part of a broader project, investigating biodiversity studies of bryophytes in the South Pacific.  Together, participants are putting together a simple guide of bryophytes, which will be the first of its kind for the islands of the South Pacific.  Andrea and Mereia have been compiling and organizing specimens and imaging for this purpose.  Only scant data exist for both groups of organisms compared to many animal and seed plant groups of the region.  More details about the project, including a video, can be viewed here.   Mereia and Andrea’s visit to the Field Museum as part of the capacity building program was kindly supported by The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund and the Negaunee Foundation.

Bibiana Moncada (Universidad Distrital Francisco Jose de Caldas, Bogota, Colombia) visited the Botany Department during the months of July and August to finish work on her Ph.D. thesis on the lichen genus Sticta in Colombia.  Adjunct Curator and Collections Manager Robert Lücking is serving as her thesis external supervisor.  Bibiana has assembled an impressive amount of over 600 DNA sequences in the Pritzker Lab to clarify the species concept within the genus, and her studies revealed that Sticta contains about four to five times more species than the 120 currently known. Based on Bibiana’s work, Associate Curator and Chair Thorsten Lumbsch, Robert, Bibiana, and three colleagues from North America, Europe, and New Zealand just submitted a full proposal to NSF to work on a global revision on the genus Sticta.  If funded, the proposal will support two postdoctoral students and a graduate student.  Bibiana’s Ph.D. work grew out of a tropical lichen workshop organized by Robert in Costa Rica back in 2004 as part of his NSF-funded TICOLICHEN project and was originally designed as a strictly morphological revision of an estimated number of 30 species.  Her project demonstrates the synergetic effects that are possible through collaboration between institutions and researchers across countries and disciplines.

Fieldwork & Collections

The Library recently acquired a leather-bound binder entitled, The Man and the Museum.  This wonderful piece of museum history was presented to Stanley Field (1875–1964) by the Museum staff in grateful appreciation of his half century as President of the Museum.  It includes an original pen-and-ink caricature of Stanley Field, created by E.J. Pfiffner of the Department of Photography and Illustration.  Along with portraits of senior staff and curators, it is signed by over 100 members of the Museum staff.  The binder is currently on display in the Library Reading Room along with several other items related to Stanley Field.  Please stop by to check out the display!

Associate Curator Rick Ree (Botany) returned on August 8 from 15 days of fieldwork in the Indian Himalayas, in the states of Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh.  Working with colleagues from the National Botanical Research Institute, Rick collected specimens of Pedicularis (lousewort or wood betony) for study in the context of an NSF grant-funded project to reconstruct the global phylogeny and biogeographic history of this large genus (700 species), which occurs in mountains across the Northern Hemisphere and in Arctic and sub-Arctic tundras and boreal forests. See header photo: Priyanka Agnihotri (foreground) and Tariq Husain (background) collecting specimens of Pedicularis punctata (pink flowers). Photo by: Rick Ree.

Associate Curator and Chair Ryan Williams and Benton Postdoctoral Fellow Nicola Sharratt (both Anthropology) conducted ethnographic fieldwork with traditional potters in Arica, Chile and Moquegua, Peru in June and July.  Ryan collected clay samples and traditional pottery for the Museum’s collections and conducted experimental work with clays chemically identified in the Museum’s ICP-MS laboratory as belonging to prehispanic sources.  The new collections and ethnographic data will help discover the process by which ancient potters created and exchanged fine ceramic wares on the coast of Peru and Chile.  Ryan and his colleagues use this information to understand the economics of exchange and how societies deal with economic crises and disruptions in supply of important commodities.

Public Education & Media Coverage

On August 4–5, Collections Manager James Holstein and Robert A. Pritzker Assistant Curator Philipp Heck (both Geology) represented The Field Museum/Robert A. Pritzker Center for Meteoritics and Polar Studies at the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) landing party at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood.  The 350 people attending the event experienced a live stream from mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and witnessed the historic, complex and successful landing of the MSL Rover Curiosity.  Curiosity is the size of a small car (see photo with Jim and Philipp for scale), and the largest rover that landed on Mars.  It is a mobile, robotic geologist with a suite of sophisticated analytical instruments to find out if conditions on Mars were once more friendly to life that they are today.  Curiosity will not return any Mars rocks to Earth, and the only rocks from Mars that we have on Earth are Martian meteorites, like the 23 Martians curated in the collection of the Robert A. Pritzker Center for Meteoritics and Polar Studies. Read more about the Curiosity Mars Rover at NASA/JPL here.

On August 3, C&R Media Interns Jared Berent and Kate Webbink released a new The Field Revealed episode, “Getting to Know the Deep Sea.”  In the video, Associate Curator Janet Voight (Zoology/Invertebrates) narrates her research conducted over a mile below the surface of the ocean, where amazing creatures can be found near hydrothermal vents.  She recounts being chief scientist on the submersible ALVIN during dive #3939 in 2003.  After descending into an area that was extremely difficult to navigate by sonar, she and the crew were running the risk of returning to the surface empty-handed.  They had spent fruitless hours at the ocean floor in search of hydrothermal vents, when they happened upon a rare event involving the deep sea octopus Muusoctopus hydrothermalis (known until recently as "Vulcanoctopus hydrothermalis") and a swarm of amphipods.

For more details on Janet’s previous dives in ALVIN, along the East Pacific Rise, visit her Field Museum Expeditions page, and spread some of her good advice on careful sampling methods when carrying out research in the watery depths.