Staff & Student News

Zoology’s Division of Mammals welcomes long-term Brazilian researcher Elisandra de Almeida Chiquito from the Universidade de São Paulo, Piracicaba.  Elisandra is working on the Museum’s outstanding collections of Neotropical water rats, genus Nectomys, that were last revised in 1948 by the late Curator Emeritus Philip Hershkovitz (Zoology/Mammals).  Elisandra will spend a total of five weeks in Chicago working on the mammal collections, hosted by MacArthur Curator Bruce Patterson.  This is the third extended visit by a Brazilian graduate student in 2012, totaling more than 105 visitor-days.

In late June, the Division of Amphibians and Reptiles (Zoology) welcomed new intern and budding osteologist Danielle Wasserman.  Danielle, a 2010 graduate of Hartwick College, has undertaken the grand task of repairing and cleaning many of the mounted skeletons in the herpetology collection, some of which date back to the Columbian Exposition.  Her skills and meticulous work restoring these specimens back to their former glory is a great asset to the Museum.  When not at the Field, she prepares and mounts skeletons for her personal osteology collection.  

Research & Publications

In late 2010, A. Watson Armour III Curator Bob Martin (Anthropology) was invited to write a concluding chapter for a volume entitled Building Babies: Primate Development in Proximate and Ultimate Perspectives.  That volume, edited by Kate Clancy (Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois @ Urbana-Champaign), Katie Hinde (Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University) and Julienne Rutherford (Department of Women, Children and Family Health Science, University of Illinois @ Chicago), was brought to fruition in record time.  Although the book, published by Springer, bears a 2013 date, it has already been madeavailable both through the publisher’s website and on Amazon.  Building Babies explores processes of development across humans and other primates, and Bob was asked to provide an overall summary because of his wide-ranging interests in primate evolution and his long-standing special focus on reproductive biology. 

                  The book is genuinely multidisciplinary, including 21 contributions by anthropologists, primatologists, microbiologists,psychologists, population geneticists and others.  It covers many different topics with the aim of promoting a genuine synthesis combining an anthropological perspective with human medicine.  Chapters cover in sequence the topics of conception, pregnancy, lactation, the mother-infant dyad, broader social relationships, and transitions to independence. One of the most striking discoveries in recent decades has been the realization that external influences such as starvation that impinge on the fetus during pregnancy can have important health implications later in life, for example with respect to the risk of occurrence of diabetes or heart failure.  Although it initially encountered great skepticism, the concept of fetal programming—also known as the Barker Hypothesisafter its prime mover—is now part of mainstream medicine. Chapters in Building Babies reveal that, in a similar way, external influences experienced during infancy can also influence health later in life.  Thus, fetal programming is followed by postnatal programming, with the two together constituting developmental programming from conception to weaning.  Continued research in this area will surely throw new light on environmental factors that lead to health problems in adult life.  Image above left: Problems affecting the highly invasive human placenta may have serious implications for health in ater life (image from Ramsey & Harris, 1966).

Assistant Curator Corrie Moreau (Zoology/Insects) gave an invited seminar at Rockefeller University to the Laboratory of Social Insect Evolution.  During this seminar Corrie highlighted some of her recent findings on the evolution of ants regarding the way historical biogeography has shaped current species distributions and how gut associated bacteria may influence the evolution and ecology of their ant hosts. 

Assistant Curator Ken Angielczyk (Geology) traveled to South Africa from August 20–September 10. During this time he visited fossil collections at the Bernard Price Institute for Palaeontological Research in Johannesburg, the Council for Geosciences in Pretoria, and the Iziko South African Museum in Cape Town.  Ken also attended the Biennial Meeting of the Palaeontological Society of Southern Africa, where he presented three talks.  Two of the talks focused on new discoveries coming from Ken’s recent fieldwork in Tanzania and Zambia, and one presented preliminary results from his fieldwork in Brazil.

Resident Graduate Student Max Winston (Zoology/Insects and University of Chicago) published a paper with several colleagues in Ecological Entomology entitled “Sodium-specific foraging by leafcutter ant workers (Atta cephalotes, Hymenoptera: Formicidae).”  This paper is the result of a project completed by Max and colleagues as part of an Organization for Tropical Research (OTS) field-based course on social insects.  The results of this research demonstrate that the leafcutter ant, Atta cephalotes, forages specifically for sodium rather than for anions (chloride) or solutes in general.  This study supports the hypothesis that leafcutter ants are limited by, and preferentially forage for, sodium.

Fieldwork & Collections

A team from the Geology Department prospected for new dinosaurs and other Mesozoic vertebrates in central Utah during August 7–27.  Despite unusually wet and stormy weather in the desert, the team discovered multiple sites and collected a large number of fragmentary, but well-preserved, vertebrate fossils.  The team found one site with large dinosaur bones (partial leg bone, multiple vertebrates, rib fragments, etc) where they made two plaster jackets.  Several other significant sites were found as well; one with a possible dinosaur egg nest, one with an articulated possible theropod tail, and a huge graveyard with crocodiles, turtles, and dinosaurs together.  All of the specimens have been unpacked and logged in the fossil preparation lab at the Museum, and two plaster jackets with dinosaur bones are already being prepared.  The next step will be to have all of the specimens prepared (cleaned) and properly identified so that the Museum can apply for excavation permits for next summer.  The team was ably led by Chief Preparator Akiko Shinya, and included Collection Manager Bill Simpson, Fossil Preparator Connie Van Beek, Volunteer Tim Nelson, Volunteer Jake Meyer, Collection Manager Jim Holstein, Resident Graduate Student Jonathan Mitchell (all Geology), Assistant Collection Manager Tom Gnoske (Zoology/Birds), and Steve Gieser (Founders’ Council and C&R Committee member).

Above image: Searching for fossils in Utah.  From the left: Connie Van Beek, Bill Simpson, Jake Meyer, Jonathan S. Mitchell, and Tim Nelson.  

Resident Graduate Student Nate Upham (University of Chicago and Zoology/Mammals) traveled to the swamps of Gainesville, FL from September 5–10 to visit the Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH).  Their collections house an impressive number of specimens from the Caribbean, including a treasure trove of fossil and subfossil sloths, rodents, and shrews from Haiti and the Dominican Republic.  Nate spent several days combing through these collections in search of a group of rats called hutias (family Capromyidae) of which at least 25 species have gone extinct in the last million years (14 are still living today).  By studying the size and shape of hutia lower jaws, Nate hopes to better understand the role of feeding morphology in these extinctions as well as their broader evolutionary history of these rats in the Neotropics.  See Header Photo: Bulk assortment of molar cheekteeth from Geocapromys ingrahami from New Providenceisland in the Bahamas.


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