Staff & Student News

Zoology’s Division of Amphibians and Reptiles welcomed new Volunteer Michael Smoody in early August 2012.   As a long time employee of the Skokie Public Library and admirer of The Field Museum, Michael is happy to transfer his library skills to overseeing the Karl. P. Schmidt Herpetological Library, proofreading manuscripts and managing archival projects.  Michael is currently digitizing Curator Emeritus Robert Inger’s field notes from several decades of research in Borneo. 


Teresa Mayfield, a long time and long distance (she lives in Texas) Volunteer in the Division of Amphibians and Reptiles, recently created a Wikipedia page for Curator Emeritus Robert F. Inger.  The page contains a career sketch, lists of his myriad publications, and a photograph.   As time permits, Teresa will add additional sections, embed more features, add to the list of species that were named in honor of Robert, and complete the list of species that he described himself.  Robert recently celebrated his 92nd birthday and can usually be found during the week in his lab/office in the Division of Amphibians and Reptiles

Research & Publications

Research Associate Danny Balete, Curator Larry Heaney (Zoology/Mammals), and their colleagues authored a paper published on September 14 in the American Museum Novitates that described a genus and three species of small, shrew-like mice as new to science.  All of these come from previously poorly known parts of Luzon Island, Philippines, where the team has focused their field research in recent years.  Several of the new species occur in areas where there have been no protected areas, but their discovery has played a significant role in them being listed as potential national parks by the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources, with strong political support locally.  Their description contributes to the team’s effort to document the full extent of this previously poorly known but highly diverse fauna and its evolutionary history, ecology, and conservation status. 

Curator Chapurukha Kusimba (Anthropology) returned from Kenya in early September, where he spent five months as a Fulbright scholar.  Funded through the International Institute of Education, the fellowship enabled Chap to oversee the establishment of an Anthropological and Museums Department at Pwani University College, a constituent College of Kenyatta University in Kenya.  The department will serve as the nerve center for research and will be training anthropologists and museum professionals in East and Central Africa.  The new department and course offerings will open the university to groundbreaking research and will be a spectacular attraction for international students, faculty, and researchers.  Commenting on Chap’s initiative, the University Principal Professor Rajab said: “This university will be the first within East Africa to offer courses that are true to the calling of museum professionals and we welcome the cooperation with the National Museums of Kenya in order to continue with the quest for excellence in museum management.” (Peoples Daily, September 5, 2012).  As a center for research and training, the department’s faculty and its students will conduct long-term research incorporating archaeological, ethnohistoric and archaeogenetics aimed at addressing poorly known elements in the knowledge of pre-industrial urbanism in the region.  These include the nature and extent of relationships that ancient East Africans forged with mercantile and religious communities from the Middle East and South Asia and how these interactions have shaped the region’s cultural and ecological landscapes.

Research Associate John C. Murphy, Division of Amphibians and Reptiles Curator Emeritus Harold K. Voris, and late Research Associate Daryl R. Karns (all Zoology) culminated over fifteen years of research on the genus Cerberus in their recent publication in Zootaxa: “The dog-faced water snakes, a revision of the genus Cerberus Cuvier (Squamata, Serpentes, Homalopsidae), with the description of a new species.

MacArthur Curator Bruce Patterson (Zoology/Mammals) co-authored an article with collaborators from the IUCN Global Mammal Assessment that was recently published online in the journal Mammalia.  The paper, entitled “Species richness and distribution of Neotropical rodents, with conservation implications,” explores geographic patterns in both species density and endangerment status across 791 species in 159 genera and 16 families (31% of all rodent species).  Species richness is greatest at the Amazon-Andes interface and in the Atlantic Forests of southeastern Brazil. See image left.  Overall, forests, shrub-lands, and grasslands housed most threatened taxa, with forest the principal habitat association for vulnerable species.  The hottest “hotspot” for both species richness and environmental threats was in Andean forests in north-central Peru; this region has long been a research focus of Curator Emeritus Michael Dillon (Botany), of Research Associates Sergio Solari and Paul Velazco (Zoology/Mammals), and is the subject of dissertation research by graduate students-in-residence Aaron Savit and Ben Winger (both CEB and Zoology/Birds).  The entire article is available here.  

From September 3–14, Rowe Family Curator Olivier Rieppel (Geology) worked in the archives of the Universities of Göttingen and Tübingen in Germany.  He collected material on Othenio Abel, Gerhard Heberer, Ernst Lehmann, Fritz Lenz, Walter Zimmermann and some of their students, who all contributed to the development of phylogenetic systematics.  This research aims at a book on the history and philosophy of phylogenetic systematics, from Haeckel to Hennig, 1866–1966.
                  Olivier also agreed to sign on as Editor of the Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research.  His paper on “The Evolution of the Turtle Shell” was published while he was in Germany in the edited volume Morphology and Evolution of Turtles honoring Gene Gaffney, Curator Emeritus for Fossil Reptiles at the American Museum of Natural History.

Fieldwork & Collections

Curator Gary Feinman and Adjunct Curator Linda Nicholas (both Anthropology) are currently in Oaxaca, Mexico, where they are studying their obsidian (volcanic glass) collections from 13 years of excavations at El Palmillo and the Mitla Fortress.  Gary and Linda are using X-ray Fluorescence to study the source of the excavated obsidian pieces.  As there are no obsidian sources in the entire State of Oaxaca, documenting the origin points for the obsidian used to make blades and other tools provides valuable information regarding routes of exchange and patterns of access.  Image left: Curator Gary Feinman in front of Santiago Matatlán museum facade. The funerary vessel depicts a piece found during the Field Museum excavations.

                  On September 18, Gary and Linda took a break from studying obsidian to attend the inauguration of the new archaeological zone in Santa Maria Atzompa, a site that is roughly contemporaneous with the occupations at El Palmillo and the Mitla Fortress.  The President of the Republic of Mexico, Felipe Calderon (image right), and the Governor of the State of Oaxaca, Gabino Cue attended the inauguration and spoke to the invited guests.  Gary and Linda also have been asked to help analyze (using the XRF) the pigments employed to decorate a spectacular subterranean, painted tomb, recently unearthed at the Atzompa site.  They were also able to the Community Museum in Santiago Matatlán visit for the first time, which houses many of the key pieces that they recovered during the Field Museum excavations at El Palmillo. 

Public Education & Media Coverage

On September 21, C&R Media Interns Jared Berent and Kate Webbink released a new The Field Revealed entitled “The Birds in My Backyard.”  Building on his doctoral research at the University of Kansas, Research Associate Peter Lowther (Zoology) introduces the site of over twenty years of his research on House Sparrows.  Peter demonstrates that science can be found in any backyard; and specifically, in his yard in suburban Chicago.

The “What the Fish?” team would like to thank everyone for listening, and is happy to report that the first seven episodes have already been downloaded over 7,500 times from either The Field Museum’s website or iTunes!  The most recent episode, “We Found Nemo,” released on September 14, covers the biology of Finding Nemo.  It includes discussions of all things fishy while the team watches the film, but also includes discussions from the resident What the Fish? physician about the possible maladies that have caused Dory to have such poor memory retention.  See header image.  So far, the new episode has continued the trajectory of an increasing number of downloads per episode, so thanks for listening!

            Please join or continue to join the fish nerds every Friday—Assistant Curator Leo Smith, Postdoctoral Research Scientist Matthew Davis, Volunteer Eric Ahlgren (all Zoology/Fishes), and Outreach Coordinator Beth Sanzenbacher (BioSynC)—as they banter, debate, quip, and explore Finding Nemo. Please follow them on Twitter and tweet your fishy questions to @FM_WhatTheFish or The podcasts are also available at iTunes here.  The next episode will feature Field Museum guests from the Birds Division (ornithology) and Exhibitions, and will discuss the translation of scientific research into Field Museum exhibits.