Staff & Student News

Science Now announced on October 9 that Resident Graduate Student Carrie Seltzer (Zoology/Mammals and UIC) was chosen as one of twelve finalists in the Dance Your PhD 2012 contest.  All of the finalists can be viewed here, and you are encouraged to vote for your favorite! Dances will be judged on the science, communication, and dancing by a panel.  The winners and reader favorite will be announced on Monday, October 15, so vote today!

From September 19–October 4, Resident Graduate Student Nate Upham (University of Chicago and Zoology/Mammals) performed DNA analyses on a range of 50 to 120-year old museum specimens at the McMaster Ancient DNA Centre in Hamilton, ON, Canada. Small scrapings of dried tissue were gathered from skulls and skeletons housed in The Field Museum’s mammal collections to perform this work, with the focus on 14 species of Neotropical tree rats and hutias that Nate is studying for his dissertation.  These rare animals are only known from a few specimens, all collected prior to the discovery of DNA and hence before the preservation of frozen tissues for molecular analysis.  Dried tissues from museum collections contain degraded DNA, and its fragmentary nature requires that sterile conditions and special protocols be employed to prevent contamination.  Therefore it was necessary to don a fashionable “clean suit” consisting of a sterile outer layer with hood, facemask, double gloves, and plastic clogs (see attached photo).  Specially designed “clean rooms” free of amplified DNA products were also used with the help of investigators Hendrick Poinar, Melanie Kuch, and Jake Enk at the McMaster Ancient DNA Centre.  Best of all, much of the work on these museum specimens was successful.  Nate was able to amplify about 1,400 base pairs of mitochondrial and nuclear DNA from nine species, and has plans for additional work.

MacArthur Curator Bruce Patterson (Zoology/Mammals) was appointed to the graduate committee of Baraton University in Western Kenya to co-supervise the thesis of David Wechuli.  David’s major adviser is Research Associate Paul Webala (Zoology).  For his thesis, David is documenting the diverse bat communities of Lake Begoria, a soda lake in Kenya’s Rift Valley.  He was recently awarded a bursary for his Masters’ studies by the IDP/FMNH African Training Fund.

Research & Publications

Rowe Family Curator Olivier Rieppel (Geology) had two papers published online (early view) during the week of October 8.  The first was entitled “Othenio Abel (1875-1946) and the ‘phylogeny of the parts’” and was published in Cladistics.  Othenio Abel, a German Nationalist turned National Socialist from the University of Vienna, later Göttingen, is know as the founder of Paleobiology, a biological approach to paleontology which became embedded in Nazi biologism during the National Socialist regime. Phylogeny reconstruction was an integral part of Abel's paleobiology.  This paper examines Abel’s methods of phylogeny reconstruction, their historical context and their influence on the later development of phylogenetic systematics.

                  The second paper, entitled “Styles of scientific reasoning: Adolf Remane (1898-1976) and the German evolutionary synthesis,” appeared in the Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research.  Remane is considered one of the most influential German zoologists of the 20th Century. After WW II, he was detained by British occupation authorities for his work and writings on race formation, and categorized as a follower (category IV) in the denazification campaign.  Under Ernst Mayr’s influence, Remane became branded as an anti-Darwinian typologist and idealistic morphologist, in contrast to the contemporary, politically uncompromised German zoologist Bernhard Rensch, whom Mayr celebrated as an important contributor to the Modern Synthesis of evolutionary theory.  This paper shows that Rensch and Remane shared a closely similar style of scientific reasoning, and uses Mayr’s correspondence to show that Mayr’s contrasting assessment of Rensch versus Remane, which influenced subsequent historiography, was motivated by socio-political issues.

In early October, MacArthur Field Biologist Steve Goodman (Zoology) traveled to the USA from Madagascar.  He brought several hundred bat specimens for The Field Museum collection and then headed to northern Michigan to present a talk at the Interlochen Arts Academy as part of a symposium entitled, “Information, Space and Time: The Arts, Creativity and Learning in the 21st  Century.”  Steve’s invited presentation addressed the theme “Understanding and expressing the world around us: The interface between art and science.”  Steve’s last three years of high school were spent at the Interlochen Arts Academy, where he was a sculpture and ceramics major.  He will return to Madagascar on October 15.

Fieldwork & Collections

Fieldwork on “The Bats of Kenya” project resumed in September when MacArthur Curator Bruce Patterson (Zoology/Mammals) and Research Associate Paul Webala (Zoology) visited nearly a dozen caves and several forests along Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast.  The team also included Ruth Makena of the National Museums of Kenya, Carol Taiti of the Kenya Wildlife Service, and David Wechuli of Baraton University, whose Masters’ studies are jointly supervised by Paul and Bruce.  As in the past, captured bats were first released in a flight cage where their ultrasonic vocalizations could be recorded before their processing for morphological, genetic, dietary, parasite and pathogen studies.

Associate Curator Margaret Thayer and Curator Emeritus Al Newton (both Zoology/Insects) returned to the field in Oregon and northern California during September 10–23 in their continuing pursuit of the elusive larva (immature stage) of an odd North American endemic rove beetle subfamily, Empelinae.  They’re still sorting the samples and have found more specimens of some new rove beetle species they first found in other recent off-season visits to previously-collected sites, but so far no promising larvae.  The areas they collected in were—like Illinois—extraordinarily dry as a result of drought this year, which cut into the numbers and diversity of (moisture-loving) rove beetles.  See Header Image: Al hunting for beetles just below the snowline on Mt. Hood (by M. K. Thayer).

                  On the way back from September field work in Oregon and California Margaret and Al visited Research Associate David Kistner (Zoology) in Chico, California, to pick up another donation installment of his incredible rove beetle collection, which consists mostly of species that live with ants or termites.  Dave’s research focused mainly on these myrmecophilous (ant-loving) and termitophilous (termite-loving) members of the family Staphylinidae and included months of fieldwork on all continents, collecting specimens directly from host colonies in order to gather what was often the first and/or only biological information on the species. His collection (now almost entirely donated to The Field Museum, including early 9,000 specimens picked up in May, then the same amount or more in September) is probably the largest and most comprehensive such collection in the world, constituting an unparalleled research and faunal documentation resource. Since 1955, he and his colleagues described 130 genera, 762 species, and 21 higher taxa of rove beetles, with Dave’s collections often being the only material in existence.  The Museum now has nearly all the pinned material, but his alcohol collections and additional slide preparations (probably over 100,000) remain to be picked up.  Having recently observed his 81st birthday, Dave is still active and has a few more papers he plans to complete.

In the second week of October, the Zoology Department’s Division of Invertebrates hosted Dr. Gary Poore from Museum Victoria in Melbourne, Australia.  Dr. Poore is a specialist for “squat lobsters,” i.e. crustaceans in the superfamilies Galatheoidea and Chirostyloidea.  He is currently gathering data for a global mapping project of deep-sea squat lobster species in the context of the Census of Marine Life.  His visit in Chicago afforded Dr. Poore the opportunity to study hundreds of squat lobster specimens collected in deep-sea habitats of the North-East Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico by Associate Curator Janet Voight (Zoology/Invertebrates) and collaborators and now part of The Field Museum’s Invertebrates Collection.  Image right: A squat lobster at the depth of 2213 m at Juan de Fuca Ridge in the North-East Pacific Ocean. Scientists on a 2004 cruise led by Associate Curator Janet Voight used the manned submersible ALVIN to photograph and capture this specimen which is now part of the Field Museum’s Invertebrates Collection.

The Field Museum Library recently contributed 44 titles for digitization and inclusion in the Biodiversity Heritage Library.  Most of these titles were selected for digitization because they were specifically requested from our Library in order to fill in a gap on a serial title or were requested directly from a BHL user.  Titles included: Revue coleopterologique, as well as Catalogue raisonné des oiseaux observés dans les Pyrénées françaises et les régions limitrophes (The Field Museum is one of only eight libraries worldwide with this publication).  You can see the beautiful illustrations from the latter title among the Library's Flickr image sets as well.



The Division of Amphibians and Reptiles is hosting Dr. Takanobu Tsuihiji, a visiting researcher from the University of Tokyo from October 1–November 2.  Dr. Tsuihiji is using the Division’s extensive cleared and stained herpetological specimen collection as a part of his research into the evolution of reptile skeletal morphology.  Dr. Tsuihiji is a longtime friend and colleague of the Division, as he served as a Postdoctoral Researcher for former Curator Dr. Maureen Kearney from 2004–2006.  

Public Education & Media Coverage

On September 19, the Encyclopedia of Life’s “One Species at a Time” podcast on lions was released, featuring MacArthur Curator Bruce Patterson (Zoology/Mammals) and Harvard librarian Constance Rinaldo).  Another podcast (in “Extras”) describes some personal reactions to handling lions.  The interview is available here.

A new “What the Fish?” podcast is out, Episode 9: Invasive Species.  In this episode, the “What the Fish?” podcast team is joined by special guest Caleb McMahan (LSU).  The panel of five discusses invasive species ranging from the introduction of the Asian Carp (Hypophthalmichthys) in the Midwest to the highly venomous lionfish (Pterois) that is now found from New England to South America despite being native to the Indo-Pacific Ocean.  As always, tune in every other Friday for this latest discussion from the fish nerds: Assistant Curator Leo Smith, Postdoctoral Research Scientist Matthew Davis, Consultant and Volunteer Eric Ahlgren (all Zoology/Fishes) and Outreach Coordinator Beth Sanzenbacher (BioSynC).  Please follow them on Twitter and tweet your fishy questions to @FM_WhatTheFish or  The podcasts are also available at iTunes here.