Staff & Student News

Associate Curator and Chair Peter Makovicky (Geology) and former Resident Graduate Student and current Research Associate Nate Smith (Geology/Howard University) were notified that their proposal “Collaborative Research: Continued Research on the Jurassic Vertebrate Fauna from the Beardmore Glacier Region of Antarctica” will be fully funded to the tune of $302,961 by the Office of Polar Programs at NSF.  The award will cover preparation of, and research on, dinosaur fossils collected by the PIs during their successful 2010–2011 field season in the Central Transantarctic Mountains, as well as undergraduate and post-doc training.  Plans are underway to develop a traveling exhibit on Antarctic paleontology as an extension of this project.

Graduate Research Assistant Danielle Riebe (Anthropology) received the UIC Chancellor’s Graduate Research Fellowship for her project entitled “Signatures of Prehistoric Interaction: The Chemical Analysis of River Clays and Ceramics from Late Neolithic Sites in Hungary and Romania.”  Funding will be used to advance Danielle’s doctoral research, which focuses on boundaries and interactions on the Great Hungarian Plain in the Late Neolithic (5,000–4,500 BCE).

In early December, Field Biologist Steve Goodman (Zoology) served as the external reviewer for a Ph.D. thesis presented at the Université d'Antananarivo by Zoelisoa Rabeantoandro.  The thesis was on the taxonomy and biogeography of Ceratopogonidae flies.  Steve worked with Zoelisoa over 15 years ago during field inventories to obtain a portion of the material for her thesis.

Research & Publications

During the last week of November, Assistant Curator Leo Smith and Postdoctoral Research Scientist Matthew Davis (both Zoology/Fishes) traveled to California to examine fishes and work with colleagues at both the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.  The emphases of the research visit to Scripps were to work on the description of a new species deep-water Flagfin from the Galapagos Islands, to examine multiple groups of deep-sea fishes (such as the female anglerfish with an attached parasitic male, see image left), and to meet with other scientists exploring the evolution of bioluminescence in the ocean.  The emphasis of the trip to the Los Angeles County Museum was to collect data on some fossil killifishes and meet with collaborators to discuss progress on the NSF-funded fish tree of life project. 


Rowe Family Curator of Evolutionary Biology Olivier Rieppel (Geology) and colleagues from The Natural History Museum in London and from the University of New South Wales had their paper, entitled “Adolf Naef (1883–1949): On Foundational Concepts and Principles of Systematic Morpphhology,” published online (early view) by the Journal of the History of Biology.  Naef was a leading authority on cephalopod anatomy and embryology, and also a founding father of phylogenetic systematics.  The paper presents a short biography of Naef (based on archival material from Zurich and Basel), as well as an annotated translation of an unpublished manuscript by Naef on the theoretical foundations of systematics, the first of his many theoretical contributions to appear in English.

MacArthur Associate Curator and Chair Thorsten Lumbsch, NSF grant-funded Postdoctoral Research Scientist Sittiporn “Kong” Parnmen (both Botany) and their Tasmanian colleague Gintaras Kantvilas published a paper in the journal MycoKeys on an enigmatic lichen genus, Cameronia, found only in the mountains of Tasmania. Using DNA sequence data they demonstrated that this genus is very isolated and described a new family, Cameroniaceae, to accommodate the genus.  Their paper, entitled, “Molecular data support placement of Cameronia in Ostropomycetidae (Lecanoromycetes, Ascomycota),” can be viewed here.

On November 28, Associate Curator and Chair Peter Makovicky (Geology) and former Meeker Postdoctoral Fellow and current Research Associate Lindsay Zanno (Geology/North Carolina Museum of Natural Science) published a paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society B entitled “No evidence for directional evolution of body mass in herbivorous theropod dinosaurs.”  The paper tests the commonly held hypothesis of whether the evolution of herbivory drove body mass evolution in amniotes, due to selection for a larger gastrointestinal tract for increased gut retention times and digestive efficiency.  Peter and Lindsay used three lineages of coeval non-avian theropod dinosaurs that they had previously demonstrated to have evolved herbivory as model systems.  Although all three clades did exhibit a near-significant to significant increase in body mass (extrapolated from femoral measurements) over geological time, this finding was not robust to a battery of comparative analyses that take phylogeny into account.  Comparative analyses suggest that so-called passive processes (e.g. random exploration of body mass morphospace) explain the evolution of size better in all three groups, than do models of directional change that would indicate strong selective forces.  Additional considerations and tests suggest that preservational or environmental effects likely play a strong role on body size sampling in the fossil record.  The paper received online press coverage from several news organizations and science web-sites (,,, etc.).

Assistant Curator Corrie Moreau (Zoology/Insects), visited the University of Wisconsin-Madison to give an invited seminar in the Entomology Department.  During the visit, Corrie met with faculty and students from several departments to discuss her research.

MacArthur Curator Bruce Patterson (Zoology/Mammals) and Research Associate Paul Webala (Zoology/Karatina University, Kenya) published the first paper from their collaboration on Kenyan bats, work made possible by the Museum’s Council on Africa and the IDP/FMNH African Training Fund.  “Keys to the bats (Mammalia: Chiroptera) of East Africa,” appeared as No. 6 in Fieldiana: Life and Earth Sciences last week.  The monograph provides illustrations, measurements, ranges, status, key characters and literature references for 10 families and 144 bat species known to occur in the East African countries of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda.  It relied heavily on both the Museum's outstanding collections of African bats and its General Library (the article cites 202 titles in 7 languages!).  Bat Conservation International is buying 50 copies to distribute to African scientists at the upcoming Pan-African Bat Summit in February 2013, and Museum supporters Bud and Onnolee Trapp have helped make copies available to wardens and scientists throughout Kenya’s natural park system.  Bruce, Paul, and Research Associate Carl Dick (Zoology/Western Kentucky University) are using the volume to identify bats collected by their field surveys as well as to curate Kenyan bats already in collections in the course of preparing their next book, The Bats of Kenya.

From November 28–30, The Biodiversity Synthesis Center (BioSynC) at the Field Museum hosted an international meeting dedicated to a hyper-diverse group of early land plants in the liverwort genus Frullania.  Liverworts (Marchantiophyta) are pivotal in the understanding of early land plant evolution and are important components of the vegetation in many regions of the world. Frullania, worldwide in distribution, represents an exceptionally hyper-diverse, taxonomically complex genus of over 2000 published names.  Many Frullania species also have interesting biological properties with some species causing an intense allergenic contact dermatitis.  The three-day meeting was sponsored by the EOL Biodiversity Synthesis Group as well as in part by the National Science Foundation (see here for NSF award info), The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, and the Negaunee Foundation,and was organized by Adjunct Curator and Collections Manager Matt Von Konrat (Botany).  The meeting featured 20 botanists from 11 countries as well as three Chicago-based students.  The major objectives included developing a revised working list for Frullania worldwide, identifying high priority geographical areas that are under-collected, and working towards a stable and informative classification system.  The meeting also highlighted the recently successful education pilot connecting collections to curriculum, which was the focus of a previous meeting EOL sponsored in August (click here for additional info).  More details about the meeting can be accessed here.  The organizers and participants kindly thank BioSynC staff Audrey Aronowsky, Sarah Kim and Beth Sanzenbacher for making the meeting possible and all of their logistical support. Image above: Professor Asakawa speaking at the Frullania meeting, photo by Phiangphak Sukkharak

Postdoctoral Research Scientist Matthew Davis (Zoology/Fishes) co-authored a publication in the Journal of Biogeography (available online since early December) that investigates cryptic species diversity and biogeography of the diadromous mountain mullet across North and Middle America.  See header imageA specimen of the mountain mullet, Agonostomus monticola, collected in Panama by Matthew P. Davis and colleagues

Adjunct Curator James Phillips (Anthropology) attended a conference entitled “Last Glacial Paleogeography and Archaeology of the Eastern Mediterranean and of the Eastern European Loess Belt,” held in Aachen, Germany from February 25–28.  James’ presentation was entitled “Renewed excavations at the site of Erq-el-Ahmar, Judean Desert: Results and Inferences.”

Postdoctoral Research Scientist Matthew Davis (Zoology/Fishes) gave two invited seminars in late November and early December on the evolution of deep-sea fishes and bioluminescence at Scripps Institution of Oceanography (University of California, San Diego) and Illinois Wesleyan University.  Image left: bioluminescent barbel on a deep-sea dragonfish (Stomias)



Fieldwork & Collections

On November 19, Anthropology sent two dozen artifacts from the Kish Collection to Spain for display at the CaixaForum in Barcelona.  The exhibition, Before the Flood: Mesopotamia 3500 – 2100 BC, brings together approximately 250 objects from many of the world’s most significant Sumerian collections, including those of The British Museum, The Ashmolean Museum, the Louvre, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute.  The exhibition will travel to a second venue in Madrid before concluding in June 2013.

                  The Field Museum’s loan objects include bead necklaces of semi-precious and common stones, shell, and glass, ceramic vessels, and an especially rare ostrich eggshell cup (pictured here). All were excavated between 1923 and 1933 at the site of the ancient city of Kish in Iraq during joint archaeological expeditions by The Field Museum and Oxford University.  Click here for more information about the Kish Collection.

                  Preparations began more than two years ago and, like all outgoing exhibition loans, they required the participation of numerous Field Museum staff.   In the Anthropology Department, Chief Conservator Ruth Norton conducted condition assessments, conservation treatments, and preparation of detailed documentation on the proper packing, handling, and installation of the artifacts.  Collections Manager Jamie Kelly oversaw the retrieval of the objects from storage and their safe movement between conservation lab, mount shop, and photography studio.  As Anthropology’s outgoing loan coordinator, Head Registrar Alan Francisco served as point of contact with the borrowing institution, and packing and shipping agents, and was responsible for drafting the loan contract and shipping documentation.  Associate Curator Bill Parkinson and Associate Curator and Chair Ryan Williams approved the loan and provided oversight of the project.

                  Staff from other departments also provided assistance, most notably Shop Supervisor Pam Gaible (Exhibitions), who oversaw the fabrication of display mounts for each of the objects. John Weinstein (Photography) and Nina Cummings (Photo Archives) provided assistance with images for the accompanying exhibition catalog, and the staff of Protection Services helped with the secure packing of the crates and their release for shipment to Spain.

                  Loans such as this one, although often very time consuming, are an important way for The Field Museum to have an impact on a general audience well beyond Chicago and the region.  The Museum’s collections, global in scope, have the capacity to educate on an international scale, contributing to its standing in the scientific and museum communities.  Of equal importance, such projects provide the opportunity to examine and document the objects selected for loan to a degree that most likely would not have occurred otherwise.  Image above: Rare Ostrich Eggshell Cup ©The Field Museum, A114916d_007, Photographer John Weinstein

MacArthur Field Biologist Steve Goodman (Zoology) spent the latter portion of November conducting fieldwork on Mauritius in the western Indian Ocean.  The principal aspect was to obtain more material from the local endemic bats for an epidemiological study in collaboration with colleagues at Centre de Recherche et de Veille sur les maladies émergentes dans l'Océan Indien on La Réunion island.  The group was able to handle several hundred bats, including nearly 50 large fruit bats of the genus Pteropus.  After the fieldwork Steve returned to Madagascar.

Between November 23­ and December 2 the Bryology unit of the Botany Department was honored to host several international guests.  Dr. Lars Söderström (Department of Biology, NTNU, Norway) visited the Museum from November 23–December 1.  Dr. Söderström was a key figure in the Biosynthesis meeting (see Research & Publications above) and is a critical and key collaborator of the Early Land Plants Today project with Collections Manager and Adjunct Curator Matt von Konrat and Associate Anders Hagborg.  The three worked together in preparation for the Biosynthesis meeting followed by developing structure and content for the first-ever worldwide checklist of liverworts and hornworts, which will include approximately 9,000 taxa. 

                  The Botany Department also had several visitors for the last two-and-a-half weeks utilizing the bryology herbarium collections; taking advantage of their trip to the Museum as part of the Biosynthesis meeting.  Many arrived the week prior to the meeting (November 23–28), then stayed beyond the meeting to use the bryophyte collection.  Visitors during this period included Dr. Peter de Lange, Principal Science Advisor, Research and Development, New Zealand Department of Conservation, (Auckland, New Zealand), Dr. Blanka Shaw, Database Manager, Duke University (Durham, North Carolina), Dr. Phiangphak Sukkharak, Lecturer, Burapha University (Chonburi, Thailand), Dr. Jairo Patino, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Duke University (USA/Belgium) and Dr. Matt Renner, ABRS Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Royal Botanical Gardens (Sydney, Australia).  Peter de Lange also received valuable training on identification and has been providing critical collections to the Museum and spent valuable time with Emeritus Curator John Engel discussing the three-volume Liverwort and Hornwort Flora of New Zealand.  

Public Education & Media Coverage

Program Manager Kimberly Singleton invites you to spend the holiday season near the snowy South Pole with Robert A. Pritzker Associate Curator of Meteoritics and Polar Studies Philipp Heck (Geology) as he and his team prospect for meteorites and dive for stromatolites (“living fossils”) in Antarctica!  Follow along with the team’s discoveries through their blogs, photos, videos, and more via Expeditions at The Field Museum!

A new What the Fish? podcast is out, Episode 13: Exploring Fish Evolution on the Tree of Life.  This week’s panel discusses the evolution of fishes, focusing on how researchers are attacking the problem of how all fishes are related.  Tune in for this latest fish tale 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.

Associate Curator of Eurasian Anthropology Bill Parkinson's research was highlighted in an article on Live Science, “Killer Cave May Have Inspired Myth of Hades.”  The (somewhat sensationalized) article discusses The Diros Project, a project that Bill co-directs with Greek colleagues Giorgos Papathanassopoulos, Anastasia Papathanasiou, and Panagiotis Karkanas (Greek Ministry of Culture), along with American colleague Michael Galaty (Millsaps College).  Their collaborative project focuses on an ancient cave site in southern Greece that was the site of an early agricultural settlement and mortuary complex, from about 5,500-3,000 BC.  Although the project directors suspect that some people may have been trapped inside when the entrance to the cave collapsed, they have no evidence that the entrance “collapsed and killed everyone inside,” as stated in the article.  The article was picked up by several news outlets including Yahoo and NBC, and was translated into several languages including Spanish, Romanian, and French. More information about the Diros Project is available here.

Collection Manager Alan Resetar (Zoology/Amphibians and Reptiles) attended the 2012 Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Science Conference on November 28.  The theme of the conference was “Linking Research to Management at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in a Rapidly Changing Environment.”  Alan gave a presentation entitled “Industrial Strength Herpetology in a Post-Industrial Landscape.”