Evolutionary Biology

The museum, big data, and islands of knowledge

On a Saturday morning a few months ago, I felt a huge confluence of thoughts come together for me with respect to science at my institution.  The Division of Integrated Research is once again looking at how we can convince people to support the science we do.  We have been discussing strategies with our institutional advancement folks and how we might present ourselves in upcoming fundraising.  That morning, Shannon, Pete and I were watching a recorded episode of Real Time with Bill Marr, where guest expert Martin Blaiser, Director of the Human Microbiome Program at

A Cassin's Sparrow meets its end a long way from home

Every day during fall migration, the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors deliver to the Field Museum a bag of birds that died flying into windows in the loop as they tried to make their way south to their wintering grounds farther south. These salvaged birds provide a critical component of the museum's bird collection, specimens that can be used by researchers for generations to come to learn about many aspects of our area's birdlife.

How much science is needed for conservation?

Via Facebook, a colleague shared a link to an essay in Animal Behavior by Tim Caro and Paul Sherman entitled: Eighteen reasons animal behavioralists avoid involvement in conservation (Animal Behavior (2012) 85:305-312). They exhort behavioral scientists to think more about the conservation value of their research. I agree with this idea, but that does not mean that I think this is universally appreciated.

Video: The Birds and the Trees

Are condors more closely related to hawks or to storks?  New research constantly changes our understanding of how birds are related to each other.  At the Field Museum, Shannon Hackett, John Bates, and Dave Willard keep close eyes on avian systematics, the study of evolutionary relationships among birds.  In the past few years, Shannon has collaborated with researchers from other institutions on the Early Bird project to ask big-picture question of how all birds fit on the avian tree of life.

Video: Leo on Bioluminescence

Beyond the reach of sunlight, thousands of feet below the surface of the ocean, some creatures create their own light known as "bioluminescence." Take a trip through the mind of Leo Smith, who asks questions about deep sea fish evolution. Patterns in diversity can offer clues to why fish have evolved so many ways of brightening up the deep sea. Some seem to use light to blend into their surroundings, others to lure prey out of the surroundings, or even to attract mates.

Video: Recovering Peregrines with Mary

"The city is just a pseudo-cliff," says Mary Hennen, explaining a Peregrine falcon's perspective on Chicago's landscape.  The narrow ledges of Chicago's skyscrapers make ideal nesting sites for Illinois's wild Peregrine falcons--a species that might not be absent from the state in the first place if not for the Chicago Peregrine Program (CPP).  Mary Hennen is the Collections Assistant in the Field Museum's Bird Division in addition to being the CPP's Director. She attributes much of the program's success to hard-working researchers and volunteers.

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