Yesterday afternoon, I had to poke my head into one of the small forth floor Bird Division offices that houses Post-docs and students. There is a microscope station and four desks crammed into the office that are often occupied, although who occupies them changes frequently. The current longer-term tenants are Research Scientist, Jason Weckstein who is walking on air after getting word late last week from NSF that our Biotic Surveys and Inventory grant to survey Amazonian birds and their internal and external parasites was funded after multiple submissions (Alex Aleixo of the Museu Geoldi in Belém is a co-principal investigator); Nick Block, Shannon Hackett’s University of Chicago graduate student, who is studying phylogeographic structure in Malagasy birds; and Isabel Caballero, my University of Illinois, Chicago graduate student who is busy writing up her dissertation on genetic structure in Peregrine Falcons. Isabel is now working from College Station, Texas, because that is where her physicist husband was offered a job some months ago. With Isabel off in Texas, we have turned her desk over to Michel Valim, a Brazilian louse specialist who is here as a Post-doctoral fellow working with Jason with support from the Brazilian government.
When I poked my head in, Michel was explaining to Jason details about the differences in morphology distinguishing a new species of louse that they are describing from our fieldwork in Brazil. Both quickly gave me the details about what species of birds the louse came from and how divergent it was in its DNA (13%!) from another louse on same kinds of birds. Then I turned to my right and Nick showed me his progress on mapping changes in ecological niche (basically the predicted range) of one of his Madagascar study species using climate models that predict into the future. He will be able to use these maps in presentations about his dissertation research, but he is also doing this for a visual component of the museum’s new permanent Conservation Hall. It’s always great to hear all the results folks are getting and, in this case, I didn’t have to do anything, but turn my head!
The photo is of Michel at Isabel's desk. Behind him are boxes of mounted louse slides, including many type specimens which he is using for his comparative work describing new species from our recently collected material.