Please congratulate Dr. Matthew Gimmel on his acceptance of a 2.5 year European Social Fund postdoctoral fellowship to work on beetle systematics in the lab of Dr. Milada Bocakova, Department of Biology, Palacký University, Olomouc, Czech Republic. Since graduating from Louisiana State University (Dr. Chris Carlton's lab), Matt has worked as my lab manager, helping so much with my Peru project: processing an unbelievable amount of specimens, overseeing undergraduate assistants, helping to mentor undergraduate researchers in their manuscripts. Indeed, his enormous knowledge of beetles, coupled with his generosity, patience, and enthusiasm, has made him a wonderful mentor to all in our unit. Now, we must race to submit our first manuscript together — on Peru beetles, of course - before he departs Kansas for Europe.
The Chaboo lab hosted Sara López from the Ciudad Universitaria (UNAM) and the Departament of Zoology, National Collection of Insects, Mexico City, Mexico. Sara is conducting M.Sc. research on a revision and phylogeny of the genus, Ogdoecosta (Cassidinae: Mesomphaliini). Several cassidine genera have most of their species distributed in Mexico, and Ogdoecosta is one of them. Sara’s phylogenetic matrix will open new research into the biology of this little known group. We had a super time discussing morphology, characters, biology, and combing historical literature for clues of new characters, to understand how important researchers like Spaeth and Boheman defined the genus and species. Good luck to Sara in completing this important new work in Cassidinae and in becoming a badly-needed expert of the Mexican chrysomelid fauna.
Caroline Chaboo, Riley Wertenberger (KU undergraduate), and Josh Cunningham (Haskell U. undergraduate) led an outdoor insect discovery class for the Stepping Stones, Inc. school, Lawrence KS, on June 7, 2012. Fourteen 7-10 year old school kids and their two teachers were armed with insect nets and large vials and shown how to net and sweep sample insects in the Rockefeller Prairie, KU Field Station. The kids were excited to catch, study, and release a wide variety of live insects and learn a little about the prairie ecosystem.
KU Entomology has enjoyed a long tradition of weekly lunch talks given by resident entomologists and visiting colleagues. This spring, I am handling the speaker schedule, which has been a piece of cake since we are enjoying a flow of short and long-term international and domestic visitors. Dr. Barbara Hayford, a KU alumnus who is now at Wayne State University in Nebraska, spoke recently on her work, "Use of ecological niche modeling to extend knowledge on biodiversity of midges (Diptera: Chironomidae) of Mongolia. I was a M.A. student here when Barbara got her first phone call inviting her to join the Mongolia research team. It was great to hear how this program evolved 12 years later.
Another colleague, Dr. Mary Liz Jameson at Wichita State University, presented her latest research, "Scarabaeoid beetles of the West Indies". Her graduate student, Christian Beza-Beza, spoke on the Phylogeography of the Ogyges laevisimus species group and its implications for cloud forests in Guatemala (Passalidae), while her other graduate student, Mathew Moore, spoke about the biology and phylogeny of Cyclocephalini beetles (Scarabaeidae: Dynastinae). Mary Liz also overlapped with my student days at KU, so it was super to have our students meet and work on cool beetles from my Peru inventory. Their visit was timely — some identified specimens are now on display in the Peru exhibit in the Spencer Art Museum.
What an exciting day to participate in the installation of specimens and other objects in the upcoming exhibition, "39 Trails: Research in the Peruvian Amazon", curated by Dr. Stephen Goddard of the KU Spencer Art Museum. The 2011 field course in Madre de Dios, Peru, has been so rewarding in research, publications, and specimens. And now an insect-themed exhibition....in an ART museum!
Dr. Goddard and the exhibition designer, Richard Klocke, are putting finishing touches in the small display cases, closing up completed cases, and preparing the final labels and clean up. Apart from materials of individual researchers, we placed three drawers of insect specimens on display.
Richards' exclamations over these specimens were a reward in itself: for the sheer beauty of bugs and also for our hard work on diversity research in Peru.
The Aug. 6 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences included a large-scale analysis of bony fishes using DNA sequencing. One of the major conclusions is that tarpons, eels and their relatives (Elopomorpha) is the sister group (branched first) of all living teleosts.
Gloria Arratia, research associate in ichthyology, first published this idea in 1997 (see reference 11 in the PNAS paper). Her conclusion was based on morphology. In short, molecular analysis confirms a careful morphological analysis conducted about 15 years ago. More interesting is the fact that Gloria’s results were not widely accepted because the dominant figures in the field had championed the idea that the Osteoglossomorpha (mooneyes and bonytongues) were below the tarpons and eels on the tree. This inhibited some other ichthyologists from accepting Gloria's findings, in spite of the fact that she had the evidence and presented it clearly.
Ornithology graduate student Michael Andersen and Curator Rob Moyle are presently in Fiji, carrying out their third sampling trip across the Fiji Archipelago. They are focusing their time on Taveuni Island, which has not been sampled by ornithologists since the 1920s! They will be returning home late in December.
Pete Hosner, EEB doctoral candidate and Ornithology student mentored by Rob Moyle, received notification that his NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant proposal has been recommended for funding. The grant, entitled TESTING THE PLEISTOCENE AGGREGATE ISLAND COMPLEX (PAIC) MODEL OF DIVERSIFICATION IN CO-DISTRIBUTED AVIAN LINEAGES, has been recommended for funding for $14,866 over 24 months. The project will use multilocus DNA sequence data to discover whether there is a link between climate and sea level changes and diversification in eight "polytypic" bird species endemic to the Philippines.
In December 2010, KU Biodiversity Institute graduate student Mike Andersen, and curator of birds, Rob Moyle, completed a three-week expedition to Fiji. This effort marked Ornithology’s third expedition to Fiji, work that began in November 2009.
They collected specimens of 23 species from two locations: the isolated Nakauvadra Range in the extreme northeastern part of Fiji’s largest island, Viti Levu; and the southern island of Kadavu. The Kadavu specimens were the world’s first from this island with associated genetic tissue samples, and the collection included three endemic bird species: Whistling Dove (Ptilinopus layardi), Kadavu Honeyeater (Xanthotis provocator), and Kadavu Fantail (Rhipidura personata), plus numerous morphologically unique island forms such as Golden Whistler (Pachycephala pectoralis) and Collared Kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris).
The Nakauvadra Range is the third locality on Viti Levu where Biodiversity Institute researchers have worked, making it possible to analyze genetic differentiation among avian populations across this oceanic island. Andersen and Moyle are developing the Fiji project in close collaboration with students and researchers in the Institute of Applied Science at the University of the South Pacific. The collections-based research effort forms the foundation for Andersen’s dissertation research on the origins and diversification of the Fijian avifauna, as well as future dissertation projects by Fijian students at the University of the South Pacific.
Kadavu Honeyeater (Xanthotis provocator) is endemic to Kadavu Island, Fiji, and is the only member of its genus found in Fiji.
Male Whistling Dove (Ptilinopus layardi) is one of four endemic bird species on Kadavu Island, Fiji.
2011 featured pernicious political posturing over what we know and how we discover it. Florida Gov. Rick Scott told the state’s universities that they should be educating students in areas “where people can get a job in this state.” Accordingly, he intends to invest higher education dollars in physical science, math, engineering and technology departments, and let the humanities, arts and social sciences go fallow. Scott singled out anthropology as an example of a job-less education, saying, “Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don’t think so.”
Well, think again. Anthropology sits at the busy intersection of nature and culture, one that has seen explosive accelerations, enormous traffic jams and massive pile-ups in the human condition for at least the past 2 million years. Its lessons are instructive for Florida, the nation and global communities: how peoples have exploited their environments for food, fiber, fuel and pharmaceuticals, how they fashioned their cultures, economies, industries, technologies and jobs, and why they went boom and bust.
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, graduates in career-oriented majors, such as science, math and technology, do indeed have a higher probability of landing a job — at least initially. But, a few years down the career path, liberal arts graduates “frequently catch or surpass graduates with career-oriented majors in both job quality and compensation.” Why? Because of their knowledge of ethics, communication and social dynamics, which is adaptive to rapidly changing global economic, political and cultural environments.
Scott might be interested in the career paths of people who majored in job-less disciplines: Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, medieval history and philosophy; George W. Bush, 43rd U.S. president, history; Dick Cheney, former U.S. vice president, political science; Clarence Thomas, U.S. Supreme Court justice, English; Michael Crichton and Ursula K. LeGuin, best-selling authors, anthropology; Sally Ride, astronaut and first woman in space, English; Ronald Reagan, 40th U.S. president, 33rd governor of California, economics and sociology.
Earlier in the year, three Republican presidential candidates went AWOL from modern science. Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry opined on talk shows and stump speeches that 20 years of research on climate change involving thousands of investigators was “junk science.”
Apparently, they choose to be deaf/dumb/blind to evidence. They didn’t issue a retraction when a leading skeptic of global warming, physicist Richard Muller and his Berkeley Earth group, confirmed the findings of the “junk” scientists: Global temperatures have risen sharply since the mid-1800s because of a jump in greenhouse gases, notably CO2. “Our biggest surprise was that the new results agreed so closely with the warming values published previously by other [scientific] teams,” said Muller’s Berkeley Earth study, which has solid conservative credentials: It was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and foundations established by Bill Gates and the Koch brothers.
While on the stump, Bachmann and Santorum proudly flashed their pre-Enlightenment credentials, espousing their belief in intelligent design as the best biology curriculum for the nation’s students. One can’t be polite about this. What’s next? Scrap Pasteur and teach the Bad Air Theory of disease in medical school? Dump Aristotle for the Flat Earth Theory in geography class? Bachmann and Santorum are entitled to their private discomfort with the established knowledge of Darwinian evolution. But, hubris aside, their personal discomfort is not a rationale for national policy on science education.
The prize for sanctimonious social science goes to Cal Thomas’ editorial piece on the Sandusky-Penn State affair (Journal-World, Nov. 15, “Penn State’s shame — and America’s too”). The blame, he writes, extends beyond the individuals involved to all society, to the “free-loving ’60s, (when) we seem to have taken a wrecking ball to social mores.” Really? No song at Woodstock advocated rape or pedophilia.
Thomas also blames human nature, “but society — buttressed by religion — once did a better job of keeping human nature in check,“ specifically, keeping “lesbian, gay, and bisexual orientations” in check as “sinful.” Hmmm. You’d think being buttressed by religion against sin would naturally have kept the Catholic clergy in check. Yet, as we now know, its systematic sexual abuse and pedophilia were rampant, with the crimes abetted and covered up by repeatedly moving the abusers from diocese to diocese. It started long before the free-loving ’60s,” and went beyond one locker room at Penn State to parishes worldwide. Its innocent victims are countless.
The complex challenges of the world in 2012 and beyond demand more from our self-declared leaders and sages than wishful, simplistic nostrums as our default solutions or salvation.
Originally published in the Lawrence Journal-World on January 2, 2012.