The end of the semester is approaching fast, with finals just around the corner. Everyone in the lab has made significant strides this semester. Choru passed his comprehensive exams and is now ABD. Mabel presented her paper, ‘Ten new species of Triclistus’, at the Central States Entomological meeting, in Jonesboro, AK; this is her 3rd manuscript this year. Sofia has worked out the protocols and is accumulating PCRs for the first plate of sequences for her project. After submitting grant submissions throughout the semester, then waiting and waiting, Sofia, Mabel and Choru were excited to receive today's successful award news; these grants are critical to carrying out fieldwork in Ecuador, Panama, Peru, Mexico, Nicaragua, and U.S.A. this year.
Undergrad researchers Reed, Tom, Joe and Riley are getting acquainted with the process of manuscripts – responding to reviews. Dan accepted a tenure track position at Stephen F. Austin University in Texas, to start Aug 1. Matt’s monograph from his dissertation research passed review. He continues identifying new families in the Peru beetle samples — a new discovery today, Lutrochidae (travertine beetles), likely a new species.
In contrast to these guys, the lab PI has been such an underachiever!
Our exhibition, ‘39 Trails: research in Amazon Peru’ (http://www.spencerart.ku.edu/exhibitions/39-trails.shtml) in the KU Spencer Museum of Art, opened Mar 22. It is so gratifying and wonderful to see the student-produced sculpture, biological prints, photos, insect displays, the creative writing essays, the blog, and the brilliant insect-themed comic book.
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.
A few days ago, I arrived in Suriname for my second expedition of the year. I am working with some of the good folks at the National Zoological Collection of Suriname, including mentoring a student who is finishing her degree on aquatic beetles and water quality. The last few days we have been doing some local collecting via day-trips and I have been prepping for a more intensive expedition to the interior which starts on Thursday and will last for three weeks. We'll be lifting into a mountain range that forms the boarder with Brazil for a RAP survey, led by Conservation International. Should be some great beetles!
A skull of a Smilodon californicus exhibited at the KU Natural History Museum, one of largest such skulls ever found, caught the eye of Lawrence residents George and Mary Ann Brenner. The Brenners adopted the specimen as part of the museum's Adopt-a-Specimen program.
In August, George and his grandson, Ciaran, toured the vertebrate paleontology collections and had their photo taken with the fossil.
S. californicus had shorter legs than a living lion and a bobbed tail. It probably did not move as quickly as other big cats and relied on ambush hunting techniques. The animal could open its jaws as much as 120 degrees.
Most skulls found in the tar pits are missing their sabre, or canine, teeth; the teeth were cast and later placed with the skulls. This fossil is about 12,000 years old and was found in the La Brea tar pits in Los Angeles.
Greetings from San Carlos del Zulia, Venezuela. I'm a bit over a week into my first expedition of the year — this one to continue our aquatic insect survey efforts in Venezuela. We've spent he last 8 days driving around the country and splashing around in various rivers and lagoons. It is hard for me to believe, but this is my 10th trip to Venezuela since my first in 2006. And, in terms of general volume of material and 'good stuff', this might be the best. We hit the dry season perfectly — when it is well underway and rivers and low and lagoons are reduced, but before things really get dry. A number of great sites on this trip, and it will take months get through these dense samples when I return. One highlight was getting up high in the Andes and collected at some lagoons over 12,000 feet — the highest we've gotten samples to date. More soon.
It is the day before classes begin, and I start teaching Intro Systematics (with Dr. Mark Holder and TA Taro Eldredge). Quite exciting to see the 45+ names of enrolled students, review my lecture, and refine the syllabus and lecture notes before we circulate to students.
A new student, Ms. Sofia Munoz from Quito, Ecuador, has joined my lab this semester to pursue M.Sc. research in chrysomelid systematics. The first semester of graduate school is always stressful, and everyone in the division will try to make this an easy transition for Sofia. Welcome to Lawrence, to KU, and to KU-Entomology!
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.
Snowy owls — known to Harry Potter fans and birders alike - are making an appearance in Kansas and Missouri this fall and winter.
The owls, which reside most of the year in Canadian tundra and arctic environments, periodically move south in search of food. Their main food source, lemmings, is more scarce this year. At least 8 of the two-foot-tall iconic birds have been spotted in Kansas so far.
The public is encouraged to let the KU Natural History Museum know if a snowy owl is noticed in their area. The museum has provided a gallery of images of snowy owls for reference.
Typically, adult male snowy owls are all white, and adult females have feathers that are "barred" with brown tips. Immature males and females both start out with the barred feathers, but the males become more white as they age. Another way to tell determine sex is to look for white feathers at the back of the head, which can indicate that the bird is male.
If you spot such a bird and have the opportunity to take photos of it, please fill in this contact form to let ornithologists know about the sighting. Thank you!
Dr. Patricia Alvarez, plant ecologist and post-doc at Duke University, visited the Chaboo lab Nov 24-29. Patricia and Caroline participated in a 2008 NSF-funded PASI workshop "Interdisciplinary Studies in Tropical Chemical Biology", Lima and Tambopata, Peru. Since then, we have been trying to combine our research disciplines to examine questions of insect-plant interactions on the south-eastern Andean slopes of Peru. During her visit, we planned our 2012 fieldwork in Peru!