Biodiversity institute

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Smart Science

Not a week passes without one of our scientists or students making an outstanding discovery about the life of the planet.  They mount expeditions to the most remote areas of oceans and continents to assay and document the animals and plants, living and fossil.  In our anatomical, DNA, and computational laboratories they decipher the evolutionary history, behavior, and the state and fate of species, habitats and ecosystems threatened with environmental change.  Here are just a few highlights.

In August, Luke Strotz, a postdoctoral researcher in Invertebrate Paleontology, garnered international headlines with his research findings that the “laziest” organisms—“couch potatoes” with the lowest metabolic rate—might be best at avoiding extinction.  At least judging from the survival record of fossil and living mollusks.

In September, entomologist Michael Engel and colleagues described a beetle that pollinated cycad plants in Myanmar 99 million years ago before it was trapped in amber and preserved.  The discovery indicates that beetles might have begun pollinating these ancient plants, commonly known as sagos, in the Jurassic world.

In October, Kate Ingenloff, a doctoral student in Ornithology, won the prestigious Young Researchers Award from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, Copenhagen.  She developed a breakthrough analytical method that combines the geographic records of species with time-specific environmental and behavioral data to produce highly accurate forecasts of how these species will move and disperse across the landscape.  In turn, these forecasts can inform conservation and other policies affecting species and their habitats.

Also in October, the Coleopterists Society recognized aquatic beetle specialist Andrew Short’s research, research training and mentoring.  His doctoral student Steven Baca won the Edwards Prize for best publication based on a Master’s thesis, and Grey Gustafson, his postdoctoral associate, won the Lacordaire Prize for best publication based on a PhD dissertation.  Andrew’s work was recognized with the Golden Net award by the Entomological Collections Network.

In November, Chris Beard, in Vertebrate Paleontology, and his international team announced the discovery of fossil mammals from an isolated geologic “island” in Turkey that, literally, time forgot when it became separated from the rest of Eurasia. Although dating to about 43 million years ago, the extinct marsupials, rhino-like animals, and primitive tarsier-like primates represent relict animal groups that had long disappeared elsewhere. 

And in December, the New York Times featured the research of Johana Goyes, a postdoctoral researcher in Herpetology—she had documented exceptional “paternal devotion” in the caring for eggs by male Smooth Guarding frogs in the rain forest of Borneo.  These “devoted dads” will “scarcely move or eat for days while tending one clutch of eggs, and … once hatched, tadpoles clamber on the males’ backs to be ferried to pools of water.”

Now more than ever, when powerful institutions deliberately distain and dismiss our environmental knowledge and responsibility, we stand up for smart science and smart solutions in sustaining the life support systems of the planet and human well-being.  Join us.