9 August 2017
American Society of Mammalogists recognizes Retired Curator Timm for Excellence in Education
Congratulations to Dr. Robert M. Timm, winner of the 2017 Joseph Grinnell Award from the American Society of Mammalogists. The Award honors individuals who have made outstanding and sustained contributions to education in mammalogy over a period of at least 10 years. Based on nominations by his graduate and undergraduate research students, as well as a very large number of other individuals whose research he greatly facilitated, the award recognizes his excellence in education through an integration of mentorship, teaching and research. Dr. Timm was recognized for “his outstanding and sustained contributions to the integration of education and museum science, for his success in augmenting diversity within our discipline, and for his consistent focus on always doing what is best for the student”. For a full award announcement see http://www.mammalogy.org/committees/grinnell-award
Maria Eifler, collection manager of mammalogy, is the recipient of the 2017 Undergraduate Research Mentor Award. The Undergraduate Research Mentor Award recognizes the contribution that mentors make to a successful undergraduate research experience. In many disciplines, this mentoring is done by research faculty, staff, postdoctoral researchers and graduate students. The award recipient is recognized at the Undergraduate Research Symposium held at KU every spring and serves as a model to other mentors on campus on how to best support undergraduate research and creative scholarship on campus. The award includes a stipend of $1,000.
Photo: Maria Eifler
A newly discovered mammal in the Pacific has earned worldwide attention after scientists named it Rattus detentus to call attention to an Australian detainee center on the animal’s home island. Recently, the new animal was featured as a top scientific discovery of 2016 in Discover magazine’s “Year in Science” issue.
For decades, scientists had suspected an unnamed animal was inhabiting Manus Island, part of the Papua New Guinea Admiralty Group.
“Its bones and teeth were known for quite some time,” said Robert Timm, professor in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and curator emeritus in the Biodiversity Institute at the University of Kansas. “For thousands of years, indigenous people on that island would eat them, and we know that because of middens — discarded trash from people’s kitchens. So we had lots of older fragmentary remains but no modern specimens. We knew of its existence because of skeletal remnants from only one rock shelter."
That all changed recently when biologists working with Conservation International and a graduate student from Finland, conducting research for his dissertation on Manus Island, located the first contemporary example of the rare rodent.
“Local residents on the island continue to set traps to capture these rats and other wildlife for food,” Timm said. “We now have three modern specimens. The first two consist of discarded bones from meals and were salvaged in 2002.”
In 2012, the graduate student obtained a fresh specimen that was captured in a snare by a local boy working with him.
“Now, we have a beautiful specimen to work with and well-preserved DNA,” Timm said. “The DNA is critical in ascertaining where this species belongs in the tree of life.”
Although the rodent’s relationship to other species is now understood, Timm said the habits and abundance of Rattus detentus remain shrouded in mystery.
“We actually know almost nothing about its behavior because it’s so hard to find,” he said. “We believe it specializes on eating big seeds that are hard to chew into, because of the teeth. One of our Australian colleagues worked very hard to find more of this newly recognized species using camera traps and a variety of other techniques, and he didn’t find any evidence of them whatsoever. That suggests there aren’t very many of them left.”
Manus Island is now best known for the Manus Regional Processing Center, an immigration detention facility operated by the government of Australia. The facility has drawn the ire of human rights groups throughout the world.
So Timm, KU research associate Ronald Pine and co-authors named the new rodent Rattus detentus to bring more attention to the refugee center.
The word detentus is Latin for “detained” and is meant to indicate the isolation of this animal on Manus Island and the recent use of the island to detain people seeking political or economic asylum. (Last August, Australia announced its intention to close the center, although a timetable for closure remains unclear.)
In addition to humanitarian concerns, Timm said the sprawling center contributes to a deteriorating habitat for the newly discovered species. Further threats include other wildlife, along with the introduction of domestic cats on Manus Island and widespread logging.
“There is significant deforestation there and no replanting of these beautiful tropical forests,” said the KU researcher. “Some sections of it are still wonderful, with high trees, thick luxurious growth — lots of habitat for all sorts of plants and animals. The problem is that now there are too many people and not enough care taken of the habitat.”
By Brendan Lynch
Photograph courtesy of the Journal of Mammalogy and Valter Weijola.
There was a recent discovery of the "Eve" of sperm whales -- the female whale from which all sperm whales are descended. The use of such a biblical term has led people to believe that the "Eve" of a species refers to the first female in a species, but this is not the case. In an article titled, "No, a Mitochondrial 'Eve' Is Not the First Female in a Species," by Joshua Rapp Learn, Alana Alexander clarifies what it really means when people refer to the "Eve" of sperm whales. According to Alexander, "Eve" was one of many females, but she happened to be the only one who passed down the mitochondrial DNA in an unbroken, female-to-female way." The "mitochondrial Eve" refers to the mitochondrial DNA, the unique genetic code that is passed down from female to female. To read more about this phenomenon, click here.
Photo by Hiroya Minakuchi/Minden Pictures/Corbis
Alana Alexander, postdoctoral researcher in the Molecular Genomics Lab, and several colleagues have recently been published in the journal of Molecular Ecology with an article titled "What influences the worldwide genetic structure of sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus)?" Alexander and her co-authors started with the question of whether female philopatry -- a social system in which females remain in the groups in which they were born, while males leave at sexual maturity -- is due to geoghrapic regions or social groups, and how this might vary on a global scale. Major findings include that both greographic philopatry and social philopatry influence the genetic structure of the sperm whale, but their relative importance differs by sex and ocean. This phenomenon reflects breeding behavior, geographic features, and possibly a more recent origin of sperm whales in the Pacific. You can find the full article here.
Richard Williams, who completed his Ph.D. with Town Peterson, in collaboration with Robert Timm and colleagues in Spain, recently published their work on the genetics and distribution of Shope’s papillomavirus in rabbits (PLoS One). This virus is one of the few known to directly cause cancer and has served as a model for the study of human papillomavirus (HPV). Their research relied heavily on the extensive collections in the Biodiversity Institute; KU has by far the world’s largest collection of rabbits with the virus and Bob has added a number of new specimens to the collection. One of the highlights of their work is successfully demonstrating that the virus can be identified genetically from rabbit specimens that were obtained 100 years ago.
The recent cold and lean months are responsible for an increased coyote presence within Lawrence city limits, local ecology officials say. However, Lawrencians need not be afraid of the more active canines. Robert Timm of the KU Biodiversity Institute said there probably hasn't been an increase in the local coyote population, nor have the creatures been displaced by construction. Most likely, he said, the animals are more active simply because of the season.
Published in the Lawrence Journal-World
Andrea Romero, a KU Ph.D ecology and evolutionary biology student, successfully defended her dissertation "Ecology, habitat preference, and conservation of Neotropical non-volant mammal communities in Costa Rica’s Caribbean lowlands." She is soon headed to Costa Rica to coordinate courses for the Organization for Tropical Studies’ NAPIRE (Native American and Pacific Islanders). She was mentored by Bob Timm.
Jake Esselstyn's recent discovery of Styloctenium mindorensis, or the "flying fox bat," made the Top 10 List on livescience.com. Its discovery "highlights an increasing understanding of endemism on Mindoro, and the need for species exploration and conservation." Mindoro is an island of the Philippines, an area with surprisingly rich biodiversity that has become an area of interest for Biodiversity Institute mammalogists, herpetologists and Ornithologists.