Showing blog posts tagged with "From the Field"
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Last year, William Harcourt-Smith, an assistant professor at Lehman College and a research associate in the Museum’s Division of Paleontology, blogged for the Museum about his research on the Kenyan island of Rusinga. Harcourt-Smith co-directs a paleontological field project on the island, which is best known as the site of the discovery of the first fossils of Proconsul, an early ape. Below is an excerpt of a longer story that Harcourt-Smith wrote for the Summer 2012 issue of Rotunda, the Member magazine.
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On Sunday, the tree of life lost another member: Lonesome George, the famed last survivor of the Pinta Island tortoises (Chelonoidis abingdoni). Director of the Museum’s Center for Biodiveristy and Conservation Eleanor Sterling has been in the Galápagos for the past few days. She recently answered a few questions about Lonesome George’s passing and legacy.
What are you doing in the Galápagos?
Eleanor Sterling: The Galápagos National Park Service and the Galápagos Conservancy called together a meeting of experts on public participation in monitoring and conservation and I was invited as a specialist.
Who was Lonesome George?
Sterling: Lonesome George was a giant tortoise who was close to a century old and who was quite famous for being the last known representative of his species. And with his death, the whole species that was found on Pinta Island in the Galápagos is now extinct. There are other individuals who have some of the genes of Pinta Island tortoises, but he was last known individual to have the full genome of this species.
What role did humans play in the decline of his species?
Sterling: Seafaring individuals stopped by the Galápagos and collected tens of thousands of tortoises over the years. They packed their hulls with tortoises to use as food as they traveled around rest of world, because tortoises could last a long time without dying. Humans also introduced species such as rats to the islands where tortoises live, and those introduced species compete with tortoises for food or depredate on their young and eggs.
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Underwater photography is always a challenge, but try doing it at night. That’s how David Gruber, a Museum research associate and consultant for the exhibition Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence, will be spending the next few weeks in the Solomon Islands as he searches for glowing organisms to photograph. Gruber is writing about his experiences for The New York Times’s “Scientist at Work: Notes From the Field” blog along with fellow Museum research associate Vincent Pieribone.
“The scientific goals of this trip are manifold,” Gruber writes in his first post, “but above all we are after elusive near-infrared fluorescent and bioluminescent molecules to aid in biomedical research.” Both bioluminescent animals—creatures that generate light—and biofluorescent organisms—which absorb light and re-emit it at other wavelengths—have wide applications in medicine by allowing certain cells, such as those within cancerous tumors, to be visually tagged and tracked.
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Nairobi, Kenya, July 19, 2011
So we’re finally back in Nairobi, having packed up camp and driven back the 300-odd miles from Rusinga to the nation’s capital. It was a terrific field season, in many ways the best we’ve had. We had a really fun and motivated field crew and found a lot of wonderful fossils. What more could one ask?
Now begins the hard work of sorting out everything we found. In our case this means working in the National Museums of Kenya’s exquisite paleontology collections in Nairobi. Any fossils found in the country are reposited here, making it an ideal place to conduct comparative work. We’ve been here about a week, and it is still an overwhelming task. I’m not complaining though. It’s a fine position to be in; I’d rather we had too many than too few fossils.
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Since 1990, scientists from the American Museum of Natural History have traveled to Mongolia’s vast Gobi Desert each summer in search of fossils, continuing a tradition of Museum expeditions to the region that began in the 1920s. In 1993, Museum researchers working with Mongolian scientists uncovered one of the richest fossil beds ever found: Ukhaa Tolgod. The site produced hundreds of dinosaur, lizard, and mammal fossils from the Cretaceous period.