Friday, July 17, 2009

Guangzhou, China

We are in Guangzhou, China meeting with collaborators at the South China Institute for Endangered Animals. Everyone here has been really kind to us and it looks like there are many areas where we can collaborate together to learn more about the evolution of the birds of East Asia.

Guangzhou is an enormous city of about 12 million people just north of the manufacturing center of Shenzen and the Kowloon Peninsula and Hong Kong (see photo left of the view of Guangzhou from BaiYu Shan Park). We saw perfect habitat for birds along the way but few if any birds. In Taiwan around large cities like Taipei there would be thousands of egrets and other waders in the flooded fields, canals and rivers but here we saw none. The Cantonese apparently have a taste for egret nestlings and probably over centuries have been collecting them from egret rookeries. This continues to this day with legal harvesting at designated colonies. The rules are if a nest has 4 nestlings you can take 2, if it has 3 you can take 2 and if it has 2 you can take 1.

However a few birds remain, but not nearly as many as one would see around Taipei or even Hong Kong. We did manage to see some species including Chinese Bulbuls, Japanese White-eyes, Red-whiskered Bulbul, and Common Tailorbird. Also, we were lucky enough to catch this Collared Scops Owl (Otus bakkamoena) roosting in the bamboo in a park on the campus of Sun Yat Sen University. We venture out into the more rural parts of Guangdong Province this weekend and hopefully add some more species to our trip list!

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Off to China

I'm sitting in the airport in Chicago waiting to catch a flight to Hong Kong. With generous funding from the Helen B Vogel Trust and the Mary Jane Helms Charitable Trust to Cincinnati Museum Center I'm able to join long-time collaborator Bailey McKay of the University of Minnesota in the field in Southwest China. Together with partners in Taiwan and Mainland China we are hoping to learn about the history of the bird communities of Taiwan. By comparing the birds of Taiwan with their closest cousins in Mainland China using the latest molecular genetic tools we can date the time from which the endemic species on the island of Taiwan split from their sister species in Mainland China. We can match these data to key geologic events in the formation of the island to tell us about the history of the terrestrial ecosystems on the Taiwan.

Bailey is already in China with funding from the National Science Foundation's East Asia and Pacific Summer Institute and has collected many samples from birds in Yunnan Province and I hope to join him to collect more samples, process some samples in the lab and build relationships with our Chinese colleagues. Fa-Sheng Zou of the South China Institute for Endangered Animals in Guangzhou is our key collaborator in Mainland China and an excellent host and intellectual partner in this project. Fa-Sheng's students are also proving to be fantastic collaborators as well.

The photo above is of the White-browed Robin (Luscinia indica) in Taiwan. This is just one of the many species of montane birds in Taiwan whose closest relatives are distributed around Southwestern China. Genetic data gathered from Taiwanese species and their sister species in Taiwan will likely elevate populations of birds on Taiwan to species status and tell us much about the evolutionary history of the terrestrial animals on the island of Taiwan.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

New updates on the cincyevolution website

A couple new things on the cincyevolution.org website. I've updated the 'lab news' section of the zoology site and finally updated my photo in the 'about the curator' section. Also, we now have a store at http://store.cincyevolution.com where you can purchase books in Cincinnati Museum Center's Science Contributions Series and soon other natural history gifts will be available as well. Enjoy!

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Science and Natural History in the beltway


I'm back at the museum from last week's trip to Arlington and Washington D.C. where I was able to visit the National Science Foundation and the National Museum of Natural History. The National Museum of Natural History had a nice exhibit called Orchids Through Darwin's Eyes. The exhibit had a fantastic array of cultivated orchids, mostly hybrids but some species as well (like this Brassia orchid from Central America in the photo from the left), and discussed the many adaptations and unique evolutionary history of the orchid family.

The Sant Ocean Hall (see bottom photo) was also fantastic and had some really interesting specimens including a giant squid, a fossil hemiscyllus shark, a Dunkleosteus skull, fossil cetaceans (whales) complete with hind limbs. It was a great exhibit with lots of changes from what I remember as a kid with my first visit to the National Museum of Natural History in the 1970's. The weather was great and the mall and the Smithsonian museums were packed. Museums seem to be as popular as ever and just maybe growing in their popularity.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Cincinnati Museum Center joins CBOL

Cincinnati Museum Center is the newest participating member in the Consortium for the Barcode of Life. DNA barcoding involves sequencing a gene common to most of life. These sequences can then be used alongside traditional characteristics as a mark of species identity. Large barcode databases allow for unknown specimens, perhaps from difficult to identify larval or egg stages, to be compared against known sequences permitting species-level identification. Also, DNA barcoding can provide preliminary data that hints at unrecognized evolutionary lineages and thus will prompt more detailed research projects on new species. Cincinnati Museum Center is working with Rockefeller University to identify DNA barcode sequences for Philippine Birds and with the Ohio Biological Survey to build a DNA barcode database for Ohio amphibians. These projects are among the first in the museum's new National Science Foundation funded Molecular Ecology and Systematics Laboratory and the beginning of what hopefully will be a long and productive track record in evolutionary biology.

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