Map of Life’s new app: The world’s biodiversity in the palm of your hand

May 19th, 2015

By Jim Shelton

Map of Life app thumbnail

Florida Museum associate curator Rob Guralnick helped lead the new Map of Life app project.

Never has knowledge of the world’s biodiversity knowledge been more at your fingertips, thanks to a new smartphone app created by a partnership between the University of Florida and Yale University. No matter where you are, the Map of Life app can tell you what species of plants and animals are nearby.

Building on the Map of Life website’s unrivaled, integrated global database of everything from bumblebees to trees, the app tells users in an instant which species are likely to be found in their vicinity. Photos and text help users identify and learn more about what they see. The app also helps users create personal lists of observations and contribute those to scientific research and conservation efforts.

“We hope that the Map of Life app, built from 100 years of knowledge about where species are found, will accelerate our ability to completely close the many gaps in our biodiversity knowledge,” said Rob Guralnick, associate curator at the University of Florida, who lead the project with Walter Jetz, a Yale University associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and the guiding force behind Map of Life.

Instead of sifting through hundreds of pages in a printed field guide, naturalists get a digital guide that is already tailored to their location. With a novel modeling and mapping platform covering tens of thousands of species — everything from mammals and (more…)

Austin, Bullen 2015 student research award winners named

May 4th, 2015
Pimiento

Vertebrate paleontology graduate assistant Catalina Pimiento received the Austin Award for 2015.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History recently announced the winners of the 2015 Austin Award and Bullen Award for superior research and significant contributions to the development of museum collections and programs.

Vertebrate paleontology graduate assistant Catalina Pimiento received the Austin Award for her research on the ecology of shark species throughout history, particularly Carcharocles megalodon.

Anthropology graduate student Zackary Gilmore received the Bullen Award for his research to determine the scale of social interactions involved in the construction and use of the Silver Glen Springs shell mound site in the Late Archaic period (about 5,000 to 3,000 years ago).

To gain insight into conservation of modern sharks, Pimiento closely investigates factors involved in the extinction of megalodon, including body size and distribution trends over time.

In her previous research conducted under the guidance of Florida Museum vertebrate paleontology curator Bruce MacFadden, Pimiento studied shark species from Panama to better understand marine connections during the formation of the isthmus. She found that sharks used shallow-water nursery areas for millions of years as an adaptive strategy for survival. This study has received nationwide media attention, including the National Geographic documentary film “Clash of the Americas.”

MacFadden said he nominated Pimiento for “her excellence in paleontological research and (more…)

Study reveals evolutionary history of hawkmoths’ sonar jamming defense

May 4th, 2015
hawkmoth

Hawkmoths, including this species belonging to the subtribe choerocampine, produce ultrasound as a defense against bats. A new University of Florida study found that many species have used a sound-producing system found in their genitals to elude bats for millennia.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Pablo Padron

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — In the 65-million-year-old arms race between bats and moths, some moth species rub their genitals to jam the calls of bats. Radar jamming is commonly used in human warfare, allowing pilots to render themselves invisible. By unraveling the evolution of hawkmoths’ similar defense, authors of a new study appearing online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences aim to better understand nocturnal biodiversity and improve human uses of sonar.

Study researchers with the University of Florida and Boise State University tracked sonar jamming throughout the evolutionary history of hawkmoths and found that one of the insect world’s most sophisticated defense mechanisms is more widespread than originally thought, existing for millennia.

Until now, the function and evolution of sonar jamming remained largely a mystery, said lead author Akito Kawahara, assistant curator of Lepidoptera at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus.

“Before now people thought ultrasound usage in insects was very restricted to certain groups, but it looks much more complex than that,” Kawahara said.

Kawahara and collaborators scoured jungles and forests from Borneo to the Amazon observing hawkmoths. They collected specimens at 70 sites in 32 countries and conducted field-based echolocation experiments and (more…)

Museum’s 2015 volunteers of year includes new student award winner

April 27th, 2015
Coleman

Crystal Coleman received the museum’s newly formed Student Volunteer of the Year Award for 2015.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kristen Grace

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History recently recognized its 2015 volunteers of the year, including a new student award winner.

Russell Henderson and Gerald Kidder were named winners of the James Pope Cheney Volunteer of the Year Award, and Crystal Coleman was recognized with a newly formed Student Volunteer of the Year Award. The Florida Museum recognized the winners during its annual volunteer reception April 1.

Winning in the exhibits and public programs division, Henderson served 220 hours during 2014 and has completed more than 1,454 hours at the museum since he began volunteering in 2008 as a docent. He is known by his colleagues to attend a variety of museum programs to further his knowledge, help visitors dig deeper into a topic and keep others informed of new ways to become effective docents.

“Russell’s easygoing approach with museum visitors is one of his most valuable assets,” wrote Florida Museum school programs coordinator Dianne Behringer in her nomination letter. “I very regularly observe laughter and smiles as I pass by Russell and his group.”

Awarded for his work in research and collections, Kidder served 145 hours during 2014 and (more…)

Randell Research Center adds two additional Calusa mounds

March 13th, 2015
Calusa ritual

This artist’s conception depicts a Calusa ritual near Smith Mound at Pineland, Florida.
Art by Merald Clark, Florida Museum of Natural History

Note to editors: the GPS address is 13810 Waterfront Drive, Bokeelia, FL 33922

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History’s Randell Research Center on Pine Island near Fort Myers, once home to the Calusa Indians, has acquired an additional five acres containing two mounds. The area will eventually be added to the site’s educational interpretive trail.

Museum officials plan to formally announce the purchase at 9:30 a.m. on Monday (March 16) at the Calusa Heritage Trail, 13810 Waterfront Drive, Pineland, 33945.

The addition of a burial mound and ancient midden to the now 67-acre site was made possible with a $150,000 gift from the Sear Family Foundation and $50,000 from the Calusa Land Trust.

“This is a dream come true,” said Randell Center director William Marquardt, who will make the formal announcement Monday. “Since the original gift of property by the Randell family in 1996, we have wanted to add these mounds to the area that we protect and (more…)

‘Our Changing Climate: Past and Present’ now open

March 5th, 2015
Climate Change

Museum staff members Michael Adams (left) and Jeffrey Huber install a large-format graph showing climate patterns over the last 1,500 years for the “Our Changing Climate: Past and Present” exhibition.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kristen Grace

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Visitors can discover 70 million years of climate change on Earth in a new exhibit now open at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

The “Our Changing Climate: Past and Present” exhibit uses large-format graphs showing major historic events to present the story of Earth’s changing climate over geologic time. The exhibit also highlights how Earth’s climate fluctuates and what global trends are affecting life today.

Opened Wednesday, this free exhibit is the first in a series of exhibits focusing on world issues that influence humans’ daily lives.

“In this series of exhibitions, we hope to engage visitors in a conversation by looking at how science explores the issues and how it can help us navigate ways to correct course or cope with new realities,” said Darcie MacMahon, the museum’s head of exhibits and public programs.

Some of the issues to be presented in future displays are especially important for Floridians, such as sea level rise and (more…)

Dig into geology at ninth annual ‘Can You Dig It?’ March 14

March 3rd, 2015
Children play with an augmented reality sandbox, which demonstrates how 2-D topographic maps show the 3-D shape of the land, during the 2013 "Can You Dig It?" event. Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kristen Grace

Children play with an augmented reality sandbox, which demonstrates how 2-D topographic maps show the 3-D shape of the land, during the 2013 “Can You Dig It?” event.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kristen Grace

Editors: A complete list of activities follows this release

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Museum visitors will have the opportunity to uncover Earth’s geological wonders by observing simulated volcanic eruptions, sifting for minerals and gems and other activities during the ninth annual “Can You Dig It?” event March 14 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

This free, family-friendly event provides visitors an understanding of Earth’s materials and processes through hands-on activities and educational demonstrations.

“It’s not just a walk-by-and-look-see kind of event,” said program organizer Matt Smith, a senior lecturer and undergraduate advisor in the University of Florida department of geological sciences. “People who come tend to spend some time and really engage.”

The latest additions to this year’s list of activities include learning how to identify real meteorites from impostors and (more…)

Marston Library, museum to honor winners of science art competition March 20

February 27th, 2015

12790-The-Elegance-of-Science-rotatorGAINESVILLE, Fla. — The winning artists of images of nanoparticles to a woolly mammoth in the University of Florida Elegance of Science Contest will be recognized in an award ceremony at the Florida Museum of Natural History March 20 at 3:30 p.m.

A committee of six judges from Gainesville’s art and science communities evaluated 94 entries on their scientific and artistic merit.

“I enjoyed seeing the variety of ways you can interpret ‘the elegance of science,’” said judge and professional photographer Kristen Grace, who also works at the Florida Museum. “Some were as simple as a dewdrop on a flower petal and (more…)

Tropical turtle discovery in Wyoming provides climate-change clues

February 23rd, 2015
University of Florida paleontologist Jason Bourque reconstructs the 56-million-year-old shell of a newly described genus and species of ancient tropical turtle in his lab on Feb. 9, 2015. The fossil turtle gives clues to how today’s species might react to warming habitats. Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

University of Florida paleontologist Jason Bourque reconstructs the 56-million-year-old shell of a newly described genus and species of ancient tropical turtle in his lab on Feb. 9, 2015. The fossil turtle gives clues to how today’s species might react to warming habitats.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Tropical turtle fossils discovered in Wyoming by University of Florida scientists reveal that when the earth got warmer, prehistoric turtles headed north. But if today’s turtles try the same technique to cope with warming habitats, they might run into trouble.

While the fossil turtle and its kin could move northward with higher temperatures, human pressures and habitat loss could prevent a modern-day migration, leading to the extinction of some modern species.

The newly discovered genus and species, Gomphochelys (pronounced gom-fo-keel-eez) nanus – provides a clue to how animals might respond to future climate change, said Jason Bourque, a paleontologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History at UF and the lead author of the study, which appears online this week in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

The wayfaring turtle was among the species that researchers believe migrated 500-600 miles north 56 million years ago, during a temperature peak known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. Lasting about 200,000 years, the temperature peak resulted in significant movement and diversification of plants and animals.

“We knew that some plants and lizards migrated north when the climate warmed, but (more…)

Study finds luna moths evolved long spinning tails to defend against bats

February 16th, 2015
A new study shows luna moths, Actias luna, such as this specimen from the Florida Museum of Natural History’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity collections, spin their long hingwing tails to divert bat attacks.  Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Geena Hill

A new study shows luna moths, Actias luna, such as this specimen from the Florida Museum of Natural History’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity collections, spin their long hingwing tails to divert bat attacks.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Geena Hill

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — In the cover of night, an unseen war between bats and moths has been raging for 60 million years—and a new study suggests the insects have evolved long tails as a defense.

The collaborative work between University of Florida and Boise State University researchers is a first step in determining why bats are lured into striking a false target and could have implications on sonar development for the military, said study co-author Akito Kawahara, assistant curator of Lepidoptera at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus.

“This finding expands our knowledge of anti-predator deflection strategies and the extent of a long-standing evolutionary arms race between bats and moths,” Kawahara said.

The study appearing today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows luna moths spin their long hindtails as they fly, confusing the sonar cries bats use to image prey and other objects. Diversionary tactics, such as false eye spots and (more…)