Museum ornithologist researches 6,000 years of history in the Bahamas

February 1st, 2012

By Danielle Torrent

The field of restoration ecology, in which native flora and fauna are re-established to create more sustainable environments, is taking off in the 21st century as researchers become more aware of the potentially negative impacts of invasive, non-native species. Humans are among the “non-natives” in many areas, having taken over as apex predators in many situations. In the Bahamas, the arrival of humans about 1,000 years ago led to a considerable disruption of the natural food chain.

With a three-year $164,000 National Science Foundation grant awarded in September 2011, Florida Museum of Natural History ornithologist David Steadman is digging into 6,000 years of history, with hopes that a better understanding of how island organisms respond to human influence may aide  efforts to restore a more functional ecosystem. By collecting fossils from the Bahamas over the last 6,000 years, well before humans reached the area, he will also analyze how plant and animal communities responded to long-term natural environmental fluctuations. (more…)

Florida Museum bird sound recordings to go digital, online with help of grant

November 23rd, 2009

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Museum of Natural History ornithologists are preparing to digitize nearly all of the Museum’s analog bird-sound field recordings, one of the largest collections in the Western Hemisphere with 23,650 cataloged recordings representing about 3,000 species.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the three-year, $446,000 project will make the collection at the Florida Museum more readily available to scientists and the public for bird research and identification.

The project will involve more than 2,200 reel-to-reel and cassette tapes of a diverse collection of bird sounds, with a primary focus on New World birds. The digitization process, which begins in January, will result in public access to the recordings via the museum’s Web site. The museum plans to one day have all its recordings available online. The only sounds currently available are about 100 recordings of Florida birds. (more…)

Fla. Museum announces 2008 winners of the Austin and Bullen awards

November 5th, 2008

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History recently announced the winners of the 2008 Austin Award and Ripley P. Bullen Award. Both are given annually by the Florida Museum’s university teaching committee to students conducting museum-based research.

The Austin Award is given to recognize excellence in natural science research in honor of long-time Florida Museum ornithologist, Oliver Austin.

This year’s recipient, Christine Edwards, graduated from the University of Florida in 2007 with her Ph.D. in botany and now works as a postdoctoral research associate in botany at the University of Wyoming. Her graduate work focused on related species of mint plants found in the Southeastern United States under primary supervisor Pam Soltis, Florida Museum of Natural History curator of molecular systematics and evolutionary genetics. (more…)

Fla. Museum scientists discover new genus of frogmouth bird in Solomon Islands

April 19th, 2007

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Your bird field guide may be out of date now that University of Florida scientists discovered a new genus of frogmouth bird on a South Pacific island.

New genera of living birds are rare discoveries — fewer than one per year is announced globally. David Steadman and Andrew Kratter, ornithologists at the Florida Museum of Natural History, turned up the surprising new discovery on a collecting expedition in the Solomon Islands. Theirs is the first frogmouth from these islands to be caught by scientists in more than 100 years. They immediately recognized it was something different.

Kratter and Steadman are co-authors to a study analyzing the frogmouth’s morphology, or physical form, and DNA in comparison to two other living genera of frogmouths. The findings are published in the April print edition of Ibis: The International Journal of Avian Science, in a paper that describes the bird as a new genus and species, now named Rigidipenna inexpectata. (more…)

Florida Museum study first to document evidence of ‘mafia’ behavior in cowbirds

March 5th, 2007

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — “The Sopranos” have some competition — brown-headed cowbirds.

Cowbirds have long been known to lay eggs in the nests of other birds, which then raise the cowbirds’ young as their own.

Sneaky, perhaps, but not Scarface.

Now, however, a University of Florida study finds that cowbirds actually ransack and destroy the nests of warblers that don’t buy into the ruse and raise their young.

Jeff Hoover, an avian ecologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History, is the lead author on the first study to document experimental evidence of this peeper payback — retaliation to encourage acceptance of parasitic eggs. (more…)

Florida Museum curator presents lecture on island birds May 1

April 27th, 2005

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History will provide a Science Sunday lecture titled “Going, Going, Gone: Trouble in Paradise for Island Birds” by Florida Museum Curator of Ornithology David Steadman from 2 – 3 p.m. on May 1.

The lecture is free and open to the public. Guests will learn about the precarious life of birds on islands, with an emphasis on their evolution, ecology and extinction.

Steadman has been published in more than 50 scientific publications and is currently conducting field projects in Fiji, the Cook Islands, Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago. He also has been a University of Florida Research Foundation professor for five years.

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Fla. Museum offers 14th annual Thomas Farm fossil dig

February 25th, 2005

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History will host its 14th annual “Pony Express” Thomas Farm Fossil Dig, themed “Hummingbird Challenge” from March 31 – April 3 and April 7 – 10. This year’s dig will focus on microfossils, with the hopes of uncovering a fossil hummingbird.

Participants will have the chance to discover hundreds of fossils at Thomas Farm, an 18-million-year-old site located in Gilchrist County that has already produced the remains of more than 60 species of extinct amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.

David Steadman, the Florida Museum’s curator of ornithology, will lead the outings. The trips include dinner on Thursday through lunch on Sunday, beverages, complete access to the fossil site and its camping facilities, evening lectures by fossil experts on Friday and Saturday night, expert paleontologists and a chance to make scientific discoveries.

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