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…)

UF study: ‘Rules’ may govern genome evolution in young plant species

January 19th, 2012

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A new University of Florida study shows a hybrid plant species may experience rapid genome evolution in predictable patterns, meaning evolution repeats itself in populations of independent origin.

Researchers analyzed genes of a naturally occurring hybrid species, Tragopogon miscellus, and the study, published online today in Current Biology, suggests genome evolution in hybrid plants may follow a set of “rules” that determine which parental genes are lost. The research may be used to create higher and more stable yields in other hybrid polyploid plants, including agricultural crops such as wheat, corn, coffee and apples. (more…)

UF researchers discover ‘green’ pesticide effective against citrus pests

January 17th, 2012

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – University of Florida researchers have discovered a key amino acid essential for human nutrition is also an effective insecticide against caterpillars that threaten the citrus industry.

The Lime Swallowtail, or Citrus Swallowtail, is a well-known agricultural pest from southern Asia discovered in the Caribbean in 2006, and researchers say its potential impact on the U.S. citrus industry is cause for serious concern.

“Everything that’s in the Caribbean eventually gets to Florida – Florida is an invasive magnet,” said UF lepidopterist Delano Lewis, lead author of the study published in the current issue of the Journal of Economic Entomology. “That’s why we’re trying to make the first strike to see how to stop it.” (more…)

UF research on newly formed plants could lead to improved crop fertility

January 7th, 2012

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A new University of Florida study shows genomes of a recently formed plant species to be highly unstable, a phenomenon that may have far-reaching evolutionary consequences.

Published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study is the first to document chromosomal variation in natural populations of a recently formed plant species following whole genome doubling, or polyploidy. Because many agricultural crops are young polyploids, the data may be used to develop plants with higher fertility and yields. Polyploid crops include wheat, corn, coffee, apples, broccoli and some rice species.

“It could be occurring in other polyploids, but this sort of methodology just hasn’t been applied to many plant species,” said study co-author Pam Soltis, distinguished professor and curator of molecular systematics and evolutionary genetics at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. “So it may be that lots of polyploids – including our crops – may not be perfect additive combinations of the two parents, but instead have more chromosomes from one parent or the other.” (more…)

Museum researcher receives $800,000 grant to study birds in the Andes

September 19th, 2011

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — With $800,000 from the National Science Foundation, Florida Museum of Natural History conservation biologist Scott Robinson is researching bird ranges in the Andes Mountains.

Robinson is leading a team of about 20 researchers measuring ideal temperatures for different species’ survival, studying how successfully the birds nest and to what extent predators dictate their existence. With this data, scientists hope to understand which Neotropical bird species will be able to move upslope as temperatures increase with global warming. (more…)

UF-led study: Invasive amphibians, reptiles in Florida outnumber world

September 15th, 2011

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida has the world’s worst invasive amphibian and reptile problem, and a new 20-year study led by a University of Florida researcher verifies the pet trade as the No. 1 cause of the species’ introductions.

From 1863 through 2010, 137 non-native amphibian and reptile species were introduced to Florida, with about 25 percent of those traced to one animal importer. The findings appear online today in Zootaxa (http://www.mapress.com/zootaxa/list/2011/3028.html).

“Most people in Florida don’t realize when they see an animal if it’s native or non-native and unfortunately, quite a few of them don’t belong here and can cause harm,” said lead author Kenneth Krysko, herpetology collection manager at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. “No other area in the world has a problem like we do, and today’s laws simply cannot be enforced to stop current trends.” (more…)

UF study names new ancient crocodile relative from the land of Titanoboa

September 14th, 2011

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Did an ancient crocodile relative give the world’s largest snake a run for its money?

In a new study appearing Sept. 15 in Palaeontology, University of Florida researchers describe a new 20-foot extinct species discovered in the same Colombian coal mine with Titanoboa, the world’s largest snake. The findings help scientists better understand the diversity of animals that occupied the oldest known rainforest ecosystem, which had higher temperatures than today, and could be useful for understanding the impacts of a warmer climate in the future. (more…)

Museum archaeologist receives $55,000 to analyze Swift Creek pottery

September 13th, 2011

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Museum of Natural History researcher Neill Wallis recently received a $55,000 National Science Foundation grant to analyze and digitally document pottery made by prehistoric people of the Deep South.

The grant will help Wallis analyze Swift Creek Complicated Stamped pottery used by hunter-gatherers of northern Florida, Georgia and eastern Alabama from A.D. 100 to 800. Wallis began the project this summer with $20,000 from the Wenner-Gren Foundation used to conduct neutron activation and petrographic analyses. The three-year NSF grant will fund preparation of the vessels, database development, travel expenses, photographing the designs and radiocarbon dating soot on the pottery. (more…)

Researchers discover oldest evidence of nails in modern primates

August 15th, 2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – From hot pink to traditional French and Lady Gaga’s sophisticated designs, manicured nails have become the grammar of fashion.

But they are not just pretty – when nails appeared on all fingers and toes in modern primates about 55 million years ago, they led to the development of critical functions, including finger pads that allow for sensitive touch and the ability to grasp, whether it’s a nail polish brush or remover to prepare for the next trend.

In a new study co-authored by University of Florida scientists, researchers recovered and analyzed the oldest fossil evidence of fingernails in modern primates, confirming the idea nails developed with small body size and disproving previous theories nails evolved with an increase in primate body size. More than 25 new specimens of Teilhardina brandti – an extinct primate originally described from a single lower molar – include pieces of upper teeth and ankle bones that show the mammal lived in trees. Its nails allowed the lemur-like animal to grasp onto branches and move through the trees with more agility, researchers said. (more…)

Florida Museum shark expert to speak in Senegal regarding work leading to sawfish addition to U.S. endangered list

July 21st, 2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The University of Florida shark expert George Burgess is slated to speak at an international conference Monday about research that allowed the largetooth sawfish to be named a U.S. endangered species last week.

Burgess and other UF scientists conducted the documentary research allowing the National Marine Fisheries Service to list the largetooth sawfish as endangered July 12. He is scheduled as a keynote speaker to discuss sawfish populations during the 2011 International Symposium on Sharks in Dakar, Senegal, Monday through Wednesday.

“It’s a fairly desperate situation,” said Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. “Anything that swims is eligible to be eaten – you have poor countries reaping their resources because they have no choice.” (more…)

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