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CMNH  Scientists Study a "Lost World of Biodiversity"  


The Caribbean island of Hispaniola southeast of Cuba contains the countries of  Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and to some scientists represents a lost world of biodiversity.  Even though the natural environment of Hispaniola has been seriously affected by development and pollution, Carnegie scientists estimate that 80 percent of the native species in the mountainous regions, including many new genera, are undescribed or inadequately documented in scientific literature.



To study these life forms, and to prepare for future conservation, the National Science Foundation is funding a three-year project to sample, document, and collect specimens of invertebrates (especially insects) and plants from the unstudied, unique regions.  Carnegie Museum of Natural History, which has a strong collection of Caribbean insects in the Department of  Invertebrate Zoology, is a lead institution in this effort.


A $553,000 research grant that targets invertebrates and plants has been awarded to scientists at Carnegie Museum of Natural History (CMNH), Harvard University and the Smithsonian Institution.  CMNH will send a team (including associate curators John Rawlins and Chen Young, and collection manager Robert Davidson) on nine expeditions to montane regions of the island over the next three years, They will collaborate not only with scientists from Harvard and the Smithsonian, but also with  colleagues and students from the State University of Haiti, the Jardin Botanico and Museo Nacional de Historia Natural in Dominican Republic, and regional Caribbean conservancies and ecological organizations.  Some 170 specialists on Caribbean organisms have agreed to conduct systematic research and provide authoritative identifications for the survey.


The goals include the discovery and description of new genera and species, and detailed studies of the historical and biogeographical origins for the biota that appear to have roots in North America--not in tropical America as might be supposed from their current location.  The potential evolutionary relationships with similar organisms found elsewhere have prompted scientists to refer to Hispaniola as a “lost world” of biodiversity.


There has also been discussion of carrying on the same biotic inventory effort in the montane regions in Cuba, as well as developing a traveling exhibit based on Caribbean activities by CMNH staff--which includes other departments beyond Invertebrate Zoology.



Creating a  Tree of Life       

NSF Award funds research of Brad Livezay, Curator of Birds


A flood of new information, from whole-genome sequences to inventories of Earth's biota, is transforming 21st century biology.



Along with comparative data on the form and structure of organisms, on fossils, and the development, behavior, and the interactions of all forms of life on Earth,  the new data streams make even more critical the need to organize a framework (a Tree of Life) for obtaining information, analyzing it, and making predictions.


Curator of Birds Brad Livezey was one of a group of 12 scientists from eight institutions and four countries that were recently awarded $2 million four-year  grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to work on constructing  a family tree of evolution for theropod dinosaurs (including modern birds).  The research is based on DNA sequence data and comparative morphology.  Livezey specializes in the latter.


The NSF program creates a database and an overall system that researchers can use in tracing the genealogical map for all lineages of life on Earth.   It is an evolutionary tree that allows scientists to gather information about ancestral nodes, and descendent nodes of different life forms.  The information available may be in the form of names, images, sounds, movies, text, or people (experts on the subject). 


Unlike the single investigators or small teams that have previously studied the evolutionary pathways of heredity within particular phyla or domains, the Tree of Life allows for a greatly magnified effort by large teams working across institutions to analyze some l 1.7 million described species.


Dr. Hans-Dieter Sues Associate Director for Science and Collections and Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology


Dr. Hans-Dieter Sues, the new associate director of Science and Collections, began work in December overseeing the activities of the museum’s distinguished curators and their support staff, and providing oversight of  the management of more than 21 million specimens, one of the largest collections in the world.  He will also continue his own groundbreaking research as Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology.


Prior to joining Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Dr. Sues was vice president, Collections & Research at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and professor of Zoology at the University of Toronto.  In this capacity, he was responsible for a staff of about 130 full-time employees and collections of over 5 million objects.


Dr. Sues has collected dinosaurs and other vertebrates in many regions of the United States, Canada, China, Germany, Morocco,  and Uzbekistan.  His research on dinosaurs and mass extinctions as well as his innovative work on museum exhibits has been widely featured in the national and international media.


He is the current president of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, the leading international organization in this academic discipline, and is on the Board of Directors of the National Science Collections Alliance.  He has been editor of two international professional journals and two book series, edited three books and to date has published over 100 technical articles, book chapters and book reviews. 


After graduating with highest honors in Geology and Zoology from Johannes Gutenberg-Universität (Mainz, Germany) in 1975, Dr. Sues received a master’s degree in Geology from the University of Alberta, and a Ph.D. in Biology from Harvard University.  He is also a graduate of the Museum Management Institute organized by the J. Paul Getty Trust at the University of California at Berkley.


Following postdoctoral research at McGill University and at the Smithsonian National Museum of History in Washington, D.C., Sues worked as a research scientist in Paleobiology at the Smithsonian, and in 1992 he joined the curatorial staff of the Royal Ontario Museum.


DinoMite Days


The first decorated dinosaur in the city-wide DinoMite Days ™ Program was unveiled October 1 on Schenley Plaza outside of Carnegie Museum of Natural History, near the replica of Dippy (Diplodocus carnegii).


Local artist and Carnegie Mellon University faculty member Patricia Bellan-Gillen painted the first dinosaur, which incorporated natural history motifs.  She named the work "Connections," and she was assisted in its development by students from the Fourth Grade at Burgettstown Area Elementary School. The museum donated it to The Laurel Foundation in thanks for its generous support of DinoMite Days.


Approximately 100 decorated fiberglass casts of dinosaurs will be designed by local and national artists in 2003, and then auctioned off next October.  Proceeds will benefit local not-for-profit organizations and Carnegie Museum of Natural History.






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