Stay up to date on what's happening with the Collections. From recent discoveries to publications and promotions, we will keep you informed on the new and noteworthy.
Herbarium Digitization Project
2020 NHC Scholarship awardee - Jacob Barnett
Why are tomatoes red, and why do they taste good? Jacob Barnett investigates those questions from an evolutionary perspective by studying the tomato plant's wild relatives, a group of about 12 species native to the coasts, deserts, and mountains of western South America. He uses farm planting trials and genetic tools to gain insight into how these plants might have evolved in the wild, with a particular focus on traits and genes related to color and flavor. This work may reveal new sources of diversity that could help plant breeders develop better tasting and more resilient tomato varieties.
Digital Life on Earth
FEB 25, 2020
Duncan Irschick is working on UMass Amherst’s Digital Life Project to create visual records of critically endangered species.
The Digital Life Project at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has been revolutionary in creating visual records of critically endangered species in ways that technology has never allowed before.
The project team modeled the first-ever 3D image of a southern right whale after researchers used aerial photography and drone videos to measure the mass and volume of whales. Previously, the only way to weigh any whale was by using a dead or stranded animal. Using its innovative Beastcam array, the team has also produced the world’s first accurate 3D image of the southern white rhino.
For more information: Digital Life on Earth
Rare, smelly ‘corpse flower’ attracts curious noses
JUL 03, 2019
Curious staffers and members of the public lined up to view — and smell — the “corpse flower” in the UMass Amherst Natural History Collection, welcoming a blooming Amorphophallus titanum, or 6-foot tall corpse flower, one of the world’s biggest flowering structures. Shortly before the corpse flower opens, it emits the stink of rotting flesh in order to attract pollinators such as carrion beetles and blow flies in its native Sumatran rainforest.
Botanist and assistant biology professor Madelaine Bartlett, whose research interests include plant development and evolution, with greenhouse manager Chris Phillips, say the campus had its last blooming corpse flower about four years ago. Bartlett says, “These plants are sophisticated chemical factories; they have an amazing ability to produce chemicals to attract pollinators. It’s biological mimicry of a fascinating kind.”
She adds that the corpse flower is just one of the many examples of biomimicry, unusual pollination methods and botanical oddities found in UMass Amherst’s “very special teaching and research collection” that is used regularly to teach students about some of the more unusual plants found around the world.
DEC 13, 2018
Joshua Moyer studied teeth and jaws of the prickly dogfish using several microscopy methods: light and polarizing microscopy and scanning electron microscopy. Co-author Mark Riccio is also doing CT scans on the specimens. In addition, Josh prepared skeletal and fluid specimens suitable for the Natural History Collections. This shark has recently been described as a dietary specialist, which allows larger evolutionary questions about form and function and their impact on morphological specialization.
Josh, a student of Duncan Irschick in the Organismic and Evolutionary Biology Graduate Program, worked with support from a Natural History Collections Summer Scholarship from the David J. Klingener Endowment Fund.
DEC 04, 2018
Luis Aguirre, a student of Lynn Adler in the Organismic and Evolutionary Biology Program, studied the effect that herbivory has on the successful pollination of other plants in the community. He hypothesed that herbivory reduces the fidelity of pollinators to their preferred species and that this behavioral change would reduce successful pollination of neighboring plant species. He setup paired study plots where milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) was the dominant plant and snipped leaves to simulate herbivory. He did find changes in the composition of pollinators on other plant species.
NOV 13, 2018
Pedro Pereira Rizzato a visiting student from the University of São Paulo, Brazil, this summer, studied specimens in the UMass Collections of the Polypteridae, a family of freshwater fishes from Africa, in order to illuminate their evolutionary position, and what it tells us about the evolution of bony fishes.
NOV 13, 2018
This past summer Rachel Bell studied the microbiomes of lemurs in the Beza Mahafaly Special Reserve, Madagascar, to observe species level difference in the gut, hair, oral and genital biomes of Verraux’s Sifaka and ring tailed lemurs. DNA from the samples will be analyzed at the UMass Genomics Laboratory and the results will be statistically analyzed to explore the relationship between microbiomes and host species, and the effect of habitat type and species on measures of microbiome diversity. Rachel is a student in the laboratory of Jason Kamilar in the Anthropology Department.
Amanda Fuchs Summer Research
OCT 16, 2018
Amanda Fuchs used a summer research scholarship from the NHC to study baboon gut microbiomes in Zambia. She collected baboon feces, and water samples, and made observations on behavior of the baboons in Kasanka National Park. Analysis of the DNA in these samples will shed light on the interaction of environmental factors with the microbiome and provide information on primates use of habitat, , especially in the context of climate change and the availability and predictability of water and food resources. Amanda is a student in the laboratory of Jason Kamilar in the Anthropology Department.
Human activity in Madagascar earlier than thought.
OCT 07, 2018
Laurie Godfrey, Professor Emerita of Anthropology, participated in research showing human activity in Madagascar 6000 years earlier than previously thought. The team found butchery marks on the extinct elephant birds, Aepyornis and Mullerornis, from 10,500 years ago, 6,000 years earlier than the previous record from extinct lemurs.
MAY 02, 2018
Jeff Podos, Curator of Birds, is studying Amazonian bellbirds this summer via a Fulbright Fellowship. With longtime collaborator Mario Cohn-Haft, a staff member of the National Institute for Amazon Research in Brazil, Podos will be research how these small birds produce such booming songs. Read more.
Kamilar appointed Editor-in-Chief of Evolutionary Anthropology
DEC 19, 2017
Jason Kamilar, Curator of Anthropological Primates, has been appointed the new editor-in-chief of Evolutionary Anthropology, a peer-reviewed academic journal focusing on current issues in biological anthropology, paleontology, archaeology, primatology, genetics, human ecology and other areas pertinent to understanding human evolution in a broad perspective. Kamilar assumes control from John Fleagle of Stony Brook University, who founded the journal in 1992 and has been its only editor. Evolutionary Anthropology is designed to provide researchers, educators and students in anthropology and related disciplines with reviews of recent research, discussions of theoretical issues, and changing perspectives on human evolutionary biology in a concise, readable format. It is one of the most influential journals in the field of biological anthropology, with an impact factor that ranks third out of 82 anthropology journals during the past five years.