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Amazing Amazonia: the Evolution of South America's Mega-diverse Biome, with Lukas Musher

March 8, 2021

The outstanding biodiversity of Central and South America has fascinated biologists for centuries. Amazonia – the most biodiverse biome in the Neotropics – contains at least 10% of all bird, 18% of all tree, and as much as 40% of all butterfly species globally. Notably, Amazonia is observed to be the primary source of biodiversity to other Neotropical biomes, meaning that this region has produced a large portion of the biodiversity seen across tropical America in general. What drives species origination and accumulation in these biodiverse regions? Why is the Amazon rainforest so species-rich? What biological processes cause new species of birds to form in tropical America? How has the historical landscape influenced the patterns of biodiversity seen today? In this talk I will examine what makes Amazonia so extraordinary, focusing primarily on South American birds. I will discuss the history of the South American landscape and its biodiversity, highlight current challenges in studying this history, and point to some of the conservation concerns threatening South America. I will additionally discuss my own research and field experience in the American tropics, and try to answer some of the questions about what makes this region of the world, so biodiverse. Using a combination of field sampling, genomic sequencing, and statistical analysis, I will show that the history of Amazonian birds is complex, but is closely tied to changes in the Neotropical landscape. I will also show that because much of the bird diversity in Amazonia is range-restricted and remains undiscovered, future deforestation and climate change pose major threats to Amazonian biodiversity in the near term.

Lukas Musher is a postdoctoral researcher at the American Museum of Natural History and a Research Associate at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. He obtained a B.S. in Ecology and Evolution from the University of Pittsburgh, a M.A. in Conservation Biology from Columbia University, and a Ph.D. from the American Museum of Natural History’s Gilder Graduate School. His research combines population genomic, biogeographic, and macroevolutionary modeling in order to study how Neotropical bird diversity originates and is maintained.

Collisions between birds and windows: A deadly conservation issue for birds and people, with Daniel Klem

April 12, 2021

Past and current investigations repeatedly document that birds behave as if clear and reflective windows are invisible to them. Building upon the published works of the 1970s-1990s, current investigators have refined estimates of annual avian mortality attributable to sheet glass and plastic, and the species, structure, and landscape settings involved in these unintended and unwanted strikes resulting in injury and death. With the exception of habitat destruction, and according to some estimates domestic cats, more birds annually are killed flying into windows than any other human-associated avian mortality factor; exponentially more than are attributable to communication towers, oil spills, pesticides and poisons, vehicles, and wind turbines. A billion birds annually are estimated to die striking windows in the U.S. alone, billions consisting of more than 12.5% (1,311 species) of the 10,500 avian species worldwide. The results of research addressing the evaluation of preventing bird-window collisions have revealed several effective methods, but additional education and short- and long-term solutions are needed to ensure the human-built environment is safe for birds the world over.

Daniel Klem, Jr. is Professor of Biology and Sarkis Acopian Professor of Ornithology and Conservation Biology at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Among other diverse avian investigations, for 47 years and continuing to the present he studies, writes, and teaches about the threat that sheet glass and plastic pose to birds. Considered the foremost scientific expert on avian mortality attributable to windows, he regularly prepares up-to-date review articles on the topic, and is supported by research grants from government agencies, non-government organizations, and industry to evaluate methods to prevent these unintended and unwanted tragedies, by retrofitting existing windows and developing new bird-safe panes for remodeling and new construction. His research has resulted in U.S. patents to guide the development of novel films and windows using ultraviolet (UV) signals that birds see and humans do not. He is motivated by available and growing evidence that bird-window collisions are an important animal welfare, architectural, legal, and wildlife conservation issue for birds and people worldwide.

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