JMM Students Present Eagle Research at a National Conference

by Rachel Wadleigh and Sonia Kabra

Talking about the findings

Talking about the findings

We attended the American Ornithologists Conference in Chicago with Heather Lerner a few weeks ago.  We were able to present the research we did at the museum over the summer as a poster at the conference.  Ornithologists come from all over the United States to share research in their various fields. We had the opportunity to meet several of these professionals during the conference.  It was incredible to see so many different people passionate about their research.  There were workshops, talks, and a poster session.  Some events were held at the Field Museum, giving us a chance to explore their exhibits and see their multitude of specimens.

Sonia at the Avian Workshop

Sonia at the Avian Workshop

We attended informative workshops like Sampling and Preserving Avian Endo- and Ectoparasites from the Field to the Lab, and Leveraging Digital Collections for Avian Research. We got hands on experience collecting avian parasites from new museum specimens. We also learned how to make blood smear slides. In addition, we were introduced to different methods of collecting and utilizing both sound recordings and digital media specimens in ornithological research.

We presented our research as a poster.  We were excited to share our findings with anyone from professionals specializing in molecular phylogenetics to others working in an entirely different field.  We investigated a group of eagles called booted eagles.  Eagles from this group have feathers all the way down their legs, like the Golden Eagle.  We used their DNA sequences to determine which species were most closely related.  This was the first phylogenetic analysis that included all species of Booted Eagles.

Two Feather Lice larvae at the Field Museum

Two Feather Lice larvae at the Field Museum

The scientific name of an animal is made up of its genus and species.  Different species share the same genus when the scientist describing the species thought there was similarity among the species. These species descriptions are mostly from the 1800s. In modern times, as we gather more molecular evidence for the shared common ancestry of species, we are finding that physical appearances do not always reflect shared evolutionary history. And so, some species that share the same genus are actually more closely related to species belonging to other genera.  By including all available molecular data, we were able to evaluate the molecular or evolutionary evidence for the assignment of genera and propose some changes so that their naming (called taxonomy) reflects their evolutionary history.

Attending this conference was an incredible experience, giving us the opportunity to make connections, learn about current ornithological research, explore the Field museum, and share our research with other ornithologists.  We will be presenting our poster at Earlham College again this fall, though we are working to revise it for a more general audience.

Rachel Wadleigh presents the poster

Rachel Wadleigh presents the poster

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