The birds of Bougainville provide a 100-year benchmark for biodiversity: Short wave: NPR
What to do with a century-old collection of birds?
If you are a teenage scientist, you indicate where exactly the birds have come.
In the early 1900s, the Whitney South Sea Expedition collected 40,000 bird specimens for the American Museum of Natural History. The collection is an irreplaceable snapshot of bird diversity in the South Pacific, but key geographic data is missing. A more complete picture would help biologists understand how the region has changed over the past 100 years.
To solve this mystery, student researchers Miranda Licardo, Jennifer Dominguez and Hans Sangolqui searched through field journals. They focused on the birds of a particular island, Bougainville, to determine their exact geographic origins.
In the process, the teenage scientists discovered the names of Pacific Islanders who sailed with the Whitney Expedition, but were never credited for their work.
The students were mentored by Paul Sweet, collection manager in the Department of Ornithology at the American Museum of Natural History.
Their research was part of the Museums’ Student Research Mentorship Program (SRMP), which pairs New York high school students with scientists.
Our thanks to Iain Woxvold, who recorded the bird songs featured in this episode, as well as the Bird Sounds website, Xéno-Canto.
Thanks also to Scott Rohan for coordinating these interviews, as well as Tramia Jackson, Maria Strangas, and Abby Perez from the American Museum of Natural History.
This episode was produced by Thomas Lu, edited by Sara Sarasohn and Viet Le, and verified by Indi Khera. Alex Drewenskus was the sound engineer.