Mapping the Birds of Bougainville Island: Short Wave: NPR


A male Bougainville Whistler (Pachycephala Richardsi), a species endemic to Bougainville Island. This piper is named after Guy Richards, one of the collectors on the Whitney South Sea Expedition.

Ian Woxvold


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Ian Woxvold


A male Bougainville Whistler (Pachycephala Richardsi), a species endemic to Bougainville Island. This piper is named after Guy Richards, one of the collectors on the Whitney South Sea Expedition.

Ian Woxvold

What do you do with a 100 year old bird collection?

If you are a teenage scientist, pinpoint where exactly The birds came out.

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 South Pacific bird diversity, but it lacks important geographic data. A more complete picture would help biologists understand how the region has changed over the past 100 years.


Collectors from the Whitney South Sea Expedition sailed aboard France, a 75-foot schooner, from 1920 to 1935. The France is pictured off the New Georgia Islands, 1928.

AMNH


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Collectors from the Whitney South Sea Expedition sailed aboard France, a 75-foot schooner, from 1920 to 1935. The France is pictured off the New Georgia Islands, 1928.

AMNH

To solve this mystery, student researchers Miranda Licardo, Jennifer Dominguez, and Hans Sangolqui dug into field journals. They focused on the birds of a specific island, Bougainville, to determine their exact geographic origin.

In the process, the teenage scientists discovered the names of Pacific Islanders who sailed with the Whitney expedition but were never recognized for their work.

The students were mentored by Paul Sweet, Collections Manager in the Department of Ornithology at the American Museum of Natural History.

Her research was part of the museum’s Science Research Mentoring Program (SRMP), which pairs New York City high school students with scientists.

Our thanks to Ian Woxvold, who recorded the bird songs presented in this episode as well as the bird song website, Xeno Chant.

Thanks also to Scott Rohan for coordinating these interviews, and to Tramia Jackson, Maria Strangas, and Abby Perez of the American Museum of Natural History.

This episode was produced by Thomas Lu, edited by Sara Sarasohn and Viet Le, and fact-checked by Indi Khera. Alex Drewenskus was the sound engineer.

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