From Uganda to Chicago: SUST Prof Julian Kerbis Peterhans Reports on Biodiversity Research at the Field Museum

by Julian Kerbis Peterhans

Julian Kerbis Peterhans and Sadic Waswa in Uganda

Julian Kerbis Peterhans and Sadic Waswa in Uganda

I am hosting Makerere University (in Kampala, Uganda) master’s student Sadic Waswa for the next three months at the Field Museum of Natural History in downtown Chicago. Sadic trained with me during my year-long Fulbright Award in Uganda during the last academic year. See the accompanying photo of Sadic and myself at Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda, where the Nile River begins its course. Sadic comes to Chicago courtesy of Field Museum’s Council on Africa. Sadic arrived in Chicago in the dead cold of winter and has successfully been combating the bitter cold and snow since his arrival.

Sadic Waswa working in the FMNH Pritzker Lab, Winter 2014

Sadic Waswa working in the FMNH Pritzker Lab, Winter 2014

Sadic is also working at the Pritzker Laboratory for Molecular Systematics and Evolution with my museum colleague Josh Engel. Sadic is documenting the distribution of one of Africa’s endemic mice (genus Hybomys) using preserved samples of DNA from localities throughout the Congo River basin. The photo at left shows Sadic setting up a gel to see if his PCR process worked (polymerase chain reaction).

Sadic also brought along a potentially new species of mouse that he collected in 2013 in western Uganda from papyrus swamps. The specimen appears to be a member of the genus Pelomys and is unlike any other African rodent. It has jet black fur throughout, grooved incisors (like Pelomys), and a very long tail, which is odd for a terrestrial mouse. The only problem is that the specimen is from a very young individual with un-erupted 3rd molars; therefore it cannot be used in the description of a species new to science. Sadic will also be studying the DNA of this species in comparison with its closest relatives. He will return to Uganda in early May so there is some light and warmer weather for him at the end of the tunnel!

On a somewhat related note, RU Sustainability Studies major Bridget Powers has been volunteering with me at the Field Museum sorting out many of the specimens that are crucial to Sadic’s master’s degree research.  If any Roosevelt student is also interested in such volunteer opportunities, please let me know!

Editor’s note: Julian Kerbis Peterhans, a professor of natural science and sustainability studies in RU’s College of Professional Studies and an adjunct curator of mammals at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, spent the 2012-13 academic year as a Fulbright Scholar at Makerere University(Kampala, Uganda, eastern Africa), one of the premier sub-Saharan academic institutions.

Julian Kerbis Peterhans working in the mammals lab at the Field Museum in ChicagoKerbis Peterhans engaged in training African students in biodiversity survey techniques, as well as documenting the biodiversity of mid-elevation forest ecoystems in Uganda. This project followed on the heels of a five-year award from the MacArthur Foundation in the mid-1990s, when Kerbis Peterhans contributed to a program to train over 60 African students in similar techniques in Ugandan National Parks.

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