Mice, Lions, and The Doors: Adventures in Paris with Julian Kerbis Peterhans

Julian Kerbis Peterhans working in the mammals lab at the Field Museum in Chicago

Julian Kerbis Peterhans working in the mammals lab at the Field Museum in Chicago

RU Professor of Natural Science and Sustainability Studies Julian Kerbis Peterhans recently returned to Chicago after 10 days at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle (MHNH) in Paris where he gave a talk on his work on African lions. Most of the trip, however, was spent with colleagues Josef Bryja (Laboratory of Zoology and Ecology at the Masarykova University, Brno, Czech Republic) and Christiane Denys (Head of Mammalogy at the MNHN). As Dr. Kerbis Peterhans relates in his own reflections:

Grand Gallery of Evolution, Museum of Natural History, Paris  (photograph by L Bessol  © Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle)

Grand Gallery of Evolution, Museum of Natural History, Paris
(photograph by L Bessol
© Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle)

Our goal was to tackle the taxonomy (number and diversity of species) of the enigmatic African mouse genus Dendromus. To do so, we used a template based on a “molecular phylogeny” of several hundred genetically coded individuals generated by colleague Gary Voelker from Texas A & M University. Our work will double the number of currently recognized species (from 15 to ca. 30) bringing the numbers more in line with the taxonomy of 1938 when G. M.  Allen recognized 29 species. This ancient group is remarkable for having opposable 1st and 5th toes on the feet, enabling these tiny mice to climb slender stalks of grass.

On my last day in Paris, I received about 300 small mammal specimens collected by German colleague, Gerhard Nikolaus, who led the recently completed Imatong Mountains Expedition to South Sudan, which fills an important biogeographic gap in Field Museum’s holdings of small mammals. The Imatongs were the first base of the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony, and parts of these highlands remain laden with land mines. These collections are the first modern vertebrate collections from the Imatongs since the start of the Sudanese Civil War some 40 years ago.

GreyClimbing Mouse, Dendromus melanotis (photo: biodiversityfocused.co.za)

GreyClimbing Mouse, Dendromus melanotis (photo: biodiversityfocused.co.za)

Of course the trip’s highlight was a visit to the grave of Georges Cuvier, the first scientist to demonstrate that some species became extinct. It was at Cuvier’s grave in the cemetery Pere Lachaisse that I traced a familiar aroma to the nearby grave of Jim Morrison, where some 20 young Parisians were smoking up a storm while playing The Doors on their iPods.

Georges Cuvier, detail of a portrait by Mathieu Ignace Van Brée, 1798 (photo: Brittanica.com)

Georges Cuvier, detail of a portrait by Mathieu Ignace Van Brée, 1798 (photo: Brittanica.com)

Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Photo: Wikipedia Commons

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