Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Annual Paper Session

I attended the annual Minnesota Ornithologists Union Paper Session yesterday. It was held at the Bell Museum on the University of Minnesota Minneapolis campus and, in my opinion, was one of the better sessions in the past few years. There were a couple of really good research papers presented and some exciting, but more general, bird talks. Going to these sessions every year one begins to see the same faces over and over again and in spite of the snow storm, many of those faces appeared again this year.

The most interesting paper was presented by Dr. Scott Lanyon who is director of the Bell Museum. He laid out the framework for a new avian taxonomy based on mtDNA sequencing of all the passerines. Some of the details were fascinating. For instance, the Yellow-breasted Chat is most closely related to the blackbirds and the Scarlet and Summer Tanagers are not true Tanagers at all. There is to be a proposal for a new taxonomy published soon and it is going to mean a lot of revising to the field guides and ornithology texts. While many might see this as unnecessary, incorrect, or just plain cumbersome, I think this is very exciting and is exactly how science works. When new data show you you're wrong, you have to change your understanding of the world. Sure would be nice if my students grasped that concept!

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