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The California Academy of Sciences Welcomes New Department
SAN FRANCISCO (July 25, 2003) - The California Academy of Sciences is pleased to welcome Dr. Jack Dumbacher as the new Assistant Curator and Chair of its Department of Ornithology and Mammalogy. Dumbacher joins the Academy's scientific staff from the Smithsonian Institute, where he spent the majority of the past six years studying the ecology and evolution of chemical defense in birds. His dedication to this intoxicating topic began in 1989, as a graduate student at the University of Chicago, when he discovered that a common New Guinean songbird carried a potent neurotoxin in its skin and feathers. This discovery, the first known example of chemical defense among birds, became even more intriguing when he and his colleagues learned that the toxin in question had only been found in nature once before - in Colombia's poison-dart frogs. Studies over the past several years have helped Dumbacher to deduce that New Guinea's poisonous birds are acquiring their toxins from an environmental source, so he is currently working to determine which plant or insect may be responsible for producing the poison. If he finds the toxic source for New Guinea's birds, he may help herpetologists to discover how poison-dart frogs acquire their poison.
At the Academy, in addition to continuing his research on New Guinea's poisonous birds, Dumbacher will conduct studies using molecular genetics to map the biogeography of the island. By determining which areas are rich in endemic species, and thus most important to protect, he will be able to inform future conservation decisions in the area. This work complements similar biodiversity documentation projects that Academy scientists are currently conducting in China, Myanmar, Madagascar, and many other places around the world.