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Field Museum houses clues to climate change

by Sepideh Nia
Apr 30, 2013

US Rep. Mike Quigley


U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley took a tour of the Field Museum.  Director of Collections, Bill Stanley shows him artifacts found in Chicago.

Field Museum US Rep


Christopher Philipp shows U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley a shark tooth dagger from the islands of Kiribati at the Field Museum.

 Within the depths of the Field Museum, located in a maze of steel cabinets and archives, lay hundreds of thousands of specimens and artifacts that researchers are actively studying and using to help understand climate change.   

Staff members illustrated their findings Tuesday to U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, who has publicly shown interest in the subject, to help him better understand the effects of climate change in order to inspire public interest and advocacy.

During Quigley’s tour of the archives in the Field Museum, researchers told him about  birds, archeology and plants and how behavioral changes parallel climate change.

“I basically wasn’t paying attention to climate change until I started noticing things with the birds and it’s one of those things where there’s so many things happening that are consistent with climate change,” said Doug Stotz, senior conservation ecologist.

“I can’t prove that it was due to climate change but the fact that the movement of, you know, it’s not birds in the north suddenly showing down out in Florida, it’s birds from the south moving north,” he said.

It’s not just birds that are migrating. Plants have been observed moving higher in elevation in the past two decades, a process that Collections Manager and Adjunct Curator of Botan, Matt Von Konrat said could be due to climate change.

“Well, it’s changing the distribution patterns, there’s potential for plants at a higher level to become extinct, so as plants are being moved up, they’re competing with other plants,” said Von Konrat.

Archeological evidence, in the form of a shark tooth dagger from the islands of Kiribati, also points to climate change, according to Christopher Philipp, Regenstein collections manager of Pacific Anthropology.  

A shark tooth dagger brought to the Field museum in 1905 has teeth from two shark species, Carcharhinus Obscurus and Carcharhinus Sorrah, both of which are no longer found in the waters of Kiribati, said Philipp.

“There’s so many things that you can show now that I don’t know if they will convince everybody but at least you’ll get people to recognize that things are changing whether they recognize that humans have a big part in that change,” said Debby Moskovits, vice president of Science and Education.

Why should people care about climate change?

“Over 90 percent of our pharmaceutical drugs are plant derived, but less than 5 percent of all plants in the world have actually been investigated chemically,” said Von Konrat.  “So with plant extinction, we’re potentially loosing unknown drug discoveries that could have all sorts of cures for HIV AIDS, cancer, and so on.”