Plenary Speakers

The 2009 program features a single Plenary session, taking place in UPenn's elegant Irvine Auditorium on Thursday morning, 13 August. This session will kick off the scientific program by combining opening remarks (from representatives of UPenn, Villanova, and Philadelphia), a Welcome Lecture, and a Plenary Presentation.

Scott Weidensaul

Welcome Lecture title: "Ornithological Cradle: Philadelphia and the Birth of American Bird Study"
Thursday, 13 August at 8:20 a.m. in Irvine Auditorium

Author and naturalist Scott Weidensaul has written more than two dozen books on natural history, including Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds, a Pulitzer Prize finalist; The Ghost with Trembling Wings, about the search for species that may or may not be extinct; and his most recent book, Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birding. He lectures widely on wildlife and environmental topics, and is an active field researcher, specializing in birds of prey and hummingbirds. He lives in the Appalachians of eastern Pennsylvania.

Abstract: As the hub of New World scientific learning in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Philadelphia played a leading role in the development of North American ornithology. William Bartram made the first rough calculations of continental bird populations at the family estate here; and with Bartram's help, Scottish poet (and convicted blackmailer) Alexander Wilson worked himself into an early grave in the city, creating American Ornithology. Just upriver a few miles at Mill Grove, a young French fop who had renamed himself John James Audubon was ignoring business to paint birds. The Academy of Natural Sciences nurtured generations of pioneering ornithologists from Thomas Say and Titian Peale to the brilliant ornithologist (and irascable crank) John Cassin. The city was an international crossroads for luminaries like Thomas Nuttall and Charles Lucien Bonaparte, who did much to catalogue the avifauna of the newly explored continent, and it was home to Graceanna Lewis, the first serious female ornithologist in the country, whose career came to a premature end with the death of her mentor, Cassin, in 1869.

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Robert E. Ricklefs

Plenary Presentation title: "Bird Comings and Goings in the West Indies"
Thursday, 13 August at 9 a.m., Irvine Auditorium

Dr. Robert E. Ricklefs is Curators Professor of Biology, Department of Biology, University of Missouri-St. Louis. A native of coastal central California, and a birder from an early age, Bob completed his undergraduate education at Stanford University and went on to pursue his doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania, initially under the guidance of Robert MacArthur but completing his degree with W. John Smith. After a year of post-doctoral studies, he returned to Penn as an Assistant Professor and remained on the biology faculty until 1995, when he assumed his present position at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. His interests include island biogeography, patterns of species richness, and the diversification of avian life histories. In addition to his many scientific articles and books, he is the author of two widely used textbooks, Ecology and The Economy of Nature.

Presentation Abstract: My early experiences in Philadelphia, including acquaintance with James Bond (Birds of the West Indies) and working with Robert MacArthur (The Theory of Island Biogeography), stimulated my interest in the geographic and ecological distributions of island birds. Work with George Cox in the early 1970s led to the development of a taxon-cycle theory (in the sense of E. O. Wilson) for the West Indian avifauna. However, only after the general availability of molecular phylogenetic and phylogeographic techniques were Eldredge Bermingham and I able to reconstruct the histories of birds in the archipelago. With the advantages of a time scale and relationships among island populations, we have been able to confirm the dynamics of the taxon cycle, demonstrate repeated phases of expansion and contraction of birds within the archipelago, relate geographic history to ecological distribution, and estimate rates of extinction of island populations. More recent work on hemosporidian parasites of birds has revealed a continuum of dependence to independence of blood parasites on their hosts, and suggested ways in which pathogens might influence distribution and even species formation.

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