I study various topics in evolutionary biology, all focusing on the diversification, distribution and conservation of mammals. The breadth of my research is testimony to the facts that no interesting biological questions are ever fully answered and progress towards answering them invariably opens up a variety of others. Curiosity, opportunity, and a bit of wanderlust have diversified my program and caused it to span two continents.
Density of terrestrial vertebrate species, courtesy of savingspecies.org. Is there any wonder why I study tropical animals?
For most of my career, I have used museum specimens to study the systematics and biogeography of Neotropical mammals. Collaborating with scientists and students in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, and Chile, I have worked throughout the Andes, Amazonia, and Atlantic, Valdivian, and Magellanic Forests. While documenting some of the
world's richest and most highly endemic faunas, we regularly discover and describe
new taxa of marsupials, rodents, and bats and apply them in regional and continental reconstructions of phylogeny and biogeography. The program offers abundant training opportunities for American and
Latin American students, both in the lab and in the field. Beginning in 2011, I started a parallel project on the The Bats of Kenya with colleagues Paul Webala and Carl Dick. This project is designed to document the distribution and status of more than 100 species of bats that occur in Kenya and to shed light on their ecological roles and current status.
Collecting parasites in the course of these systematic studies led to my interest in host-parasite coevolution. Ectoparasites recovered from mammals and birds are used to reconstruct the radiation of parasite groups and to assess their distributions across hosts and geography. These studies identify factors that govern the distribution, abundance, and host specificity of parasites. Together with Carl Dick (until 2009 a post-doc here at the Museum, now at Western Kentucky University) and Katharina Dittmar (SUNY Buffalo), we have developed a broad range of studies on the ecology, coevolution, and phylogeny of these interesting flies. Interest in the unstudied ectoparasite communities of African bats helped fuel our collaborations with Kenyan Paul Webala to survey the diverse bat communities of Kenya.
A research program that I am now concluding focused on the Tsavo lions, infamous as man-eaters a century ago but more remarkable because many of them lack manes. In a series of papers, I have explored the morphology, genetics, behavior, and ecology of lions in SE Kenya with Samuel Kasiki (Kenya Wildlife Service) and Alex Mwazo (Kenyatta University), Roland Kays (NY State Museum), Jean Dubach (Loyola University), Justin Yeakel (UC Santa Cruz), and others. Our aim has been to understand this distinctive and environmentally-plastic trait (manelessness) at genetic, hormonal, histological, anatomical, and behavioral levels. Concurrently, we gathered information to mitigate the impacts of lion depredations on livestock to ensure their continued survival and the preservation of their habitats. Until 2009, this project had the help of volunteers from the Earthwatch Institute.
As detailed in Students, interactions with undergraduate and graduate students enrich, extend, and complement these studies. Each research arena offers opportunities for student research projects and post-graduate collaborations alike.
Dr. B.D. Patterson