My research focuses on mammalian biology and conservation.


Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Unanda

Ghana Coastal Wetlands Management Project

Mammalian Surveys in Madagascar

Bat Morphology and Vision (ongoing)

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Uganda

My colleague Dr. Dennis Cullinane at Boston University and I lead an expedition to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda in 2001, with funding from the National Geographic Society. The goal of the project was to study a rare and enigmatic small mammal, the hero shrew.

The vertebral column of Scutisorex somereni, the hero shrew, has been modified beyond anything that has been identified in other vertebrates. The complexity of the vertebral column was not recognized until 1917, when Allen published a description of the skeletal anatomy. Allen was led to this intriguing discovery after reading an expedition account by Herbert Lang that described a ceremony performed by the Mangbetu people of Rwanda. According to Lang's account, a tribesman places one foot carefully on the back of a captive hero shrew and, concentrating all his weight on that one foot, stands on the shrew. The hero shrew survives the ordeal unharmed because of the anatomical modifications of its vertebrae. The hero shrew (or armored shrew) capable of supporting up to 1000 times its body mass on its back, the equivalent of 10 elephants on the back of an adult human. Despite the novelty of the hero shrew spine, no associated function has been identified because the ecology and behavior of this species is poorly documented.

Ghana Coastal Wetlands Management Project
Ghana's 550 km of coastline includes over one hundred estuaries and lagoons. These coastal wetlands are on the boundary of two major migration corridors for waterbirds: the East Atlantic Flyway and the Mediterranean Flyway. Studies by the Save the Sea Shore Birds - Project and the Ghana Wildlife Society dating back to the early 1980s, have shown that significant numbers of waterbirds use Ghana coastal wetlands as staging areas and wintering grounds.

In 1992, the government of Ghana received support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), for the protection of these sites (Muni-Pomadze, Densu delta, Sakumo, Songor, and Keta) under the Coastal Wetlands Management Project (CWMP), which is implemented by the Ghana Wildlife Department.

The CWMP seeks to preserve the ecological integrity of these five coastal wetlands, and to enhance the socio-economic benefits that these wetlands provide to the local communities. The CWMP implemented a series of baseline ecological studies aimed at characterizing the current status of these important wetlands. These ecological studies form the basis for management and additional long-term monitoring of these sites.

For details on this project please refer to the Special Edition of the journal Biodiversity and Conservation April 2000. I served as project leader of the terrestrial survey.
Ghana, topographic map, UNEP/GRID-Arendal Maps and Graphics Library
Mammalian Biodiversity Surveys Madagascar
I worked in Madagascar on three different projects over the years. The first project was to survey mammals for a proposed new Ranomafana National Park. Ranomafana National Park is located in Fianarantsoa Province of eastern Madagascar. It officially became a national park on May 31, 1991.Ranomafana National Park consists of a 41,500 hectare core zone surrounded by a multiuse boundary zone that contains about 100 small villages. The core zone is located in an extremely mountanus region; the steep slopes have no doubt protected the forests from logging. In 1986, a new lemur species, Hapalemur aureus, was discovered in the forest, and at about the same time Hapalemur simus was rediscovered in the same region. Ranomafana National Park is home to 13 lemur species. The forests include lowland rainforest to montane cloud forests and they house hundreds of rare and endangered species of plants and animals.
Bat Morphology and Vision

My students and I are currently studying the visual system of bats. Much attention has been focused on the role of echolocation in bats, but very little research has been conducted on the visual acquity of bats. We are comparing the retinal anatomy of a wide range of bats in order to understand the role the eyes play in bat sensory ecology.

I am also interested in the neuromuscular system of bats and the role it plays in flight. I worked with Dr. John Hermanson at Cornell University to study the histochemical properties of bat flight muscles in vampire bats.

Finally, I have been involved in several studies to map the motorneuron pools responsible for innervating the major flight muscle in bats and birds. We have found that the motorneuron pools for forelimb muscles are remarkably conserved by evolution. The relative location in the spinal cord of these clusters of neurons is essentially the same in terrestrial lizards, birds, mice, and bats regardless of the type of locomotion.The photos to the right show the actual motor nuerons for the pectoralis muscle in the little brown bat; the spinal cord was sectioned in the longitudinal plane (left photo) and in cross section (right photo).