Study Cats in Italy; Ph.D. Required

Curious about cats? Completed your Ph.D? Competent in either aDNA or stable isotope analysis? Two postdoctoral positions are available at the Centre of Molecular Anthropology, University of Rome Tor Vergata to:

unravel how the increasing bond with humans across a wide spectrum of socio-cultural contexts, from prehistoric farming communities to the ancient Egyptian and Medieval societies, shaped the cat genome and nutritional behaviour while adapting to anthropized ecosystems. 

The two-year jobs pay about €2,500 a month. More details at:

FELIX – Palegenomics and Population Genomics of Ancient Cats

FELIX – Stable isotope analysis for the study of cat-human interactions in the past

Featured image: V. Sauvaget, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Passenger Pigeons on New Hampshire Public Radio

How many is a lot? When you’re talking passenger pigeons, that question is more controversial than you might think.

I was fortunate to be able to participate in a discussion of passenger pigeon population numbers for the Outside/In podcast, which is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio. Author Charles Mann was also interviewed because his book, 1491, repeated an earlier claim that passenger pigeon remains are rarely found on archaeological sites and questioned whether passenger pigeons were truly abundant before the 1800s.

Listen to the episode, Tempest in a Teacup, at the Outside/In website, or wherever you normally get your podcasts.

“Doctorates are so weird”

Passenger Pigeon DNA Article Results in Misleading Headlines

OK, that in itself is not news. But the new article by Chih-Ming Hung and colleagues has resulted in headlines like “Humans Aren’t Solely to Blame for Passenger Pigeon Extinction” (Discover Magazine!) and “Humans not solely to blame for passenger pigeon extinction” (ScienceMag!!). Oh, those are actually the same headline.

GrrlScientist over at the Guardian does much better with “Passenger pigeon extinction: it’s complicated” and provides a pretty good review of the paper, including this important quote: “Dr Hung, Professor Shaner and their colleagues were not looking to discount or disregard the pivotal role that people played in the extinction of this bird. Instead, they were seeking to understand how humans could have reduced this seemingly endless population from billions to none in such a short time period.”

What’s less reassuring is the next line: “Dr Hung, Professor Shaner and their colleagues propose that the passenger pigeon’s population was already in a natural nosedive phase simultaneously with human over-exploitation in the late 1800s, and it was the combination of these two pressures led to its sudden extinction.”

And she also unfortunately repeats the contradiction that European immigrants, while engaging in their own “uncontrolled hunting” of passenger pigeons somehow also managed to  relieve hunting pressure by Native Americans.

The obligatory public domain image of a passenger pigeon

New multifaceted study of passenger pigeon and extinction

A new article to be published in PNAS combines aDNA research with ecological niche modeling and population studies to examine the causes of passenger pigeon extinction.  You may think you already know why and how they went extinct, and yeah, you’re probably right. But it’s always good to get more genetic data on Ectopistes, and potentially the most interesting part of the study will be their work on population dynamics of passenger pigeons. A more detailed look at this paper is in the works.

The article, Drastic population fluctuations explain the rapid extinction of the passenger pigeon, is pay-per-view at the PNAS website.