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K-State Today

March 11, 2014

International ornithologist to discuss new Amazon bird species at March 14 seminar

Submitted by David Rintoul

The Division of Biology will host Mario Cohn-Haft, staff scientist and curator of birds at the Brazilian National Institute for Research in the Amazon, as part of a weekly seminar series. The lecture, "What's so special about the Amazon? An ornithologist's perspective," will start at 4 p.m. Friday, March 14, in 221 Ackert Hall.

Cohn-Haft has contributed to the Handbook of the Birds of the World, which has recently published a special volume listing the discovery of 15 new bird species in the Amazon. One of the species was named after Cohn-Haft to honor his many contributions to Amazonian ornithology.

Cohn-Haft will talk about how the Amazon — the world's largest tropical forest and wilderness area — also is home to the world's greatest number of bird species. The characteristics responsible for this diversity are fascinating examples of general ecological principles applied to a unique place with unusual characteristics.

Cohn-Haft will explore how environmental constancy, competition among species and habitat variability lead to the remarkable specializations that allow so many species to coexist. He also will discuss how most Amazonian species have small geographic ranges that are bounded by rivers that birds do not cross.

Attendees will learn the recipe for discovering new bird species, which continue to be found more in the Amazon than any other place on earth by using satellite images, birdsongs and DNA. The same factors that make for mega-diversity and the existence of undiscovered species also leave these species vulnerable to human disturbance and highly prone to extinction. Preserving the Amazon and its wildlife is a global challenge with implications for quality of life elsewhere on the planet and that people everywhere can contribute to in different ways.

If you would like to visit with Cohn-Haft, contact David Rintoul at drintoul@ksu.edu.

More information about this topic is available through K-State's From Forest to Sea: Environment and Development in Brazil study abroad class. The class visits the Brazilian National Institute for Research in the Amazon every year. It is a faculty-led by Marcellus Caldas, director of international research and faculty collaboration in the office of International Programs, Martha Smith-Caldas, instructor in the Division of Biology and Elizabeth Dodd, university distinguished professor of English.