Science Speaker Series Press Release

For Immediate Release
July 10, 2017
Contact:  Trinity Foreman


Inspiring Talks at the Nantucket Maria Mitchell Association

Nantucket, MA  – The Nantucket Maria Mitchell Association (MMA) recently hosted a lecture by Dr. John L. Koprowski, Professor at the University of Arizona and one of the world’s leading squirrel biologists, during this summer’s Science Speaker Series. Each week on Wednesday evenings, the MMA proudly welcomes dedicated and world renowned members of the science and research community to discuss their field of study. The speaker series is open to the public on Wednesday evenings at 7 PM at 33 Washington Street.

In his talk, Dr. Koprowski discussed squirrel diversity around the globe. Did you know that there are 293 species of squirrels alive today and that they have been around for thirty-six million years? Squirrels are great survivors! This is because of their robust ability to adapt to a given ecosystem, which has allowed their range to become widespread. Squirrels are also successful invaders either through intentional or unintentional human transport because of their ability to adapt to a habitat. There have been 270 “introductions,” involving squirrels. One trait that allows squirrels to survive are their flexible eating abilities, as they have a powerful jaw for gnawing foods like nuts, berries, and acorns. Dr. Koprowski also shared his own research, which includes the study of species as diverse as Vampire Squirrels in Borneo and the Wooly Flying Squirrel in the Himalayas. The Wooly Flying Squirrel has been able to survive above the tree line. Imagine a squirrel without trees! Dr. Koprowski’s talk was delightfully engaging.

Koprowski first became fascinated by squirrels growing up in Cleveland and its inner suburbs, where squirrels are prevalent. He learned to enjoy watching their behavior and how they maneuvered amongst the sparse trees using buildings and telephone lines. They persisted through the nasty winters on the edge of Lake Erie through lake-effect snows, and industriously buried tree seeds in anticipation of the coming winter. These experiences taught him to be a keen observer and to appreciate subtlety. Koprowski developed a successful career in the sciences all from a species that was visible and present in his everyday life growing up.

Koprowski’s curiosity and intrigue with squirrels was a vehicle to develop a model for the scientific questions biologists pose about organisms, “The most important thing in science are the questions. Squirrels are excellent models to study populations response to habitat changes because they are relatively cosmopolitan, most are diurnal and conspicuous. They have a large enough body size to see and have good numbers in a reasonable area, and they respond to changes at scales that are important to humans as well. My desire as a scientist is to learn more about the natural world and the conservation of biodiversity continues to bring me back to squirrels as an excellent group to use to expand our knowledge,” said Koprowski.

Dr. Emily Goldstein Murphy, the MMA’s Director of Natural Sciences and a protégée of Dr. Koprowski, gave a similarly enthralling discussion the following week. She discussed the role of invasive species in a given ecosystem, and discussed how humans can act as catalysts to facilitate an invasion process in a number of ways. She used a case study of the Macquarie Island, where populations of pests such as rats, mice, rabbits, and cats were introduced and wreaked havoc on the landscape and endangered native species. Goldstein Murphy described how the Tasmanian government instigated a costly island-wide project to completely remove the invaders.

“As a member of the Maria Mitchell Association community for more than eleven years,

hearing from successful scientists in their respective fields demonstrates the

Association’s commitment to igniting an interest, if not a passion in people, young and old, in science education,” said Ned Manus.  As is true of both Dr. Koprowski and Dr. Goldstein Murphy’s lectures, these talks could easily inspire budding scientists to foster their interest in the fields of biology, astronomy, and terrestrial ecology.

The Science Speaker Series will continue throughout the summer and into September.  Next week, on Wednesday, July 19, 2017, Jill Talladay will discuss “Creating a Responsible and Sustainable Environment’?”  Come and foster your interest in science with the MMA.