JUNE 17, 2009

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Museum Curator Recognized for Outstanding Contribution to Conservation

At the annual meeting of the Southwestern Association of Naturalists in Monterrey, Mexico, in April, Gary D. Schnell, curator of birds at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History and University of Oklahoma professor of zoology, received the George Miksch Sutton Award in Conservation Research in recognition of his outstanding contribution to conservation biology.

The award was made for a publication Schnell co-wrote that recently appeared in The Southwestern Naturalist.

The article focused on results of ecological studies completed by Schnell, his colleagues and students on the tawny deermouse (Peromyscus perfulvus), a small rodent that has a limited distribution in west-central Mexico. Previous studies on this species, the most extensive of which were conducted in a protected area around a biological station, indicated that species numbers were high enough and the animal’s habitat use sufficiently broad so that it was not of particular conservation concern. Schnell’s study, however, found that the habitat used by this mouse is in fact a small subset of what scientists previously thought was acceptable for its survival. Furthermore, its natural habitat is threatened by development and cattle grazing in many of the areas outside the biological station. The research supports a need for greater conservation efforts with respect to the tawny deermouse.

Schnell has been curator of ornithology for the museum since 1970. Though his educational background is in ornithology, Schnell’s research projects are diverse and range from studies of the American burying beetle in eastern Oklahoma to studies of the effects of pollutant run-off in Lake Texoma. His research also includes mammal studies in Colima, Mexico – a biodiversity “hot-spot” – where he works each winter with groups of students from several universities in both the United States and Mexico. The students set hundreds of traps in a grid pattern and monitor the number and types of species, as well as individual animals collected in them over a period of eight nights. Statistical analyses of the resulting data provides information about the number of animals in a given area, their range, habits and habitat preferences.

Other authors of the paper who also were recognized in the award include former OU graduate students Michael L. Kennedy of the University of Memphis, Troy L. Best of Auburn University, and Robert D. Owen who now lives in Paraguay, as well as former undergraduate student Brooke D. N. Estevez, who analyzed data on this animal as part of her Honors thesis in the OU Department of Zoology.

The Southwestern Association of Naturalists was founded in May 1953 to promote the field study of plants and animals (living and fossil) in the southwestern United States, México, and Central America and to aid in the scientific activities of its members. The Association holds an annual meeting and publishes The Southwestern Naturalist. The George Miksch Sutton award is presented annually to recognize outstanding papers related to conservation  published in this journal. The award is named in honor of the renowned ornithologist and artist who served for many years as the Curator of Birds at the SNOMNH prior to Schnell’s tenure in the position.  

The Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History is a research division of OU. The museum is located on the OU Norman campus. Additional information about the museum is available online at www.snomnh.ou.edu, or by calling (405) 325-4712.