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New Bell Museum Exhibit Highlights UMN Research that Reveals Hidden Diversity in Caucasus Mountains

June 19, 2013

This summer, the Bell Museum of Natural History at the University of Minnesota is speaking in code. DNA, to be exact, and what that code is revealing to scientists in the Caucasus Mountains is the subject of the museum’s latest exhibit, Birds & DNA: Biodiversity and Mountain Islands.

Tucked between the Black and Caspian Seas, the Caucasus Mountains boast a range with peaks higher than the Alps. This unique mountainous area is isolated from the rest of Europe by grassy steppes and barren desserts—creating an island effect. The high peaks and steep valleys of the Caucasus have been a birthplace of natural and human diversity.

Birds & DNA interprets the research of Bob Zink, Bell Museum curator of birds, Breckenridge chair in ornithology, and professor of ecology, evolution and behavior, who has been studying the region with Russian colleagues. "Our initial findings suggested that the Caucasus was more diverse than was apparent from books on birds, so we decided to investigate it more thoroughly." The more diverse the region is revealed to be, the stronger the argument becomes to protect the region from ongoing environmental degradation.

Through hands-on DNA models, photography and video, visitors to the Birds & DNA will learn about and explore the Caucasus region, meet its feathered inhabitants and follow the research team as it tests hypotheses and reaches conclusions.

Zink believes the exhibit can bridge a gap between the sort of work he and other scientist are doing in the field, and the interest of the public. "With Birds & DNA—and interpreting our Caucasus research, we can pique interest and show how research that might seem esoteric, has practical value."

Birds & DNA: Biodiversity and Mountain Islands opens June 29, 2013 and is free with museum admission.

The Bell Museum of Natural History is Minnesota's official natural history museum, where more than four million specimens support ongoing research and teaching at the U of M. The museum strives to discover, document and understand nature, and promote informed stewardship of our world. It is part of the university's College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences and serves more than 1,000,000 people a year through University classes and research, educational programs, exhibits, and online media.

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