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Distinguished author

Mary Agnes Chase
1869–1963. Standard IPNI form: Chase

Mary Agnes Chase, née Merrill, was an American botanist who worked at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Smithsonian Institution. She is considered one of the world's outstanding agrostologists and is known for her work on the study of grasses, and also for her work as a suffragist. Chase was born in Iroquois County, Illinois and held no formal education beyond grammar school. That aside, she made significant contributions to the field of botany, authored over 70 scientific publications, and was conferred with an honorary doctorate in science from the University of Illinois. She specialized in the study of grasses and conducted extensive field work in North- as well as and South America. Her Smithsonian Field Books collection from 1897 to 1959 is archived in the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

In 1901, Chase became a botanical assistant at the Field Museum of Natural History under Charles Frederick Millspaugh, where her work was featured in two museum publications: Plantae Utowanae (1900) and Plantae Yucatanae (1904). Two years later, Chase joined the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a botanical illustrator and eventually became a scientific assistant in systematic agrostology (1907), assistant botanist (1923), and associate botanist (1925), all under Albert Spear Hitchcock. Chase worked with Hitchcock for almost twenty years, collaborating closely and also publishing, for instance The North American Species of Panicum (1910).

Following Hitchcock's death in 1936, Chase succeeded him to become senior botanist in charge of systematic agrostology and custodian of the Section of Grasses, Division of Plants at the United States National Museum (USNM). Chase retired from the USDA in 1939, but continued her work as custodian of the USNM grass herbarium until her death in 1963. She was an Honorary Fellow of the Smithsonian Institution (1959) and Fellow of the Linnean Society of London (1961). Agnesia is named in her honour (a monotypic genus of herbaceous South American bamboo in the grass family).

Chase experienced discrimination based on her gender in the scientific field, for example, being excluded from expeditions to Panama in 1911 and 1912 because the expedition's benefactors feared the presence of women researchers would distract men. During World War I, Chase marched with Alice Paul and was jailed several times for her activities. In 1918, she was arrested at the Silent Sentinels rally picketing the White House; she refused bail and was held for 10 days, where she instigated a hunger-strike and was force-fed. The USDA accused her of "conduct unbecoming a government employee," but Hitchcock helped her keep her job. Chase was also an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

See also: Distinguished authors of previous months.

Species of the month

Tapanuli orangutan

Pongo tapanuliensis


Photo: Frontal view of Pongo tapanuliensis

Some facts about this new species:

The Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis) is a species of orangutan restricted to South Tapanuli in the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. It is one of three known species of orangutan, alongside the Sumatran orangutan (P. abelii), found farther northwest on the island, and the Bornean orangutan (P. pygmaeus). It was described as a distinct species in 2017. As of 2018, there are roughly 800 individuals of this species and it is currently on the critically endangered species list.[

Discovery and naming - An isolated population of orangutans in the Batang Toru area of South Tapanuli was reported in 1939. The population was rediscovered by an expedition to the area in 1997, but it was not recognized as a distinct species then.[7] Pongo tapanuliensis was identified as a distinct species, following a detailed phylogenetic study in 2017. The study analyzed the genetic samples of 37 wild orangutans from populations across Sumatra and Borneo and conducted a morphological analysis of the skeletons of 34 adult males. The holotype of the species is the complete skeleton of an adult male from Batang Toru who died after being wounded by locals in November 2013. The holotype is stored in the Zoological Museum of Bogor. The skull and teeth of the Batang Toru male differ significantly from those of the other two orangutan species. Comparisons of the genomes of all 37 orangutans using principal component analysis and population genetic models also indicated that the Batang Toru population is a separate species.

Etymology: The specific name, tapanuliensis, as well as the common name, Tapanuli orangutan, refer to Tapanuli, the hilly region in North Sumatra where the species lives.

Habitat and distribution - Tapanuli orangutans live in tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests located south of Lake Toba in Sumatra. The entirety of the species is found in an area of about 1,000 km2 (390 sq mi) at elevations from 300 to 1,300 m (980 to 4,300 ft). Tapanuli orangutans are separated from the island's other species of orangutan, the Sumatran orangutan, by just 100 km (62 mi).

Conservation - With fewer than 800 individuals restricted to an area of about 1,000 km2 (390 sq mi), the Tapanuli orangutan is the rarest great ape. It is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) because of hunting, conflict with humans, the illegal wildlife trade, rampant habitat destruction for small scale agriculture, mining and a proposed hydroelectric dam, the Batang Toru hydropower project, in the area with the highest density of orangutans, which could impact up to 10% of its already dwindling habitat and degrade important wildlife corridors. Conservationists predict an 83% decline in three generations (75 years) if the necessary conservation measures and practices are not implemented. Inbreeding depression is likely due to the small population size and fragmented range. This is supported by the genomes of the two Tapanuli orangutan individuals, which show signs of inbreeding. In August 2019 Swiss environmental group PanEco, which is a partner in the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, dropped its previous opposition to the dam, several months after firing several researchers who opposed the new strategy.[15] .

See also: Species of previous months
Source: Species-2023-02