2005 Gary Stiles

Gary Stiles

The eminent neotropical ornithologist Dr Gary Stiles has not only played a key role in the evolution of neotropical ecology, but has been at the forefront of documenting and conserving Colombia’s 1,800 bird species since his arrival in the capital Bogotá in 1990. Colombia is home to more bird species than any other country in the world, but it faces great conservation challenges. With so many species threatened, and resources in short supply, conservation action needs to be selective and efficient. Therefore in 2001, Dr Stiles and a team of scientists led by The Natural History Museum, London and the National University of Colombia began assembling species-locality data for birds, drawing on museum collections and other sources, and undertaking fieldwork surveys where information was inadequate. Dr Stiles is current advisor on the classification of Colombian birds for this international initiative, the BioMap project. The results, 230,000 specimens to date, once integrated into a database can be used to record bird distribution in Colombia and support conservation decision-making. For more information about this project please see www.biomap.net.

Dr Stiles’ academic interests revolve around birds, more specifically, he is focused on the ecology and behavior of hummingbirds and how their relationships to flowers are reflected in their morphology. He is particularly interested in wing morphology and the flight habits of these birds and has to date, captured and taken measurements from more than 3000 hummingbirds from more than 140 species.

His work as curator includes the collection, preparation, restoration, identification and cataloguing of bird specimens of the ornithological collection of the Institute of Natural Sciences, National University of Colombia, Bogota (ICN), the largest and most complete in the country (and, the most extensive collection of Colombian birds in the world). Dr Stiles’ current taxonomic studies include the colibríes (hummingbirds), the motmots and many others. He is integral to the Committee for a Checklist of South American Birds of the American Ornithologists Union (AOU), who for two years have been preparing a continental bird list, incorporating and reporting the changes in the classification in the last 40 years: this work will serve to provide "an official" list of the birds of Colombia.

Map of ColumbiaDr Stiles’ long-term objective is to stimulate the development of ornithology in Colombia and much of his almost 35 years in Latin America reflects his belief in the importance "of creating school", including 17 years in Costa Rica where he taught and directed students at various universities and where he also completed the ‘Birds of Costa Rica’. As an active member of the Organization of Tropical Studies (OTS) program for more than 20 years, and as a faculty member at the National University of Colombia since 1990, he has introduced hundreds of students to the fundamentals of tropical biology, and to the wonders of the Neotropics. Dr Stiles has directed around 50 theses, both graduate and postgraduate on diverse subjects in ornithology and compatible areas. He has taught courses in population ecology, evolution and statistics at the postgraduate level.

Recently, a new species of tapaculo, Scytalopus stilesi, was named in honor of Dr Stiles (Andrés M. Cuervo, Carlos Daniel Cadena, Niels Krabbe, and Luis Miguel Renjifo, 2005 in The Auk: Vol. 122, No. 2, pp. 445–463). The species is endemic to Colombia and ranges in the northern half of the Cordillera Central of the Colombian Andes in the Departments of Antioquia, Caldas, and Risaralda, in cloud forests between 1,420 and 2,130 m above sea level. Scytalopus stilesi coexists locally with, though it is ecologically segregated from, S. atratus, S. latrans,and S. spillmanni. The mid-elevation premontane wet forests to which the new species is restricted have been subject to severe deforestation and fragmentation. The species is, however, relatively common in continuous mature-forest remnants, large primary-forest fragments, riparian forests, and tall secondary-forest patches.

As extension activities, Dr Stiles is active in the Bogota' Association of Ornithology (ABO, www.rnoa.org/) and the Colombian Association of Ornithology (ACO), and is the Editor of the journal Ornithologia Colombiana, the first scientific magazine of international quality on ornithology in the country. Dr Stiles has organized or participated in workshops on ornithological collections, scientific writing and observation of birds at the national level including the organization of the first Congress of Colombian Ornithology in Santa Marta in October of 2004, and is an active participant in the National Encounter of Ornithologists every year.

In 2003 Dr Stiles received the Eisenmann Medal at 125th annual meeting of the Linnaean Society of New York at the Liederkranz Club, New York City. The Medal is named in honor of the brilliant lawyer-ornithologist Eugene Eisenmann, a past President of the Society, who Dr Gary Stiles credited with encouraging his career in tropical ornithology.

From editing journals, to speaking at international events, to his many (over 100) publications Dr. Stiles has emphasized the interaction between ecological and systematic research and its role in conservation. The combination of this literary contribution with his vital legacy to the scientific communities of both Costa Rica and Colombia, led to his nomination and The Field Museum is proud to present the tenth annual Parker/Gentry Award to Dr F. Gary Stiles.