On Tuesday evening, October 8th, 2019 the Linnaean Society of New York 
2019/2020 Speaker Program will feature two new presentations sure to be of 
interest to New York birders:

 6:00 Shawn Billerman – “How Hybridization in Birds Can Teach Us About 
Biodiversity, Climate Change, and Evolution”

Hybridization occurs when two different species interbreed and produce 
offspring. While we often think of hybridization in animals as something that’s 
rare, or something that is a reproductive dead end, it is actually fairly 
common, and an important tool to help us understand how and why species evolved 
in the first place. In the bird world, it’s estimated that hybridization occurs 
in 10% of all species. Hybrid zones, geographic regions where two species 
overlap and interbreed, have been particularly important in shaping our 
understanding of evolution. Billerman’s research has focused on studying 
hybridization in the Great Plains of North America, where multiple pairs of 
species hybridize, including Eastern and Spotted Towhees, Indigo and Lazuli 
Buntings, and Baltimore and Bullock’s Orioles. Using these species as a guide, 
we will explore ways in which hybridization in birds, when combined with recent 
advances in genetics, museum specimens, and climate change can teach us about 
biodiversity and the evolution of species.
Shawn Billerman currently works at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology where he is a 
Science Editor with the Birds of the World Project. Shawn has also studied 
hybridization in birds, including between Red-naped and Red-breasted Sapsuckers 
in the Pacific Northwest, and in towhees, orioles, and buntings in the Great 
7:45 Thomas Gray – “ Conserving South East Asia’s Elusive Rarities”
South East Asia is at the heart of the global extinction crisis containing more 
threatened species and experiencing higher rates of forest loss than any 
comparable continental area. As a result of the region's rapid population and 
economic growth many of its unique and threatened species are being pushed into 
deeper and remoter corners of the region. This poses a quandary for 
conservationists—how to find, and then protect, some of the planet's most 
elusive and poorly known species? This talk will discuss some of the approaches 
being used by conservation biologists in Asia to find, monitor, and conserve 
threatened wildlife. These include analyzing DNA contained within blood-feeding 
leeches to help track-down saola (the Asian Unicorn), interviewing rural 
Cambodians about the majestic giant ibis, and extracting water from the Mekong 
River to find shed skin samples from the planet’s largest freshwater fish: the 
Mekong Giant Catfish.
Tom Gray is the Director of Science for the conservation NGO Wildlife Alliance. 
He moved to New York, in August 2018, after 15 years in South East Asia. A keen 
birder since childhood, he followed his passion and undertook his PhD research 
on the conservation of the Bengal Florican, a threatened species of bustard, in 
Cambodia. He subsequently worked for WWF and WCS in Cambodia and Laos, leading 
work on monitoring threatened species and helping governments with protected 
area management. He joined Wildlife Alliance, the leader in Direct Protection 
of Forests and Wildlife in tropical Asia, in 2016. He has authored more than 50 
peer-reviewed papers on the conservation and status of threatened species in 
Asia and is a member of the IUCN Species Survival Commission.

Both presentations are free and will be held in the Linder Theater on the first 
floor of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Enter at West 
77th Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue. All welcome! 

Complete details of these exciting presentations and the rest of the 2019/2020 
program can be found here:



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