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'Wild Science' to host discussions between researchers, public

Did the saber tooth cat really disappear? What’s it like to go wading in tropical Thailand in the dark to search for frogs?

A new series of talks at the KU Natural History Museum aims to answer these questions and more. The series, “Wild Science,” will bring science researchers and the public together for lectures and question-and-answer sessions the first Wednesday of every month at the museum. The talks are free.

Kris Krishtalka, director of the Biodiversity Institute, which includes the Natural History Museum, said the series offered a way get people excited about science by bringing them together with the scientists.

“We wanted a way to bring the questions KU researchers pursue to the public,” he said. “It will give people a chance to interact with scientists directly in a casual setting. They can have a cup of coffee, listen and have the chance to ask questions.”

Larry Martin, curator of vertebrate paleontology, kicked off the series Sept. 3 with a presentation titled “Do Saber Tooth Cats Have Nine Lives?” Martin used casts of fossil skulls from the largest saber tooth cat and the smallest — a “toy” species — as he traced the path of the extinction and re-evolution of these cats over the past 40 million years.

Beyond ancient cats and Thailand adventures afield, upcoming talks cover topics such as the decline of essential pollinators, biofuel development, Charles Darwin and poison beetles in Africa.

Fall lecture dates and times are:

  • 7 p.m. Oct. 1 “Tales from Thailand.” Fanged frogs might sound like late-night horror movie material, but they are more of a mystery to David McLeod, a lecturer in ecology and evolutionary biology. Travel with him to Thailand to learn why researchers go far from the laboratory for their research and what they encounter in Southeast Asian rain forests along the way.
  • 7 p.m. Nov. 5 “What’s Happening to Our Honey Bees, Bumble Bees and Other Pollinators?” Bees vanishing without a tract, habitat loss, systemic pesticides, pests and diseases add up to a questionable future for pollinators — and our food supply. Chip Taylor, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, will talk about the causes and consequences of the threats to these insects.
  • 7 p.m. Dec. 3 “Water on the Plains: Struggles and Stories from Kansas.”

Understanding Kansas, and Kansans, requires knowing something about water in the state — where it comes from, how it’s used and how much is left. Water has always been central to Kansas, and with climate change and high commodity prices, that’s more true now than ever. Rex Buchanan, assistant director of the Kansas Geological Survey, will discuss what he’s seen while measuring water levels and sampling springs around the state. Along the way, Buchanan will address the water issues Kansans face today and the ones they’ll likely face in the future.

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