Submitted by Patricia M. Allen

March 18, 2008
Contact: Caroline Jenkins Hanna
Director of Media Relations


AMHERST, Mass.—Scientists at the world-renowned Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History have chosen to feature the studies of Amherst College biology professor Ethan Temeles in an exhibition explaining co-adaptation in animals and plants. The exhibit, titled Butterflies + Plants: Partners in Evolution, is a permanent one and will likely remain in its current location for at least 20 years, according to museum administrators.

Based on the study of co-evolution, Partners in Evolution examines how organisms interact with one another and how they change from generation to generation because of those interactions. While an indoor garden of butterflies and plants is the central focus of the exhibition, a variety of organisms—from bats to beetles—and their interactions with plants are also featured.  Temeles’s work linking the evolution of the purple-throated carib hummingbird to the flowering plant it pollinates, two species of Heliconia, is among just a handful of research projects spotlighted.

“Charles Darwin was among the first to suggest that interactions between plants and their pollinators could result in reciprocal adaptation,” said Temeles. “To be able to study such reciprocal adaptation between plants and hummingbirds across a Caribbean archipelago and then to be featured in this exhibit are amazing experiences for me. I feel so fortunate as a scientist.”

Temeles received a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from Cornell University and went on to earn a master’s in zoology from Louisiana State University. He completed his doctoral work at the University of California Davis and joined the Amherst faculty in 1994.

According to the organization’s Web site, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., is the most visited natural history museum in the world. Opened in 1910, the museum is dedicated to maintaining and preserving the world’s most extensive collection of natural history specimens and human artifacts. It also fosters critical scientific research as well as educational programs and exhibitions that present the work of its scientists and curators to the public.