Arkansas Academy of Science 2021 Meeting


AAS 2021 Keynote Speaker


Discovering a Lost World of Birds: Fossils in Hawaii’s Lava Caves

Helen F. James, Ph.D.


7:00 PM on Friday, April 9


Dr. Helen James

We are extremely happy to welcome Dr. Helen F. James as our keynote speaker. Dr. James is a leading paleo-ornithologist, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Curator of Birds for the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History where she oversees one of the largest museum collections of birds in the world. She has led or participated in over thirty field expeditions, most of them to collect fossils for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, and the Bernice P. Bishop Museum in Honolulu. During several decades of research, she and her collaborators discovered over sixty species of extinct fossil birds in the Hawaiian Islands, many of them with odd traits like the inability to fly. She will share the story of these astounding discoveries and how they changed what we think about extinction, as well as how to prevent it.


Born in Hot Springs and raised on Kessler Mountain, just outside of Fayetteville, Arkansas, Dr. James is an alumna of University of Arkansas. As a child, she was captivated by visits to the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, and while still in her teens, she began volunteering to work behind the scenes in the museum's Paleobiology Department. She was soon drawn into a quest to discover the fossil birds of the Hawaiian Islands, which were all but unknown at the time. Her research has combined stratigraphic excavations of paleontological sites, comparative osteology to interpret fossils, and laboratory analyses of the ancient biomolecules in excavated bones to gain further insight into the past. The lecture will touch on the famous adaptive radiation of Hawaiian Honeycreepers, the wondrous lives of wide-ranging seabirds, and the many extinct island birds that were unable to fly. It will highlight the value of reconstructing ecological histories to help understand and conserve modern ecosystems.


A brief biography of Dr. James