Smithsonian bird, plant fossil expert offers talk

Dr. Storrs Olson, a leading expert on the extinct birds of Hawai‘i, will give a public talk this evening at 6:30 p.m. in the cafeteria at Kaua‘i Community College. Part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden’s lecture series, co-sponsors of the evening’s event include Kaua‘i Community College, Malama Maha‘ulepu, and the Makauwahi Cave Reserve.

Dr. Olson, Curator of Birds at the Smithsonian Institute, will speak on bird/plant interactions in Hawai‘i as seen through the fossil record. His presentation will draw from his more than 30 years of experience studying the recently extinct birds of the Hawaiian Islands, as well as those of other islands throughout the world. He has authored more than 350 scientific publications and played a key role in making the Smithsonian collections of bird specimens among the largest in the world.

Well known to many Kauaians through his work in the Maha‘ulepu area on the South Shore, Olson began his research in the mid-1970s with the late David Boynton. He has named and described many extinct birds from Kaua‘i and throughout the Hawaiian Islands, working with Dr. Helen James, also of the Smithsonian. In the 1990s, he worked with James, as well as Dr. David Burney of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, Lida Pigott Burney of the Makauwahi Cave Reserve, and the late Dr. Pila Kikuchi of Kaua‘i Community College in large-scale excavations at the Makauwahi Sinkhole.

Storrs was a co-founder of the Makauwahi Cave project, “which has led to recovery of probably the largest and most diverse collection of fossils ever made in the Hawaiian Islands,” said Dr. Burney. “He has a profound knowledge of native birds and has contributed significantly to our understanding of what bird life was like in these islands before human arrival.”

His work there included evidence directly related to the white-tailed eagle’s presence on prehistoric Kaua‘i and its DNA differentiation from other eagles and seabirds.

The speaker’s ornithological work has spanned much of the globe, including islands of the mid-Atlantic and Caribbean, as well as the Americas, Africa, and Eurasia. Olson is also widely acclaimed as a very entertaining speaker, bringing a rich sense of humor to his scientific topics, as well as a broad understanding of all aspects of natural history.

National Tropical Botanical Garden offers lectures and workshops on a variety of topics as part of its education programs. A not-for-profit institution headquartered on Kaua‘i, NTBG’s mission is to enrich life through discovery, scientific research, conservation, and education by perpetuating the survival of plants, ecosystems, and cultural knowledge of tropical regions. For more information on NTBG, upcoming presentations, or how to become a Garden member, visit www.ntbg.org or the direct link to its calendar of events at calendar.ntbg.org.

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