MNH Curator for Birds Dr. Juan Carlos T. Gonzalez became the speaker of the College of Development Communication - Department of Science Communication's first ever Café Scientifique. Gonzalez, who is also an associate professor at the Institute of Biological Sciences, shared on “Evolution, Ecology and Ethno-Ornithology as Tools for Conservation."

Philippine hornbills, according to Gonzalez, have exceptional diversity, and it is important to use the best technology available in mapping out and exploring their diversity.

In his talk, Dr. Gonzalez came to highlight the significant contributions of molecular biology, its tools and applications, in knowing how Philippine species of hornbill have evolved.

People who study evolution and evolutionary relationships (phylogenetics) now use molecular tools to analyze DNA sequences collected from organisms, the results of which serve as the basis of their classifications. This is now better from the traditional method of phylogenetics which rely on data composed of morphological measurements of the organisms.

Because hornbill species are scattered all over the Philippine's major islands, their use and significance to various Filipino cultural groups remain. Based on Gonzalez' research, the hornbills' value varies from a basis for telling time or bringer of bad omen, to a source of food and local medicine. Among indigenous tribes of Northern Luzon, hornbills adorn headdresses, used as jewelry and is at the core of ceremonial dances.

According to Gonzalez, the significance of these diverse uses and traditions may have implications to the conservation of these endemic Philippine hornbills.

During the discussions, the participants expressed the need to strengthen citizen science in the country to help in the conservation of these unique and rare birds.

Some of the audience shared experiences and past efforts in filling up the gaps of information that should be of help in making more people become aware of the country’s exceptional biodiversity.

The coffee-table discussions ended with a challenge to everyone to link up and strengthen collaborations to conserve Philippine biodiversity.

According to Café, a café scientifique is a place where, for a price of a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, anyone can come to explore the latest ideas in science and technology. The department held the event as part of its Science Communication Week celebration.

Photos courtesy of Christer de Silva of CDC

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