|Evolutionary biologist / ornithologist / scientist on Birds of Paradise Project.|
Edwin Sholes. The sheer beauty of the birds-of-paradise is what catches the attention of most people. But for Ed Scholes, the fascinating part lies deeper than that, in the question of how their beauty and variety came to be. To an evolutionary biologist, these 39 species are a crowning example of the power of sexual selection. This evolutionary force has led to gender differences in many animals—but in the birds-of-paradise, it has gone further than that, giving rise to an entire lineage of fantastically diverse species. Ed is fascinated by the power of sexual selection to generate biological diversity and bring new species into existence.
Ed's path to New Guinea wasn't a direct one. An outdoorsy kid from the suburbs, he learned from a high-school teacher that some people actually made a living studying animals in the field. So he pursued biology as an undergraduate at the University of Arizona. By graduation time he knew he was interested in how birds evolve into multiple, unusual species. He read about bowerbirds and manakins, as well as lizards and guppies, as he looked for a system to study.
By 2003 he had focused his research on the genus Parotia, and had also become adept in finding birds-of-paradise and understanding their behavior. When Tim Laman called him while researching his National Geographic article, Scholes was clearly the perfect field collaborator. Then, after several trips together to New Guinea, Tim and Ed realized it might be possible to find and document every single bird-of-paradise species. The Birds-of-Paradise Project was born.
Ed finished his Ph.D. in 2006 and went on to a postdoctoral fellowship at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. He is now Curator of Video and Research Associate at the Macaulay Library of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. He lives in Ithaca, New York, with his wife, Kim Bostwick, also an ornithologist and evolutionary biologist, and their two children.