Dr. Pamela Rasmussen is an ornithologist and is currently an integrative biologist at Michigan State University. She is also tied for the third-highest total of new bird discoveries in the world. Publishing her first new species in 1998, she has authored or co-authored the discovery of ten new species mostly from Asia–making her first in discovering new species in that geographic area.
Her early research efforts focused on fossil birds from North America after a site was discovered in Delaware that unearthed 11 specimens of fragmentary and unassociated avian fossils which she identified as including a small loon and five specimens of seabirds. She then moved on to studying birds in South America, looking at the systematics, ecology and behavior of Patagonian seabirds.
Shortly after accepting a position as assistant to the former secretary of the Smithsonian S. Dillon Ripley with the plan of producing a definitive guide to the birds of South Asia, Dillon became ill and Rasmussen took over the project. Birds of South Asia: The Ripley Guide is a two-volume bird guide for the Indian subcontinent and is the first field guide for the area to include sonograms. The first volume contains the field guide with more than 1450 color maps and over 3400 illustrations in 180 plates. The second volume, subtitled Attributes and Status gives data about specimen measurements, status, data about identification, habits and distribution. Also included are descriptions of vocalizations from recordings and over 1000 sonograms.
While working on this guide, Rasmussen played a large role in discovering the extent of the museum thefts and fraudulent documentation perpetrated by an eminent British ornithologist Richard Meinertzhagen. Thought since the 1990s to have some degree of fault, it was Rasmussen and a colleague that found how numerous and deep his fraud actually went including theft of specimens and altering of documentation.
Rasmussen is also the founder, and serves as an editor, of the Avian Vocalizations Center, known as AVoCet, at MSU. The project provides a global database of well-documented, downloadable bird sounds to aid environmental and ornithological research, conversation, education, and the identification and appreciations of birds and their habits.
Written by Angela Goad