Edwin Scholes hikes through a montane moss forest in the Arfak Mountain range, 2009.
Tim Laman in a canopy blind at a Lesser Bird-of-Paradise display site, 2009.
Scientist Bios 
Edwin Scholes—Evolutionary Biologist
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.

Inspiration came from Sir David Attenborough, via television. The documentary Attenborough in Paradise opened Ed's eyes to the birds-of-paradise, filling him with wonder, curiosity, and a seemingly simple question: “How did those birds evolve to be so beautiful, so diverse, and so bizarre?” At 22 and just out of college, Ed was brash enough to write to Dr. Bruce Beehler, bird-of-paradise expert and co-author of The Birds of New Guinea and ask his advice. Beehler's answer contained just the right level of encouragement and warning: "Birds-of-paradise are daunting but doable, IF…." Ed still has the letter, he recalls, but he never read too far past that "if."

With Beehler's help at introductions, Ed secured funding for first one and then a second trip to New Guinea to work as a field course instructor. He enrolled in graduate school at University of Kansas under Dr. Richard Prum (now at Yale), and promptly disappeared into New Guinea for most of his first year. He went back every year for the next 12 years.

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.

Video: Ed Scholes narrates a slideshow about how he became an evolutionary biologist.


Tim Laman—Wildlife Photojournalist and Field Biologist
Tim Laman is a wildlife photographer and field biologist. He grew up in Japan, where a poem he wrote in Japanese about his pet turtle won a school prize and possibly foreshadowed his career interests in wildlife and communication. A childhood spent in Japan’s mountains and ocean nurtured Tim’s zeal for exploration. He has spent the last 20 years on research and photography expeditions around the world, with a special emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region. In 2009 he was awarded the highest honor for a nature photographer in the U.S., the North American Nature Photography Association’s “Outstanding Nature Photographer Award.”

Tim regards the Birds-of-Paradise Project as his most ambitious work to date, both for the challenge of photographing so many species and because they live in such remote areas of New Guinea. But they are their own reward—the most spectacularly ornamented and extraordinary birds in the world. Joining forces with Ed Scholes in 2003, the pair spent nearly a decade on their quest. They were supported by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Geographic Society, and Conservation International.

Before the Birds-of-Paradise Project, Tim developed field skills as a researcher and as a photographer simultaneously. He did his Ph.D. work at Harvard, spending field seasons in Borneo studying the ecology of rainforest canopies, particularly strangler fig trees and their associated wildlife. His work sent him climbing by ropes into the canopy on more than 500 climbs.

By the end of his Ph.D. work, in 1997, he had become an expert tree climber and had acquired enough spectacular photographs to publish his first article in National Geographic. In the years that followed, he became a regular contributor to the magazine, publishing photos and articles from expeditions to Borneo, the Philippines, New Guinea, Africa, California, Japan, the South Pacific, and elsewhere. His work is frequently featured in GEO, National Wildlife, and Ranger Rick and has been recognized by the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards and other international awards.

Tim lives near Boston, Massachusetts, where his wife, Cheryl Knott, is a professor at Boston University. Cheryl works on orangutan research and conservation in Borneo, and Tim is a frequent collaborator. The National Geographic Society has been a longtime supporter of both Tim’s work and Cheryl’s research. In 2009, Tim and Cheryl cowrote a children’s book on orangutans.

Video: Tim Laman narrates a slideshow about how he became a wildlife photographer, starting with his childhood.

Find more of Tim Laman's work at www.timlaman.com.