Thu 06 Oct 2011: 4.30pm – Brett Scheffers asks “Can arboreal animals find above-ground refuge from climate warming?”

Department of Biological Sciences, NUS
Qualifying Examination Seminar


A quantitative assessment of arboreality in tropical amphibians and reptiles across an elevation gradient: can arboreal animals find above-ground refuge from climate warming?

Brett Scheffers
Graduate Student, Dept.of Biological Sciences, NUS
Supervisor: Prof Corlett, Richard T

Thursday, 06 Oct 2011: 4:30PM
DBS Conference Room II ((S1, Level 3, mezzanine)

Abstract – Tropical rainforests contain some of the richest biological communities on earth. One crucial structural component of tropical forests is canopy trees. Considered the “next frontier” to biological inquiry, forest canopies are suspected to be among the most species-rich yet highly threatened terrestrial habitats. However, the difficulty of accessing canopy trees has left arboreal communities largely neglected from ecological study. Little is known as to how much of above ground habitat is used by animals, particularly highly cryptic animals such as amphibians and reptiles. The ecological importance of these habitats to animals has not been ascertained.

I present the first ever quantitative assessment of arboreal habitat use by amphibians and reptiles in the tropics. Specifically, I conducted research on Mt. Banahao, central Luzon, the Philippines (900 to 2100 m) to examine how amphibian and reptile communities structure vertically in a rainforest and how community arrangement in the forest stratum changes across an elevation gradient. Many canopy dwelling animals will likely be threatened by human induced climate change. Thus, I examine ecotypic thermal tolerances of amphibian and reptile communities both within the forest stratum and along an elevation gradient. Lastly, I examine whether cool refuges are present in the forest canopy. Specifically, I examine whether birdnest ferns (Asplenium complex), a major structural component of forest canopies in Southeast Asia, serve as obligate breeding habitat and cool thermal refuge for arboreal frogs.

My study contributes unique ecological data on some of the least known animal communities on earth. In the wake of human caused climate change and synchronous species extinctions, understanding how all species respond to climate warming is essential for tangible conservation.


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