Congratulation to three Evolutionary Biology Laboratory graduates!

2012 ends with some great news. Wei Song Hwang and Guanyang Zhang have just successfully defended their PhD theses at the University of California at Riverside. Both obtained their Honours degree from the Evolab at NUS in 2008 and then moved on to studying reduviid bugs. Dr. Hwang is coming back to Singapore and will join DBS as an instructor in January 2013. We look forward to seeing you around again!

Drs Hwang and Zhang

Andie Ang’s research on colobines (Singapore and Vietnam) was recently featured in videoclip by “At Films” and you can enjoy seeing this here: In this, she describes her work on colobines, their population genetics and conservation. Andie, this is fantastic!


Two different non-biting midges were swarming at Bedok and Pandan reservoirs

Update – Cranston, P. S., Ang, Y. C., Heyzer, A., Lim, R. B. H., Wong, W. H., Woodford, J. M., & Meier, R. (2013). The nuisance midges (Diptera: Chironomidae) of Singapore’s Pandan and Bedok reservoirs. The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, 61(2), 779-793.

“Scientists identify pesky midges,” by Grace Chua. The Straits Times, 15 Dec 2012.
Two different species plaguing Bedok and Pandan reservoirs, but reason for outbreaks still not known

(Left to right): Esther Clews, Peter Cranston, and Rudolf Meier. Projected on the screen is a close-up image of a Cladotanytarsus midge, one of the species found at Bedok Reservoir. -- ST PHOTO: NURIA LING
Researchers have identified the mystery midges causing a nuisance – two different species at Bedok and Pandan reservoirs – and have found that the swarms in Bedok are a species not known to cause trouble anywhere else. (Left to right): Esther Clews, Peter Cranston, and Rudolf Meier. Projected on the screen is a close-up image of a Cladotanytarsus midge, one of the species found at Bedok Reservoir. — ST PHOTO: NURIA LING (see photo gallery at ST)

THE researchers studying Bedok Reservoir’s midge nuisance have solved a pesky ecological whodunnit.

They now know that two different non-biting species of the tiny insects are the ones responsible for the swarms that have plagued residents around Bedok and Pandan reservoirs for the past couple of years.

But they have not yet worked out the how or why, or how to prevent future outbreaks.

“The first thing you have to know is who’s causing the problem, then you can start addressing the issue,” said National University of Singapore biologist Rudolf Meier, who is leading a study of the midge problem. The three-year project is part-way through its first year.

The culprit at Pandan is one called Polypedilum nubifer, a common nuisance species that dominates ecosystems almost everywhere it is found.

But at Bedok, the culprit is a fly called Tanytarsus oscillans, a minuscule green species. It has previously been found in Sumatra, India and Japan – but is not known to cause problems anywhere else in the world, said Professor Peter Cranston, the Australia-based midge expert helping with the study.

Identifying the midges is not as simple as looking at stripes or spots, researchers said. It involves staring at the insect’s rear end and mouth parts under a microscope to work out whether they really are different from other species.

Prof Cranston said of the Bedok issue: “We don’t know what the environmental trigger is yet.”

These midges live in the reservoir year-round, but their numbers explode only at the end and beginning of the year. Elsewhere, triggers for a midge swarm can be natural, such as water that goes from flowing to still. Or they can be man-made. For instance, nutrients flow into waterways from deforestation, construction or changing agricultural practices, Prof Cranston said.

But water agency PUB said the water quality in Bedok Reservoir, which is more than 25 years old, is the same as it was before the midge swarms started last year.

Seven ponds in the area collect rainwater from Bedok, Tampines and Tanah Merah, and flow into the reservoir.

Another explanation is that the small fish that feed on midge larvae might have been eaten by larger non-native fish that live in the reservoir.

At Pandan Reservoir, plant roots that dangle from floating wetlands provide a place for these small fish to hide, said PUB biologist Michelle Sim.

Now, the research team breeds midges in the lab and collects data on environmental variables like temperature and water quality to work out possible causes.

Three times a week, the PUB also counts the overall number of midge larvae (of all species) in the water; if it gets above a threshold number, it knows a swarm of adult midges is about to occur.

At Bedok, general preventive measures such as fogging larvicides and scrubbing algae off rocks where midges might lay their eggs are used, and these target all midge species, said Mr Goh Chong Hoon, a deputy director of catchment and waterways at PUB.

In the past few months, there have been only isolated complaints, he said. And he said that currently, there are no warning signs yet of another midge outbreak. “So far, we’ve been able to keep the numbers low.”

Short film, “Conserving Colobines: Saving Endangered Leaf Monkeys in Việt Nam” – Andie Ang’s pre-dissertation work

Andie Ang, who was previously studying the critically endangered banded leaf monkeys in Singapore (Evolutionary Biology Lab), is now in the second year of her PhD programme at the Department of Anthropology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, USA.

During the summer (Jun-Sep) she spent conducted pre-dissertation work in Vietnam on the colobine monkeys there, and a short film (nine minutes) was made about her research by At Films (

I told Andie she looked too fierce in the film, and she promised to smile more in future!

Her work with population genetics of Vietnamese colobines is critically needed as most of the colobines are either critically endangered or endangered and are found in decreasing areas of forest fragments. Andie will be examining the genetic variability of three Vietnamese colobine species: the black-shanked douc (Pygathrix nigripes), the Indochinese silvered langur (Trachypithecus germaini), and the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus avunculus) to assess the viability and conservation status of these threatened species.

For updates about Andie Ang’s research on primates, see her Google Site.

TA recruitment for AY2012/2013 Semester 2 – application open!

We are now recruiting PTTAs for a new exciting teaching semester! Part-Time Teaching Assistant positions are now open for applications for the following modules:

  • LSM1103 Biodiversity
  • LSM2251 Ecology and the Environment
  • LSM1303 Animal Behaviour
  • SSS1207 Natural Heritage of Singapore
  • GEM1536 Darwin and Evolution

Please refer to this link for more detailed information:

The application form for this year will be slightly different since it is a combined recruitment exercise with the Molecular and Cell Biology group. Please take note that all modules are listed under module choice. Applicants can indicate up to 3 modules that they would be interested in teaching. We will then process the applications and confirm teaching allocations via email.

The deadline is 28 Dec 2012. We look forward to your applications! Thank you!

TA Foo Maosheng enlightening students about angiosperms

TA Foo Maosheng enlightening students about angiosperms