Spot the monkeys!

In anticipation to Andie’s monkey talk next saturday at TEDxNUS, here’s a little primer to get you all into monkey-mode!

Thanks to the Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore), Andie does regular fieldtrips up to Panti, Johor to survey the banded leaf-monkeys there as a point of comparison for the Singaporean counterparts. Recently, while looking for the banded leaf monkeys, she came across a whole troupe of dusky leaf monkeys. these are close cousins to the banded leaf monkeys, and much less shy, but oddly, are not found in Singapore.

So aloof to Andie’s presence,  these duskies were going about their daily routine while she began to do her paparazzi. In the picture below are actually TEN dusky leaf monkeys!

dusky leaf monkeys hiding!Can you spot them all? To make things easier for you,
we’ve made a viewer to zoom in and scrutinize the picture here.


(If flash doesn’t work for you, click here for the large-res actual photo)

Elusive, aren’t they? Click here to reveal the monkeys!

Andie will have this and more in her talk come next saturday (26 March).


Girls do complexity better than guys?

A number of you might remember me harassing you to do the online ‘Complexity Test’ some time back last year, and promised to get back on how deviant you are compared to the general population.

For those who aren’t too familiar with it, I’m interested in how people perceive complexity. What is complexity? How do we define it? How do we quantify it? For example, most people might see a star more complex than say, a circle. So I got a whole bunch of people to arrange and rank four sets of shapes; shapes like these:

And when I have enough data, I’ll try to compare our human algorithmic prowess with more standardized numerical methods. It’ll also be interesting to see how people perform relative to the general population mean.

So as promised, here are some preliminary results. The graph below shows how males and females (from a popualtion size of 90 people) perform in the test relative to the overall population mean, with the leftmost columns being the ‘best’ predictors and the rightmost the ‘worst’ predictors. See below for a more detailed explanation for the X-axis legend.

Overall, girls seem to be better predictors of complexity but have a wider spread; the best and worst predictors are both ladies, and the worst ones differed by a substantial lot.

Guys on the other hand seem to have a tighter curve, but neither shone nor failed as much as the ladies.


  • Robot Predictor – You got all, or nearly all the shapes right. You seem to be able to tell what we regular humans think we know and tell us what we want to hear. You were probably born with a caul and psychic, or are actually a cybernetic organism, living tissue over metal endoskeleton, fitting too well into the human norm. Either way you are too ‘normal’ to be trusted.
  • Regular Joe/Jane – You got around 50-75% of the shapes right. Yes, you’re pretty much a run-of-the-mill human, with human error rates.
  • Deviant – If this was a graded test, you failed. You got only 25-49% of the shapes right. You choose a square when everyone else chooses a circle. A chimp might have better success than you at those IQ tests with shapes.
  • Bloody Aberration – You got pretty much everything wrong. You should be locked up; who knows what goes on in your head. As Goya would say, your sense of reasoning is asleep, and it breeds monsters.

Those who have already done the test left their email with me can look forward an even more detailed and complex analysis of their behavior, future and personality mailed to them to see how deviant they are. It’ll be as accurate as tasseography. All I can say now is that Tommy is so far the best male predictor!

As said, these current results are preliminary, and yes, I do need more test subjects to improve my statistical power, so please, if and when you have 15 minutes or so, click the link below to access the page and do the ranking.


Deadline for result compilation is a 2 weeks from now (end March) so do it fast!


A few pointers for the test:

Whats important is that each shape be given a rank. There are ten ranks, with 1 being the most simple, 10 being the most complex. Important: both values 1 and 10 MUST be used. This is to allow for standardization of the data. You can however skip rank numbers inbetween, i.e. a series of shapes can be ranked 1,2,3,3,6,6,7,9,10,10, where i have skipped values 4 and 5 because the jump in complexity between the fourth and fifth shape is just too high to have only one or two jumps in rank.

Please make sure you complete each set properly; sets with unranked shapes will have to be discarded. you can however complete sets separately and submit them individually (as it can get a little tiring after a while), but please remember to leave your particulars in the field provided so that i can track and concatenate the data.

So what is complexity? Its up to your own innate senses to decide. You shouldnt think too much about whether this shape is more complex than the other – just go with the gut flow.

So thats it, and thanks so much for your valued help! Do spread this link to people you know, but please make sure that they are reliable as the test can get a little tiring, and it should be taken seriously, since this is going to be part of published work.

As a reward, I’ll send a report to everyone who has completed the test to show you how ‘deviant’ you are from the rest of humanfolk in terms of perceiving complexity!


Amrita makes it into the prestigious NUS-Imperial College London Joint PhD Programme

This year NUS started a new Joint Degree PhD Programme with Imperial College London. Amrita Srivathsan from the Evolutionary Biology Laboratory is one of the five students from NUS selected for this prestigious programme. Congratulations, Amrita!

This joint initiative allows students to benefit from the ‘expertise of two academic research groups with complementary strengths or engaged in an inter-disciplinary collaboration’. Under this programme, students will spend time studying in labs from both NUS and Imperial College London. A joint PhD degree is then awarded by both institutions to the student.

Amrita’s PhD project will be a synergistic fusion of high-tech sleuthwork and good ol’ fieldwork. She aims to determine whether next-generation sequencing can help with conserving tropical biodiversity. This is important for Singapore’s natural heritage, especially when such tools could potentially be used to study the feeding ecology and other biological information of threatened species such as Banded Leaf Monkeys.

Her study will involve a combination of molecular work and computational tools from both the institutions, as well as trundling through our forests collecting samples. She will be supervised by A/P Rudolf Meier in NUS and Prof. Alfried Vogler in Imperial College London. So lets wish her the best!

TEDxNUS talks by Biod Crew will be online


TEDxNUS was incredibly successful thanks to some wonderful organisers and an enthusiastic, supportive and appreciative audience.

If you missed it, don’t worry, the whole event was recorded by some of their brilliant tech guys and will be coming to YouTube eventually.

Three speakers from DBS graced the stage to talk about their passions and ideas.:

Sivasothi aka Otterman talked about conservation in Singapore and featured quite a few of our budding undergrad biologists doing their part to better understand Singapore’s wild fauna. Siva will reprise this talk (albeit in 15 mins) for Green Drinks Singapore in January.

John van Wyhe, a Bye-Fellow Christ’s College, Cambridge, and now Senior Lecturer for the depts of Biological Sciences and History is also the director for The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. He talked about common misconceptions about Darwin and his work.

PhD student Ang Yuchen discussed how sexual selection has given rise to such a wonderful array of sexual dimorphism. As well as the dunking of still-mating flies into liquid nitrogen. Yu Chen will be giving a similar talk this Wednesday evening at Bl!nk BL-NK @ the Blu Jazz Cafe. Details can be found here.

Do check out ALL the talks when they are online once again (they were on ustream temporarily), they’re all excellent., e.g. Don Favareau talks about biosemiotics and how it helps pave a bridge between the visually and aurally impaired people and us. Another by John Miksic on archaeology and the lost history of Singapore is another eye opener.

Andie Ang receives inaugural grant from the Wildlife Reserves Singapore Conservation Fund

Congratulations to Andie Ang on her award of the inaugural grant from the Wildlife Reserves Singapore Conservation Fund (WRSCF)!

Wildlife Reserves Singapore Conservation Fund


Our intrepid monkey-chaser recently completed her Master’s thesis on the banded leaf monkeys in Singapore, after two  grueling years of following monkeys through swamps, forest vines and dense undergrowth.

Much of her results (including exclusive videoclips of monkeys going through their daily routines) can be found regularly updated here and the latest findings from her thesis on the reproduction and infant development of the monkeys are now available in the latest issue of Raffles Bulletin of Zoology.

Banded Leaf Monkey Research@NUS


This WRSCF grant will support her continued efforts to investigate population changes and feeding ecology of the local population of banded leaf monkeys for an additional year. This will yield important information on their reproduction and genetics, which will help in their conservation in Singapore.

Way to go, Andie!