Andie Ang receives the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Grant

Congratulations to Andie Ang who received the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Grant of USD 12,000 for studying the Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys in Vietnam!

The fund awards grants toImage individual species conservation initiatives and recognizes leaders in the field of species conservation. The grant will fund her field and genetic work on the Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys. The research will be critical for the conservation of these enigmatic Colobines, which are amongst the 25 Most Endangered Primates of the world.

Andie, a former member of the Evolutionary Biology Laboratory, worked on banded leaf monkeys in Singapore. The study provided valuable information on the population size and genetic variability amongst these primates. We wish her all the very best for her future work!


© Le Khac Quyet

Here is the summary of her project:

The Tonkin snub-nosed monkey is endemic to northeastern Vietnam, with only 200-250 individuals left in two provinces. This species is listed as Critically Endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and in the Red Data Book of Vietnam. It is also among the Top 25 Most Endangered Primates in the World. Extrinsic threats to the species include hunting for traditional medicine and habitat loss and degradation. The long-term viability of this species is further threatened by intrinsic factors such as inbreeding due to low population numbers and complete isolation between all remaining populations.

Quantitative data such as current population numbers, distribution, and genetic variability is urgently required. Genetic analyses are also essential for uncovering patterns of paternity and relatedness among individuals in social groups, and for understanding male and female reproductive strategies. This information will be useful for future conservation action such as translocation of individuals. Andie proposes to study the Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys in Khau Ca forest in Ha Giang Province, where there are ca. 100 individuals in the wild (2010 estimate), the largest known population of this species.

Khau Ca forest is located within the “Northern Indochina Subtropical Moist Forests Ecoregion”, a major zoogeographic ecotone featuring high species richness for birds and mammals. The habitat also belongs to the “South Chinese Floristic Province of the Indochinese Region within the Paleotropical Kingdom”, a crossroad for the South and East Asian floras. Hence, Khau Ca forest features rich fauna and flora biodiversity, and unique geological and cultural heritage. Continued preservation of the habitat of Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys will thus protect the wealth of this karst ecosystem.

Kathy Su’s paper on wingspot evolution in Science

Citation: Arnoult, L., Su, K. F., Manoel, D., Minervino, C., Magriña, J., Gompel, N., & Prud’homme, B. (2013). Emergence and Diversification of Fly Pigmentation Through Evolution of a Gene Regulatory Module. Science, 339 (6126): 1423-1426.


Kathy Su obtained her Honours and Masters degrees at NUS has successfully completed her Ph.D. in France and is now back in Singapore to pursue her post-doctoral research at the Evolutionary Biology Lab.

Her doctoral research on the evolution of wing spot patterns in Drosophilid flies was recently published in the journal Science.

The study illustrated how the appearance of darkened wing spots within a group of closely related flies was orchestrated by the assembly of a gene regulatory network involving several pigmentation genes under the regulation of at least one shared transcription factor.

This study has broad implications and provides insights into the emergence of novel morphological traits and their subsequent diversification. Her study was also featured recently in the French press, Le Monde.

Congratulations Kathy on your recent publication!


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!

Amrita leaves for Imperial College with support from a President’s Graduate Fellowship

Amrita Srivathsan, a Ph.D. candidate in the Evolutionary Biology Laboratory, will be leaving soon for her one-year stay at Imperial College London. She is part of the NUS-Imperial Joint Degree PhD programme and is co-supervised by Professor Rudolf Meier (NUS) and Professor Alfried Vogler (Imperial College London). Amrita has a keen interest in primate genetics and is using Next Generation Sequencing to investigate the genetics, diet, and intestinal parasites of Banded Leaf Monkeys based on faecal samples.

She was recently awarded a President’s Graduate Fellowship which “is awarded to candidates who show exceptional promise or accomplishment in research.” The fellowship will help with living in expensive London. The Evolutionary Biology Laboratory congratulates her on receiving the scholarship and wishes her all the best for her endeavours in England, as she kicks back with the Royals.

We are going to miss you!

EvoLab continues to colonize the US.

The evolutionary biology lab’s ( goal of populating US universities is on track. Three of our alumni have now infiltrated the University of Colorado and UC Santa Barbara to join the Evo lab crowd on the East Coast (Gwynne at Cornell and Farhan at Harvard) and West Coast (Guanyang and Weisong UC Riverside). Andie and Gaurav have headed to the Rocky Mountains (University of Colorado at Boulder).

Andie will continue her studies of Asian primates (particularly endangered colobine monkeys of Southeast Asia) with Prof Herbert Covert at the Department of Anthropology. She’s looking forward to studying their ecology and behavior, hoping to find ways to preserve these adorable monkeys in the wild.

Gaurav Vaidya is joining Prof Robert Guralnick at the Department of Ecology and Evolution to work on biodiversity informatics. His first task will be to work on the Map of Life project, an ambitious plan to combine individual expert range maps to create a single integrated map of species from around the world. Apart from making it much easier to find out where species can be found, this project will create a platform to easily search for, model, download and summarize species distribution maps.

Our West Coast’s pioneer community will be strengthened by the arrival of Shengrong, who is just settling at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He is undertaking a Masters in Environmetal Science and Management.

Congratulations! Now one doesn’t have to travel to Singapore in order to see the bunch of aging lab-members!

Wildlife Research, Protection, and Legislation: A discussion with Dr. Jane Goodall

Dr. Jane Goodall recently visited Singapore and some of us had the opportunity to attend a panel of discussion organized by The Asia-Pacific Centre for Environmental Law, NUS and the Jane Goodall Institute Singapore (JGIS).  The main focus of this panel was wildlife protection and bringing various organizations together for such an effort in Singapore. A diverse group of people ranging from researchers, to members of NParks, Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), Nature Society Singapore (NSS), to environmental law faculty participated.

The meeting involved discussion of a wide range of topics, from general wildlife conservation to primate conservation in Singapore and the matters of youth empowerment and education. Prof. Rudolf Meier started the ball rolling by raising the possibility of translocation as a means of bringing extinct or rare wildlife back to Singapore, e.g. cream-colored giant squirrel and banded leaf monkey. Nick Baker discussed potential problems but also highlighted the contributions by students like Marcus, Andie, and Amrita who gather critical ecological information on these species with the support of NParks, WRS, and NGOs.

Dr. Goodall and Andie

Dr. Goodall and Amrita

Dr. Goodall stressed the importance of youth empowerment in any conservation project. Giving examples of her own rich experiences, she encouraged members in the panel to actively support youth-driven projects like the JGIS Roots and Shoots programme. This allows youth to initiate campaigns and make a difference. JGIS president Beng Chiak and Dr. Shawn Lum were also positive about the gradual changes in our curriculum, as we see a greater emphasis on our natural heritage and its preservation, beyond just the brown issues like recycling.

Mr. Wong Tuan Wah and Mr. James Gan from NParks were particularly concerned with the long-tailed macaque management in urban Singapore. This led Dr. Jane Goodall to discuss how similar the problems were in Asia and Africa, where she has done a lot of work on baboons which are commonly involved in human-monkey conflicts. This led to a discussion of the problems, such as ownership of these animals, and a number of suggestions were brought up. For example, Singapore’s macaque expert Crystal Riley (a former student of Dr. Michael Gumert of NTU) and NUS biology graduate Fam Shun Deng favored the idea of a central agency responsible for all macaque issue. Mr. Biswajit Guha from the Singapore Zoo described how to increase public awareness and educate the public to harmoniously interact with macaques in Singapore. At this time, our Prof. Meier suggested the creation of a monkey app: Snap a monkey photo, share sighting stories, promote education and awareness!

Dr Goodall mentioned that she was intrigued by the inclination of humans to feed monkeys, and ended the inspiring 2-hr session with a dissertation idea: “Is feeding monkeys part of human nature?? Any takers, aspiring biologists from NUS?

Sujatha leaves the Evolab with a PNAS paper

Dr. Sujatha Kutty left for London yesterday morning after being with the Evolab for 8 years. During her stay here she has contributed a lot, scientifically and in many other ways. Since joining in 2003, she published 8 papers (3 in Mol. Phyl. & Evol, 2 in Cladistics and Syst. Ent., 1 in Zootaxa), one correspondence in Nature, and is leaving the lab as a co-author on a forthcoming PNAS paper.

Sujatha’s work focused on molecular phylogeny of calyptrates, a part of NSF’s “FLYTREE” project. She has also been involved in phylogenetic studies of other groups of organisms. She has been instrumental in the setup of the RMBR cryo-collection, as well as keeping the molecular side of the Evolutionary Biology lab running. Moreover, she patiently mentored countless students in and outside the lab. Indeed, for several of us, she has been the first person to go to for advice, when all the molecular methods and results fail to make sense. With so much in her hands, it was undeniably her “zen” attitude that allowed her stay on for so long; we all took considerable advantage of that!

Thanks a lot, Sujatha! We are all missing you, and we are sure that you will be getting troubled by us very soon. We wish you all the very best for your work at Imperial College and Natural History Museum. We can’t wait for your next visit to Singapore.

To Penang and back

When a group of 22 people agreed to make a trip to Penang, any person would have been skeptical about the fortune of the organizers and the island of Penang. All be said, Evo Lab has made a safe and sound return to Singapore after a trip to the quaint island. Penang gave us a lot to remember- from sights of the old heritage town, to beautiful nature and to savoury flavours that would whet anyone’s appetite.

Visits to Penang Hill, Botanic Gardens and Penang National Park led to a number of exciting sightings for a biologist. We saw a number of dusky leaf monkeys (Trachypithecus obscurus) and along with their orange colored infants in Penang Hill as well as the botanic gardens (see the last row of images). It was great to see the black giant squirrel in the canopy of Penang Hill. Check out some the photos:

George Town itself gives an entirely different experience to the tourist. Narrow streets, rows of chinese shophouses, and temples, along with colonial architecture gave a sense of the unique heritage of the place. As one of us mentioned, “everywhere you  look, there is a pretty building”.

We certainly did not leave our Singapore identity behind while going to Penang. Food, we enjoyed. We ate a lot. And we talked about it a lot. Laksas, Char kway teow and chendols would make the always-hungry bunch walk through the streets periodically.

The gluttony would lead to exciting bus rides. The entire city bus that was occupied by a single group, would course through beautiful sights of the city that everyone would enjoy except…

Penang trip was refreshing, and a good opportunity for us to spend some time together. What made it even more satisfying was that it turned out cheap , costing less than 200$ for 3 days! Thank you, Prof. Meier, and Denise and anyone who helped organize it. Besides the excitement that it gave us, the trip gave us chance to give a proper farewell to Sujatha (who was well prepared for the paparazzi’s attention), who has been with us for a long long time. Thank you, Sujatha, for everything. We will miss you, and wish you all the very best for the future.

NUS-Overseas Graduate Scholar awarded first prize at Biology 11, Switzerland

Biology 11 was the joint meeting organized by the Swiss Zoological Society, the Swiss Botanical Society, and the Swiss Systematics Society early this month. This annual meeting is aimed at bringing together biologists devoted to study ecology, evolution, behaviour and systematics in across various taxonomic groups, ranging from Orangutans to Cyanobacteria.

This year, Nalini Puniamoorthy, a recipient of the NUS- Overseas Graduate Scholarships, was awarded the top prize for best talk out of nearly 30 student presentations. Nalini is a doctoral candidate at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies at University of Zurich. Her talk entitled “Geographic reversal of sexual size dimorphism in a dung fly, Sepsis punctum” represents a part of her doctoral research, which is aimed at investigating the morphological and behavioral divergence in reproductive traits among widespread species.

Evolab says “Congrats Denise and Shiyang!”

During the annual Faculty of Science Awards ceremony, Evolab was pleased to see Denise Tan and Kwong Shiyang awarded Teaching Assistant Awards, thus continuing lab tradition of winning teaching awards! This is well deserved for their efforts in grilling in evolutionary biology concepts into students! 

The laminated certificate is just half of the prize; we are beginning the process of persuading the award winners to contribute a part of their cash prize to our goodies fund!

Members of Evolab also congratulate all the winners of the Teaching Awards from the crew!