Ahimsa’s elephant dung-dwelling frogs

Surprising discovery: dung-dwelling frogs,” by Kerensa McElroy. Cosmos Online, 26 June 2009.

Some frogs take refuge from the heat by living in the moist droppings of the Asian elephant during the dry season in Sri Lanka.

The frogs may be seeking out the piles of droppings because it provides a moist environment in otherwise dry environment, scientists suggest, since their typical leaf-litter habitat is scarce in such an environment.

‘The findings, recently reported in the journal Biotropica, highlights how important Asian elephants are to the ecosystem as ‘ecosystem engineers’, though their numbers are in decline.’

“Asian elephants are currently endangered and rapidly declining. When we lose them, we lose not only these majestic animals, but also many other organisms” says Ahisma Campos-Arceiz from the National University of Singapore, who discovered the frogs in their bizarre habitat.

More at Cosmos Magazine online.

See Ahimsa’s abstract at Biotropica [NUS Digital Library pdf].

Thanks to Ria Tan for the alert.


Reuben and his twisted microsnail

Tan Cheng Li of The Star (Malaysia) featured Opisthostoma vermiculum and Reuben Clements’ work on 23 Jun 2009 in an article entitled “Bizarre twists.” [pdf]

Arizona State University’s International Institute for Species Exploration included Opisthostoma vermiculumin its top 10 species for 2008 – see “A Snail that’s Whorls Apart.” Links to media highlights include CNN and Mongabay.

Now Tan Cheng Li takes a closer look at the significance and the discussion that ensued highlights Reuben’s motivation and the promise and race that awaits malacologists amidst Malaysia’s disappearing limestone karsts. Hop over for an interesting read – link.

Thanks to Reuben and Ria (WildSingapore) for the alerts.

Mon 22 Jun 2009: 6.30pm – “Darwin, Wallace, and Evolution: Celebrating a major paradigm shift in science”

As part of our 60th anniversary celebrations, the Department of Biological Sciences presents:

“Darwin, Wallace, and Evolution:
Celebrating a major paradigm shift in science”

Monday, 22nd June 2009: 6:30pm

Lecture Theatre 3126
Science Drive 1
Faculty of Science NUS

A buffet dinner will be served at 8.30pm.

Registration is open:
Sign up at darwinwallace-reg.rafflesmuseum.net


Click image for map

The year 2009 is the bicentennial of Darwin’s birthday, and 150th anniversary of the publication of his book “The Origin of Species”.  Darwin’s theory of evolution is one of the major breakthroughs in the history of science and it is now generally accepted that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” (Dobzhansky).

Unfortunately, the contributions of another important British scientist, Alfred Russel Wallace, are less appreciated. Wallace had independently of Darwin developed a theory of natural selection and described his findings in a letter to Darwin in 1858. It was this letter that initiated the publication of “The Origin of Species” in 1859. Wallace conducted much of his research in Southeast Asia and collected biodiversity specimens throughout the region (including Bukit Timah Hill).

In celebration of these contributions, the Department of Biological Sciences will host this “Darwin, Wallace, and Evolution” public event and invite two prominent speakers – Dr. John van Wyhe from Cambridge University and Prof. Naomi Pierce from Harvard University will cover the historical aspects and illustrate how evolutionary theory is used in modern research.

“This event was made possible through generous financial support from Lady McNeice, the Department of Biological Sciences, and the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research.”

“Darwin and Wallace 150 years on,” by John van Wyhe

About the talk – The theories of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace have changed science, and the world, forever. Yet much of what is often written about these two men, their similarities and differences, and their debts to one another, is wrong. It has recently been claimed, for example, that Darwin stole many of his ideas from Wallace. For many years it has also been claimed that if Wallace had not sent his essay on evolution to Darwin in 1858 that Darwin never would have published his theory. This presentation will revisit the true story of Darwin and Wallace and rebut several common myths.

About the speaker – John van Wyhe is a historian of science, currently based at the University of Cambridge. He is the founder and Director of Darwin Online, a website that presents the complete works of Charles Darwin with more than 90 million views since 2006. A Bye-Fellow of Christ’s College (Darwin’s own college), he is also a member of the British Society for the History of Science and author of “Charles Darwin: The Story of the Man and His Theories of Evolution” (2008). Van Wyhe led the restoration of Darwin’s Christ’s College rooms and contributing to a proposed iconography of Darwin.

His recent research has challenged “Darwin’s delay” – the long-held view that Darwin held back or kept his theory secret for 20 years. In 2009, he publishes three books and numerous shorter items on Darwin. Committed to sharing Darwin’s work, scholarship and the history of science with the wider public, Van Whye lectures and broadcasts on Darwin, evolution and the history of science around the world and has written for The Guardian, New Scientist, USA Today and The Independent.

John’s webpage.

“From Darwin to DNA: Evolution of blue butterflies and ants,” by By Naomi Pierce

About the talk – Modern evolutionary research is still thriving on Darwin’s seminal ideas about adaptation, natural selection, and the Tree of Life. Blue butterflies in the family Lycaenidae provide a model system for understanding how adaptation and natural selection have shaped organisms and generated the biodiversity we see today. This talk will focus on the complex life histories of Lycaenidae, a group whose caterpillars associate symbiotically with ants, and whose feeding preferences range from herbivory to highly specialized forms of carnivory. Reconstruction of the evolutionary history of the family using characters from both morphology and DNA reveals how interactions with ants have shaped the diversification of this group.

About the speaker – Naomi Pierce is one of the most prominent living evolutionary biologists and is an expert in the ecology and evolution of species interactions. Her research has ranged from field studies measuring the costs and benefits of symbioses between ants and other organisms, to genetic analyses of biochemical signaling pathways underlying interactions between plants, pathogens and insects. She has also been involved in reconstructing the evolutionary “Tree of life” of insects such as ants, bees, and butterflies, and in using molecular phylogenies to make comparative studies of life history evolution and biogeographical distributions.

Pierce was awarded a Macarthur Fellowship for her research on insect/ plant interactions, and has held positions at Griffith University in Australia, Oxford University in the UK, and Princeton University in the US. She is currently the Hessel Professor of Biology in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, and Curator of Lepidoptera in the Museum of Comparative Zoology. She lives in Cambridge with her husband and their two daughters.

Naomi’s webpage

Biodiversity Day talk on alien invasives- twitter coverage by juanicths

Peter Ng was talking at Botanic Gardens in conjunction with International Day for Biodiversity and juanicths covered the talk which many others followed, trapped in their meetings or cubicle via twitter. She could not cover everything, of course, but some of the main points gave us an idea. If followers replied her, she could have raised questions on their behalf as well. Nice way to widen the reach of a talk!

I walked into the lab to find some of the ecolab denizens following her feed on twiter. Good going juanicths (who has since gone for lunch!)

See the archive to get an idea of her coverage! [Update – she has provided a chronological account on her blog]

Job opportunity: Education officer at Raffles Museum

I am highlighting this Ecotax post for prospective candidates:

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: otterman
Date: Thu, May 14, 2009 at 4:46 PM
Subject: Job vacancy at RMBR, NUS: Education and PR Officer (Poly/BSc/relevant – deadline: 15 Jun 2009)
To: ecotax@yahoogroups.com

Download the application form here.

Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research (RMBR), Department of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science, National University of Singapore

Job Vacancy Advertisement: Education and Public Relations Officer

  1. RMBR designation: Education and Public Relations Officer
  2. Official NUS designation: Laboratory Technologist
  3. Salary: Consistent with qualifications and experience, as determined by the Office of Human Resources, NUS
  4. Qualifications: Polytechnic diploma, BSc, or BSc (Honours) in biology or related fields, and/or relevant experience in public relations and/or public education
  5. Contract: Yearly, until conferred permanence (retirement at 62 years of age)
  6. Main role: Handle public relations, education and outreach for the RMBR
  7. Specific duties:
    • To guide visitors and VIPs through the RMBR Public Gallery.
    • To host research visitors.
    • To assist in the installation of exhibits in the Public Gallery. (The Public Gallery is one major facility for public education.)
    • To be the RMBR representative for the Museum Roundtable.
    • Communication with the media (TV, radio, newspapers).
    • To update and provide new materials for the RMBR website.
    • Maintaining the museum’s Newsblog.
    • To take charge of the publication of RMBR publicity materials, e.g., brochure, annual report.
    • Recording the history of the museum to generate announcements or news items for the RMBR website, or for newspapers.
    • To track the publications outputs of RMBR staff and Research Associates (Biodiversity and Ecology academic staff of the Department of Biological Sciences).
    • To track the use of RMBR materials in research publications.
    • To manage the literature collection of the RMBR Library (arranging, maintaining and cataloguing papers, journals and books in the museum’s library)
    • In charge of the inventory of the RMBR merchandise and consignments.
    • Assist in administration matters of the RMBR.
    • To back up the RMBR secretary during leave periods.
  8. Applicants: are to send this form (http://sn.im/hzv6c-gm5) to Assoc. Prof. Hugh Tan, Deputy Director, Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research at dbsttw@nus.edu.sg
  9. Deadline: 15 Jun 2009

New book by Richard Corlett, “The Ecology of Tropical East Asia”

Richard’s new book is out (Publication date: 14 May 2009). Unfortunately it is an OUP book so is costly – US$61.23+ (paperpback) and US$126.07 on Amazon US, £28.45 (paperback) and £61.75 (hardback) on Amazon UK. Update: The Barnes & Noble price is cheaper – US$48.75.

Update (30 May 2009): Mail from Ng Bee Choo of Nature’s Niche:

“We have just received stock of this important ecology book. Retail Price is S$55.00 inclusive of GST.

Stock currently available at our shop at Mandai Road. It will be available at Sentosa Nature Shop next week.”

The OUP page describes the Ecology of Tropical East Asia as (amongst other things):

the first book to describe the terrestrial ecology of the entire East Asian tropics and subtropics, from southern China to western Indonesia. It deals with plants, animals, and the ecosystems they inhabit, as well as the diverse threats to their survival and the options for conservation.

This book provides the background knowledge of the region’s ecology needed by both specialists and non-specialists to put their own work into a broader context.

Congratulations Mr & Mrs Duc!

Joelle reports after returning form Hanoi, Vietnam:

“Ecolabbie Duc got hitched last weekend, six months after leaving Singapore for Hanoi.

Duc and Thu met each other in high school and have been together for 13 years! Congratulations Duc and Thu and we hope to see you both in Singapore soon!

The wedding was attended by Zeehan and Joelle who thoroughly enjoyed their first experience of a Vietnamese wedding!”

Koh Lian Pin back for Biofuels Asia 2009

Our alumni Koh Lian Pin is in town for teh international conference, “Biofuels the impact of oil palms on forest and climate.” Janice Lee amongst others, attended the conference and will be traveling to Switzerland soon to join his lab at ETH Zurich.

After the morning’s presentations, Straits Times journalist Grace Chua rushed back to work on a story. Here’s an excerpt from her breaking news story and you catch the full article in print tomorrow:

“Singaporean scientist Koh Lian Pin said that between 1990 and 2005, 55 to 59 per cent, or 0.8 million to 1.1 million hectares, of Malaysia’s new oil palm developments were cultivated on former forest lands – meaning that forests were being cut down for plantations.

The same was true of Indonesia, with over half of new oil palm plantations in the same period coming from forests.

Dr Koh, now a research fellow at Swiss technological institute ETH Zurich, presented his findings at a conference at the National University of Singapore (NUS) on Tuesday.

Dr Koh also surveyed the number of bird and butterfly species in oil palm estates, and noted that plantations generally held just a quarter of the species contained in primary forests.

He recommended measures to safeguard biodiversity, such as expanding plantations only into non-forested areas, and protecting primary and secondary forest.

At the conference, organised by Yale University, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and NUS, industry players, scientists and NGOs, discussed the impact of oil palm cultivation.”

See also: “Biofuel production to expand in the Tropics,” by Debby Ng. theasiamag, 12 May 2009.

Mon 11 May 2009: Mudskipper talks at SBWR

“If I were a mudskipper…”
– reports from recent research projects at Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve by members of the Systematics & Ecology Lab. This session was convened for park staff. It will be repeated at a more convenient time for the natural history community.
Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve, Mon 11 May 2009: 8.30am – 11.30am.


  • 0830-1015: Talk
  • 1030: Proceed to boardwalk for observation and suggestions about use of new information in guiding strategy (tide level: 1.9m rising to 2.5m).

Part I – “If I were a mudskipper: where should I go?” By Trina Chua, UROPS project, Jan – Mar 2009.

  • Introduction to two large carnivorous mudskippers, the Yellow-spotted mudskipper (Periophthalmus walailakae) and the Giant mudskipper (Periophthalmodon schlosseri)
  • Telling apart the two prominent mudskippers on the mangrove floor at the mangrove boardwalks in Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve.
  • Diurnal tidal migration.
  • Basal distribution and population at low tide versus high tide.

Part II – “If I were a mudskipper: what should I eat?” By Theresa Su, Hons project, Aug 2008 – Mar 2009.

  • The feeding regime and behaviour of the carnivorous mudskippers: do they prefer specific prey, when do they eat and what does this suggest about their ecology?
  • Theresa will include a show and tell
    • (i) 2 species of mudskippers ventrally dissected
    • (ii) specimens of prey items: red silt crab (Paracleistostoma sp.), common silt crab (Ilyogynis sp.), sipunculids, mangrove slugs, polychaete worms.

Part III – Relevance, stories we can tell visitors and Q&A. By Sivasothi et al.

  • The relevance of this information to our understanding of the mangroves and the park;
  • What we still do not know, what we suspect and future studies that will be offered.
  • How to apply this information during guided walks at the boardwalk.