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!

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.

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!

Is bigger, better in European dung flies? Nalini and colleagues think so, in Evolution

When not lurking the corridors of the department, Nalini Puniamoorthy is a doctoral candidate at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies at University of Zurich.

She just send news that she has a spring in her step (pun intended) with a recent paper published in Evolution. You can see the early view here: Puniamoorthy, N., Schäfer, M. A. & Blanckenhorn, W. U., 2012. Sexual selection accounts for the geographic reversal of sexual size dimorphism in the dung fly, Sepsis punctum (Diptera: Sepsidae). Evolution. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2012.01599.x

She sent her best wishes to all at home here in Singapore with the press release she coughed up to explain her research findings, and which you can read in the pdf here

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!

05 Aug 2011 – Snake and Bat Talks

Two visiting Phd students who are here in NUS will be giving a talk on their respective research topics as part of the 2011 East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes Programme (EAPSI).

Alexis Figueroa, from University of New Orleans, was hosted by the Evolutionary Ecology and Conservation Lab. Together with department alumni, Anne Devan, he conducted numerous survey of our forests in search of elusive tree-dwelling reptiles. He will be speaking about Convergency, Ecomorphology and Community Structure in Arboral Snakes.

Susan Tsang, from City University of New York, was hosted by the Evolutionary Biology Lab. Other than collecting bat stool for analyses, she became acquainted with the lab’s collection of cow and waterfowl dung as well. Susan’s advisor is Dr Dave Lohman, who did his postdoc stint in NUS. Her presentation will be about Phylogeography of two widespread Pteropus species (Chiroptera: Pteropodidae).

Date: Friday, 5 Aug 2011
Venue: National University of Singapore University Hall, L501 Meeting Room
Time: 9am (Alexis), 10am (Susan)

Alexis and Susan(Left to Right): Alexis, red-tailed racer (Gonyosoma oxycephalum), Susan.

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?