Looking back: 1987

In 1987, my PhD work at the University of Tasmania was beginning to take shape, and I produced a technical report with some preliminary results. I also started a side-project on functional programming language implementation which was to result in the design of a novel computer (a computer, sadly, that was never actually built, although many people joined in on the hardware aspects).

Also in that year, Supernova 1987A became visible within the Large Magellanic Cloud (picture above taken by the Kuiper Airborne Observatory). The programming language Perl also appeared on the scene, and Per Bak, Chao Tang, and Kurt Wiesenfeld coined the term “self-organized criticality.” Prompted by a discovery in 1986, physicists held a conference session on high-temperature superconductivity, billed as the “Woodstock of physics.” The immediate benefits were somewhat over-hyped, however.

The usual list of new species described in 1987 includes Fleay’s barred frog from northern New South Wales and south-eastern Queensland (picture below taken by “Froggydarb”).

In the world of books, James Gleick popularised chaos theory with his Chaos: Making a New Science, Allan Bloom wrote The Closing of the American Mind (which Camille Paglia called “the first shot in the culture wars”), and Donald Trump co-wrote Trump: The Art of the Deal (nobody imagined that he would be President one day).

Horror writer Stephen King had a good year, with The Tommyknockers and several other novels being published. The term “steampunk” was coined in 1987, and Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead, the sequel to Ender’s Game, won the Hugo Award for best science fiction or fantasy novel (it also won the Nebula Award in 1986, the year it was published).

In music, The Alan Parsons Project released their album Gaudi (which included the single below), U2 released The Joshua Tree, and Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, and Dolly Parton released Trio. The Billboard top song for 1987 was the rather silly 1986 single “Walk Like an Egyptian.”

Films of 1987 included 84 Charing Cross Road (based on the wonderful 1970 book by Helene Hanff), Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor, Japanese hit A Taxing Woman (マルサの女), sci-fi action film Predator, Australian film The Year My Voice Broke and, of course, the cult classic The Princess Bride (based on the 1973 novel by William Goldman).

In this series: 1978, 1980, 1982, 1984, 1987, 1989, 1991, 1994, 2000, 2004, 2006, 2009.


2019 in science so far

This year in science so far (click to zoom). Clockwise from top left:


Blogroll: John Muir Laws / Drawing Frogs

Author and nature artist John Muir Laws blogs many interesting things at www.johnmuirlaws.com. One interesting recent post explains how to draw a frog step-by-step (the image below shows steps 4 and 17). He has also written about drawing insects, plants, and birds. Anyone interested in nature should take a look!

Laws also helped develop the CNPS Nature Journaling curriculum, which may be of interest to parents of young biologists.

Ecological Niche Modelling and Frogs


Predicted suitable range (in blue) of frogs from the Leptolalax applebyi group in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos (modified from Rowley et al. 2015). The vertical colour scale shows elevation in metres. Frog images are by Jodi Rowley.

I was very excited to have the opportunity to collaborate recently with AMRI at the Australian Museum on a paper about frogs, which has just appeared in PLOS ONE: Undiagnosed Cryptic Diversity in Small, Microendemic Frogs (Leptolalax) from the Central Highlands of Vietnam (Jodi J. L. Rowley, Dao T. A. Tran, Greta J. Frankham, Anthony H. Dekker, Duong T. T. Le, Truong Q. Nguyen, Vinh Q. Dau, Huy D. Hoang). My main contribution to the work was in ecological niche modelling – see the map above.

The Leptolalax applebyi group discussed in the paper hides a number of similar-looking but distinct species of frogs, often restricted to small geographic areas (DNA and acoustic evidence can be used to distinguish them). Ecological niche modelling using climatic and terrain data produced the above map of areas predicted to be suitable for these frogs. Unfortunately, as of a 2008 satellite study, only 55% of this suitable area (in blue on the map) was covered by the broadleaf evergreen forest which these frogs need. The resultant habitat loss may therefore have already led to the extinction of frog species which we will never know about. Less than a third of the remaining area has government protection, so further habitat loss is, sadly, a strong possibility.

The example of the Leptolalax applebyi group underscores the need both to strengthen conservation efforts around the world, and to put more effort into describing the world’s species diversity, so that we know what needs protecting! Losing a species (like the passenger pigeon or the gastric-brooding frog) is tragic, but sadder still is losing species without even realising that they existed.

In praise of frogs

I’ve always been interested in frogs, and all the more so recently. This bit of fun is dedicated to (who else?) Miss Piggy:

Why are there so many
Fans of Anurans?
And why do they always hide?
But I must say I share
This batrachian attraction –
The artists, researchers, and me!

A frog that gives birth to tadpoles!


Limnonectes larvaepartus (adult female)

The Indonesian frog Limnonectes larvaepartus, formally described last year, gives birth to live tadpoles. It is the only frog to do so – the overwhelming majority of frogs lay eggs (and a handful give birth to tiny froglets). A recent paper by Mirza Kusrini, Jodi Rowley, Luna Khairunnisa, Glenn Shea, and Ronald Altig describes the reproductive biology of this unusual frog in more detail (the photos above and below are from the paper). This post from the Australian Museum has more details.


Limnonectes larvaepartus tadpoles

In biology, every rule seems to have exceptions! And the unusual is always waiting around the corner, ready to be discovered – especially in the world’s tropical forests.


The more common reproductive strategy: most other frogs lay eggs like these

Historia Naturalis Ranarum Nostratium

The Gallica digital library in France has recently uploaded this beautifully illustrated natural history of frogs by August Johann Rösel von Rosenhof (1758). It is also online at the Université de Strasbourg, and some of the images are on Wikimedia Commons as well. The quote from Virgil in the image above (“Admiranda tibi levium spectacula rerum”) translates roughly as “Regard with wonder that which the smallest of creatures display.”

Paperweights

I find paperweights useful while working, and all the more so if they are appropriate in some way. Here is part of my collection.

On the left is a marble cuboctahedron. Since the edges of this shape form a symmetric graph (all 24 edges are equivalent), it made a nice example while I was working on my 2004 paper “Network Robustness and Graph Topology.” For example, the cuboctahedron is one of the Cayley graphs for the alternating group A4.

The frog on the right, on the other hand, feels right at home with some current work I’m doing on amphibian species distribution modelling.

A bright new frog for 2014

The thorny tree frog (Gracixalus lumarius, photo above by Jodi J. L. Rowley, Duong Thi Thuy Le, Vinh Quang Dau, Huy Duc Hoang, and Trung Tien Cao) was recently discovered in Vietnam at an altitude of around 2,000 metres on the slopes of Ngọc Linh and nearby mountains.

These fascinating little frogs breed in water-filled tree hollows (phytotelmata), rather than in ponds or streams. They are about 4 cm long, and coloured pink and yellow. Curiously, the males are covered in sharp thorny spines. For more information, see this report from the Australian Museum, and also the published paper by Jodi Rowley et al.

Jodi maintains a website at jodirowley.com. If you’re passionate about frogs, take a look.

The top ten new species for 2013

According to news reports, scientists at the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University have produced a list of the top 10 new species discovered during 2012:

1. Viola lilliputana, the tiny Lilliputian Violet

2. Chondrocladia lyra, the carnivorous Harp Sponge (see the video above from MBARI)

3. Cercopithecus lomamiensis, the Lesula Monkey (photo above from this paper)

4. Sibon noalamina, a snail-eating snake

5. Ochroconis anomala, a fungus found in the Lascaux caves

6. Paedophryne amauensis, a frog which is the world’s smallest vertebrate – the name of this frog was miss-spelled in news reports: the name comes from the village of Amau (photo above from this paper)

7. Eugenia petrikensis, an endangered shrub

8. Lucihormetica luckae, a cockroach that glows in the dark

9. Semachrysa jade, a lacewing discovered, in a triumph of citizen science, by Malaysian photographer Guek Hock Ping (who took the photograph above)

10. Juracimbrophlebia ginkgofolia, a fossil hangingfly