2019 in science so far

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


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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.