DICE alumnus Dr Jim Labisko reports from the Evolution 2017 conference
18th August 2017
After receiving a £500 Early Career MRSB Grant from the Royal Society of Biology, Dr Jim Labisko attended Evolution 2017 in Portland, Oregon in June this year. On the morning of the first full day of talks, Dr Labisko presented the most recent developments arising from his research on the evolutionary relationships of sooglossid frogs.
One of the world's most range-restricted anurans, the entire family (the Sooglossidae) consists of two genera, each with just two species, which are found on only three islands in the Seychelles archipelago (western Indian Ocean). These frogs are highly threatened, and also recognised as evolutionarily distinct and globally endangered (EDGE) species by the Zoological Society of London. Dr Labisko’s work on this unique group investigates the evolutionary relationships between populations of the four species across the islands of Mahé, Silhouette, and Praslin, with further key outputs that are informing and establishing appropriate monitoring and conservation action.
His attendance over the week-long conference enabled Dr Labisko to meet with key collaborators to discuss further work on the Sooglossidae, and also wider amphibian taxonomy and phylogenetics, the results of which are due to be published later this year.
In addition to attendance at Evolution, the support of the RSB enabled Jim to visit the state-of-the-art collections facility of the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology (UMMZ), which holds over 400,000 herpetological specimens, including the largest collection of sooglossid specimens in the world. A key aim here was to assess whether any examples of Sechellophryne pipilodryas, the most recently described sooglossid, and sister species to one of the world's smallest terrestrial vertebrates, S. gardineri were held within the collection. The last examples of S. gardineri were obtained in the 1970s and early 1980s, and as the Sechellophryne frogs are morphologically similar, Dr Labisko hypothesised that within the UMMZ collection some S. pipilodryas may have been collected with, and identified as, S. gardineri from the island of Silhouette, where they co-occur.
As a result of Dr Labisko’s investigation, he identified two specimens of S. pipilodryas within the UMMZ collection – much to the appreciation of the herpetological curator. Crucially, the museum now holds important reference examples of all recognised species of sooglossid.