This is the sixth post in this new series from SSAR! Our members often join SSAR to learn more about the organisms that fascinate them. Each month, we are excited to profile the herpetological interests of one of our community members and to feature their focal amphibian or reptile species/system.
Featured SSAR member: Umilaela Arifin
What is your study species (or species group) and why is it interesting?
Currently I am studying the species of Asian ranid frogs whose tadpoles have unique abdominal sucker, with special emphasis on Sumatran species. This group of frogs is very interesting because:
- They possesses a unique larval type called gastromyzophorous tadpoles. Gastromyzophory is an eco-morphological adaptation to torrential stream habitats, found only on certain anuran taxa. The tadpoles are characterized by a large-adhesive abdominal sucker that help them cling to rocks in fast-flowing, turbulent cascades.
- This type of larvae is very rare among anurans, only known for some bufonids and some Asian ranids. However, lack of samples (e.g., for Asian ranids genus Huia) from particular regions and lack of molecular studies to date, has led to perplexing phylogenetic problems for over a decade.
- Despite its perplexing phylogenetic problems, the Asian ranid frogs with gastromyzophorous tadpoles has been hypothesized to have evolved independently twice.
What is it about this species that you study?
Our existing knowledge of the phylogenetic relationships in the genus Huia is riddled with gaps and as a consequence the true diversity and evolutionary history of this enigmatic genus and related taxa remain unknown. Until my study, only Huia sumatrana was positively known to possess gastromyzophorous tadpoles on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia, although numerous suitable cascading habitats are available (i.e., along the Bukit Barisan Selatan Mountain ranges that lies across the island). My study was the first to conduct thorough sampling of Sumatran ranid with abdominal-sucker tadpoles and also the first to generate the most comprehensive dataset for ranids with this type of larvae. Not surprisingly, my integrative taxonomy study shows that Sumatran Huia comprises of more diversity than currently known. Moreover, I also discovered a new genus and two new species displaying this unique larval type. My work suggest that larval form is as important as adults, particularly when adults show highly morphological similarity. I believe many more amphibian diversity in Sumatra and other tropical regions are still awaiting to be revealed.
Who are you, how did you get where you are, and what’s your story?
I spent most of my life in my home country (Indonesia) until the last five years when Imoved to Germany to pursue my PhD. It never crossed my mind during my childhood, especially through my high school years, that I would end up becoming a scientist. During my undergraduate study of Biology Program at the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB)-Indonesia, my best friend was supposed to participate in a joint research expedition on herpetofauna in Sulawesi led by Prof. McGuire (UC Berkeley, USA). I asked the responsible professor at ITB (Prof. Iskandar, a pre-eminent Indonesian herpetologists) whether I could also join the expedition. He allowed it—but only on the condition that I either study frogs, snakes, or lizards. I was not interested in these animals at that time, but decided to find out more about frogs anyway and joined three months field research. Needless to say, I fell in love with amphibian and reptiles and the rest as they say is history. I was fortunate enough to complete my Bachelor’s degree by studying morphometry of Limnonectes frogs from Sulawesi under supervision of Prof. Iskandar. I decided to pursue higher education and enrolled in the same university for my Master in Science to study the molecular phylogeny of Bornean endemic frogs, in collaboration with the National University of Singapore. I became a freelance researcher in herpetology and biodiversity for scientific institutions and consultant companies to expand my research experience while preparing for scholarship applications to do a PhD overseas. It was during this time that my interest in amphibian and reptile diversity in the SE Asian region (particularly Indonesia) really matured, through numerous herpetofaunal projects either as a research assistant or team leader, with local and international scientists (Indonesian, American, Canadian, Singaporean, Australian, German). After several years of hunting for a PhD opportunity, a stipend from Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdiest (DAAD, German Academic Exchange Service) and Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Science Foundation) funds to Prof. Haas eventually allowed me to pursue a PhD program at Universität Hamburg (UHH), Germany to study the phylogenetic systematics and diversity of Sumatran ranids. This was quite perfect because Prof. Haas had ample experience with Southeast Asian frogs, and tadpoles in particular. My PhD period has transformed me into young independent researcher with respect to my scientific skills and knowledges. Working in a different research environment with (Germany) during this period had also shaped my intercultural experience. Now that I am at the end of my PhD program (defending in January 2019), I am hoping to get a postdoc position or job that would accommodate my passion for the SE Asian amphibians and reptiles.
Why are you a member of SSAR?
Initially, I applied for SSAR membership only to have reduced fee for conference registration (I believe many others did too!). However, after becoming a member I realized the tremendous benefits of being part of such a dynamic society. I am still new to the society, but I believe SSAR is a good place for me to keep up with the most updated research in herpetology as well as to connect with others within the same interest. As a young researcher that is in the process of building a career in academia, meeting people and establishing networks as well as sharing and learning from each other is the best way to lay the foundation for good science.