Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Biology student discovered 14 unsubscribed species of frogs in the forests of Papua New Guinea

DILLAN Nason is a biology honours student from the University of Goroka who is pioneering frog research in her homeland of Papua New Guinea.

During her thesis field work, on the side of Mount Michael, nestled in untouched rainforest in the midlands of PNG, she discovered up to 14 unsubscribed species of frogs.

She recently came to Australia with a collection of frog samples, which she tested in Charles Sturt University facilities in Wagga Wagga and Thurgoona, under the supervision of Dr Andrew Peters.

Dr Peters described Ms Nason's research site in PNG as one of the most extraordinary places on Earth and also one of the least known.

"To give you an idea of the worksite that Dillian works at, this is a mountain that rises up to the height of Mount Cook in New Zealand and it just cloaked in pristine virgin rainforest," he said.

"You'll be walking up the steep slope of rainforest, along ridges of roots and climbing through tunnels of impossibly deep moss, with orchids and rhododendrons and little birds, which are flying past.

"There you have frogs that Dillian has found, some of which are certainly undescribed species of frogs."

Dr Peters said PNG lacked guidance for their native scientists who were making extraordinary discoveries, such as Ms Nason.

"There is very little that has been done before and what has been done before has been by foreign scientists who have left nothing in terms of capability," Dr Peters said.

"There are a few exceptions, but generally when people come to PNG they exploit its intellectual resources and they leave not extending that capability to local scientists. There is a lot of interest.

"There are no shortage of Papua New Guineans who want to be excellent scientists.

"Dillian is developing skills and expertise which she can then take back to PNG and will build that country's capacity to protect its environment to look after the health of it's people and its animals and become a fully fledged member of the international science community."

Lack of comparable literature

Ms Nason said her research topic, in simple terms, was looking at the number of different species of frogs along the gradient of the mountain.

"It's totally interesting and new because generally for species diversity along an elevation gradient, there is usually more at the lower levels of elevation. What I found is that it's totally the opposite, there's more at the higher elevation," she said.

The lack of previous research in PNG was a big hurdle for Ms Nason as she had nothing to compare her findings to.

"There's no literature about that, so we definitely need more students coming into this field," she said.

"We don't have experts and one big thing I would say is funding. Our country's priorities are more into health and education and less into research."

Dillan in PNG Forests collecting frogs for research. 
Source:  Annie Brown  /ABC News Australia

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