Monday, April 23, 2012

Dr. Michael Tyler & Australian Herps

Dr. Michael Tyler is a well-known Australian amphibian specialist, an author of numerous books and papers, and has had the distinct honor of hosting the Second World Congress of Herpetology. Here are a few words with that host.
What sparked your interest in reptiles/amphibians?
Dr. Michael Tyler: A childhood interest in natural history which led to a fascination with entomology at first, and then to frogs.
Hypsiboas rosenbergi - Gladiator Tree Frog (Costa Rica)
© Chris Carille Photography
Were your parents or friends influential in your decision to go into herpetology as a profession?

     No one influenced me! I was an amateur in the early days until I was appointed lecturer in Zoology and was able to devote all my research interests to frog topics.

What led your interests towards amphibians specifically?

    Working at the British Museum with an Emeritus Curator who regretted being too old to travel to Australia and New Guinea, where he anticipated there must be a large number of undescribed frogs new to science.

If you were not into herpetology, what would you be doing?

© Chris Carille Photography
    Selling old and antiquarian books!

That is definitely a different profession! Where is your favorite herping spot in the world?

   The Kimberley, in NW Australia because so much of it is still unexplored.

Litoria spledida - Magnificent Green Tree Frog
Photo courtesy of the Australian Wildlife Conservancy
What herp in the wild still sends your excitement levels through the roof?

    Litoria splendida (The Magnificent Tree Frog which I found and first described!)

I think I'd still be pretty excited to find a herp I had discovered. 
Do you keep a life list?

    No I don’t.

Is there any country/area that is at the top of your list to visit/herp still? Why?

   New Guinea because there is still so much to be discovered there.

Rhacophorus dulitensis - Jade Tree Frog (Borneo)
I had a graduate professor perform his research in New Guinea - he would tell all sorts of stories about how remote field sites were. 
You set a precedent at the second World Congress of Herpetology by keeping it out of the red and turning a profit. How important was that standard you set towards the WCH reaching its goals?

                     It was important to me as it needed to be successful if WCH was to have a great future.  However, I don’t think too many people realised just what a challenge it was!
Agalychnis callidryas - Red-eyed Tree Frog (Costa Rica)
A favorite among amphibian enthusiasts.
© Chris Carille Photography

Do you keep any herps as personal pets? If so, what species and any favorites?
I have a variety of frogs as “pets” and my favourites are Litoria splendida and Litoria caerulea.

Any crazy herping stories (I had a snapper almost bite through my finger once while trying to photograph it)?

Not that I can recall although most field trips have had their moments!

8 species of frog have gone extinct in the last 25 years in Australia, which species do you feel are currently of most concern?

This is incorrect!  Only three have become extinct and I can’t prioritise the others.

Some misinformation on my part. I'm glad you corrected that. 
What is the number one conservation threat to Australia’s endangered species? (invasives, pollution, collection, habitat destruction, Bd fungus)

Bufo (Rhinella) marinus - Cane Toad (Costa Rica)
An destructive invasive in Australia.
© Chris Carille Photography
Probably Bd fungus.

Bd fungus seems to be a huge threat to all amphibian populations. Hopefully, a cure can be found.
In 2003 and 2004, you performed research on odors produced by frogs – I’d imagine smelling frogs had to be the hardest time spent in a lab?

No, it wasn’t at all difficult! I had known for a long time that I had a keen sense of smell and often identified frogs by their odors. I had a PhD student who also had an excellent sense of smell so we both enjoyed the work which led to the award of the IgNobel Prize at Harvard!
Hyla arenicolor - Canyon Tree Frog (Arizona)

Impressive! I'm not sure I could stomach smelling so many frogs.
What’s the best avenue people from outside Australia can help protect Australia’s amphibians?

To encourage captive breeding.

Has there been anyone you’ve really enjoyed collaborating with in your research? Why?

Ben Smith, the PhD student mentioned earlier who had a truly brilliant mind and was great to work with because he had so many ideas that we developed together.  He was the most outstanding student I have ever met and we achieved a great deal together because he was head-hunted and went to Europe!!

Who would win in a herp id’ing contest, you or [Australian herpetologist] Hal Cogger?
I have no idea!

Haha. Probably an unfair question putting you on the spot.
Australia has pretty strict importation and exportation laws regarding its wildlife. Do you think the increase of interest in the herp-keeping hobby has helped or hindered reptile &  amphibian conservation?

Rheobatrachus silus - Gastric Brooding Frog
Cares for its young in its stomach.
I doubt whether herp-keeping has had much of an impact in Australia, with the possible exception of Rheobatrachus which is so popular that over-collecting is a real threat to its existence in the world.

Anything else you’d like to share?

 No, apart from the fact that herpetology has given me a wonderful life and I could not imagine anything better if I had my life starting all over again!

The threatened species and ecological communities in Australia: Threatened Species
The amphibian research center for Australia: ARC
Western Australia Museum's Frog Watch: Frog Watch

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