When UT Arlington assistant
biology professor Eric Smith was a graduate student in 1996, he and a fellow
student, Michael Harvey, pulled out a globe and started looking for a new place
They chose Indonesia. A trip on
a shoestring budget allowed them to spend ten days in the jungle looking for
frogs, lizards, turtles and other life. The pair returned to Texas with some
unique specimens and a desire to go back someday.
Now they can - with the help of
a three-year, $725,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. Starting
later this year, Smith and Harvey will begin a three-year project to explore
and catalogue new species in the Indonesian portion of the Pacific Ring of Fire,
which includes the highlands of Sumatra and Java. Their team will include
researchers from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, the Bandung Institute of
Technology and Brawijaya University in Indonesia, students from UT Arlington
and Broward College in Florida and researchers from other universities.
“We calculated we were getting a
new species of reptile or amphibian every four hours,” Smith said of his 1996
adventure. “So that’s how much work the area needed. It’s a huge place and it
will take a long time to explore what is there.”
Smith is the lead investigator
on the grant. He is also curator/researcher for UT Arlington’s Amphibian and
Reptile Diversity Research Center. He has done most of his research over the
past 15 years in Central America and Mexico. Harvey, now an associate professor
at Broward College in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., is co-principal investigator. Both
men are UT Arlington graduates.
“UT Arlington biology professors
train students to explore science in the lab and make a global impact,” said
Pamela Jansma, dean of the UT Arlington College of Science. “We are proud that
the National Science Foundation has chosen to invest significantly in Eric
After the 1996 trip, Smith and
Harvey published several scientific paper detailing discoveries from that trip,
including the descriptions of three new species of flying frogs. Students and
researchers at UT Arlington and at other institutions in the U.S., Europe and
Asia are still analyzing and publishing papers on valuable specimens and
samples collected on that first trip.
discoveries of new species increase understanding about how animals evolve to
adjust to their surroundings – knowledge that has led to medical advances. It
also provides a catalogue useful in conservation planning and tracking the
current global biodiversity crisis, scientists say.
“I’m extremely excited about
this research in Indonesia,” said Harvey. “Very few herpetologists have worked in Sumatra, and we expect to find
some rather spectacular new species.”
Smith said bio-geographical
research in the region has been limited, in part because of political
difficulties and worries about safety. Those seem to be easing, he said.
“The amphibian and reptile fauna of Indonesia is as poorly known as
U.S. fauna more than 100 years ago,” said Jonathan Campbell, chairman of the UT
Arlington College of Science’s biology department. “This research is
timely and crucial. It undoubtedly will
lead to the discovery of many species new to science, demonstrate that
Indonesia is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world and provide thousands
of specimens for analysis.”
The team will return part of
what they find to UT Arlington for study and leave some specimens behind for
Indonesian researchers, fueling collaboration for years to come, Smith said.
The Amphibian and Reptile
Diversity Research Center at UT Arlington houses more than 130,000 specimens
and is one of the top herpetological collections in the U.S.
Eric Smith’s work is one example
of the far-reaching research going on at UT Arlington, a comprehensive
research institution of almost 33,500 students in the heart of North Texas.
to learn more.