[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][text_output]Each month the Amphibian Survival Alliance shines the spotlight on individual accomplishments for amphibian conservation through our Amphibian Champions program. This month’s Amphibian Champion is Gururaja K. V., a batrachologist working on three broad areas related to anurans – behaviour, landscape and urban ecology. He also does outreach programs involving citizen scientists. Learn more by visiting his website www.gururajakv.net.
Photo above © Priti G[/text_output][line][text_output]What got you interested in amphibians?
Birds got me interested in frogs! Yes, I was an avid bird watcher right from my school days. My brother used to take me along with him on my dad’s bicycle to nearby water bodies on weekends for birding. I was very much fascinated by colours and calls of birds. A few years into the birding, with my cousin in our teens, we presented a poster on bird checklist of my native district in an International Conference held in Bengaluru. This influenced me so much that I invariably opted for Zoology, Botany and Chemistry in my undergraduate studies and environmental science for my Masters.
During the Master’s dissertation programme, my research supervisor asked me to work on bird diversity of the University campus. Having made a checklist of birds of this region, I told him that I would like to work on other animals in the region other than birds. Perhaps surprised by my answer, he suggested me to work on “frogs”. My inquisitive nature and curiosity to learn about animals made me to accept his suggestion. Within few weeks from this incident, I decided that it will be a “frog world” for the rest of my life. Thoughtful eyes, vibrant colors, unique calls and varied breeding behavior made me inquisitive about them and got me hooked to study them for long.
What are your earliest memories of interacting with amphibians? Do you have any funny stories to share?
I was working on call patterns and breeding behavior in Yellow bush frog (Raorchestes luteolus) on a rainy night in the year 2004 in a remote place in the Western Ghats of India. Yellow bush frogs start calling at about 18:00h with a characteristic stone carving sound of Trrrrr tink tink tink tink tink. This reaches a crescendo by 20:00h. On that particular night, after few initial calls from yellow bush frog, I decided to call back with my own voice to observe response, if any. I started imitating the call, Trrrrr tink tink tink tink tink. Within few minutes, the most proximal male bush frog to me (about 2m) started climbing the shrub and positioned itself to almost equal level to where my mouth is. I repeated the call. And for the first time, I saw bush frog responding to my call with similar notes. I changed my height by bending knees and gave a call. The frog repositioned to similar height and repeated the call. We were almost responding to each other. After 6 times, the frog instead of moving up and down, started moving towards me. The seventh time when I repeated the call, “slopp”…the frog jumped straight on to my mouth and called. That was an awesome moment where I could connect myself to a wild animal. I was surprised to see a frog responding and in addition came close to have a combat with me.
On the same night, the same male individual got into amplexus. I was curious to know where and when do they lay eggs. For some reason, this amplected pair hardly moved. Finally, by 6AM in the morning, I observed them going underneath dry-leaf litter. For me, it was almost 13 hours of observation and was totally exhausted. With my field assistant, I decided to have a break (for a hot cup of coffee!), came back and continued with my observations. I marked the area with some twigs and green leaves and left the place. After a quick coffee and snacks, I reached the place by 6:45AM. Hard luck, I could not find the pair. Due to heavy wind and rain, twigs and leaves that were used as markers were blown almost 10m away from place where I had seen the pair. I searched for almost 2h till 9AM and gave up eventually. Natural history observations of over 13 hours has vaporized in thin air in a few minutes of my ignorance. This was the funniest moment in field that taught me couple of lessons on focal species observations and sampling area demarcation.
When did you learn that amphibians were in trouble and how did this make you feel?
It was during my master’s dissertation, I came to know about global amphibian decline (1998-1999). I was following the works of Marty Crump, A.R. Blaustein and D.B Wake to understand the reasons for global amphibian decline. At that time there was not much research on Indian amphibians or about their declines. My interactions with naturalists and researchers from the Western Ghats of India revealed that amphibians were indeed dwindling in number, but we did not have a quantitative measure as yet. It is really saddening to know that such beautiful creatures are being wiped out unnoticed. Hence, I took it as a challenge and decided to work on the effect of habitat fragmentation on ecology and distribution of anurans in the Western Ghats. My PhD study was the only second research work in India that was looking at effect of habitat fragmentation on anurans.
What are your thoughts on the future prospects for amphibian conservation and preventing further extinctions? Do amphibians face a bright or a gloomy future?
Individually, I am a positive person and hope that the present scenario of global amphibian decline will be reversed in a few years from now. However, amphibian conservation cannot happen with a few scientists alone working in the lab or field. Amphibian conservation requires common people and their active participation, irrespective of their background to know, monitor and report the ground reality. If each one of us show a little concern and document what they see in their neighbourhood, it will be a great contribution to conservation science.
Can you tell us a little about your current work and focus?
On research front, my focus is on reproductive character evolution in two ancient frog genera, namely Nyctibatrachus and Micrixalus from the Western Ghats. In Nyctibatrachus kumbara (Kumbara night frog), which was described in 2014 by my team, male individual standing on its hind limbs plasters eggs with mud from the stream using its hands <https://youtu.be/cyg2fQLwV60>. I am trying to understand the ecological and evolutionary significance of such parental care and behaviour. I am also working on acoustic monitoring of anurans in the Western Ghats. As a first step towards acoustic monitoring, we have released an audio CD on calls of 70 species of anurans from the Western Ghats. I do outreach activities and promote citizen science initiatives. I have started “Mapping the Malabar Tree Toad” <www.indiabiodiversity.org/group/frog_watch/show>, an online citizen science initiative on a less known endangered and endemic toad (Pedostibes tuberculosus) from the Western Ghats. Through this initiative, I seek people’s participation in the form of posting their observation (call record, photo or video) on Malabar Tree Toad, thereby helping us to understand the distribution and habitat requirement of this endangered toad.
What keeps you personally motivated and dedicated to saving amphibians?
I am associated with amphibian research for over 15 years and even today when I go to field, the world of amphibians pose several interesting questions to me. The diversity in breeding behaviour, be it in aquatic, arboreal, fussorial or direct developing frogs, makes me wonder how little I know about them and keeps me motivated to do research on such behaviours in frogs. I am mesmerized by these beautiful amphibians and every time I see them, I feel, they are posing a question to me – will we survive this onslaught from humans? I am dedicated to saving amphibians, but I am not alone in this endeavor. I go with people from wide spectrum of background – school and college students, researchers, professional photographers, bankers, forest officials, decision makers, local people and agriculturists, to make them appreciate amphibian world and their importance in our daily life.[/text_output]
[text_output]What are some of the things that our readers can do to help protect amphibians?
Please observe and report any amphibian that you see in your neighbourhood in a publicly accessible database. These little contributions of your report helps in understanding the habitat requirement and distribution of a species at global level, that in turn helps in formulating better conservation management.[/text_output]
Frog watch with citizens. Photo © Gururaja K.V.
Amplected pair of Raorchestes luteolus. Photo © Gururaja K.V.
Mud plastering in Nyctibatrachus kumbara. Photo © Gururaja K.V.
Raorchestes luteolus. Photo © Gururaja K.V.
[prompt type=”left” button_icon=”arrow-right” circle=”true” title=” ” message=”Join our mailing list to receive the latest developments, success stories and more in amphibian conservation, research and education delivered straight to your inbox.” button_text=”Subscribe Now” href=”/subscribe”]