Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Visiting Scientist Feature: Ms. Umilaela Arifin

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Visiting Scientist Feature: Ms. Umilaela Arifin

We recently welcomed a new visitor to the museum!

Ms. Umilaela Arifin, a PhD student at the University of Hamburg, Germany, has been studying the phylogenetic systematics (evolutionary relationships between organisms) and biogeography of adult and larval torrent frogs over the past few years.

Torrent frogs (or cascade frogs)—as their name suggests—are often found in mountain streams with fast-flowing cascading water.

The larval form of these frogs are known as ‘gastromyzophorous’ tadpoles, as they have large suckers on their belly that adhere tightly to surfaces such as rocks, preventing them from being washed away by fast-flowing rapids.

These tadpoles use their mouths to navigate along these surfaces, searching for any available food.

A very rare type of tadpoles among frogs in the order Anura, gastromyzophorous tadpoles are to date only recorded from some American bufonid frogs and some Asian ranid frogs – the main focus of Umilaela’s research.

Once fully grown, the sucker on their belly disappears. Instead, the adult frog develops expanded toe pads that adhere tightly to rough and wet surfaces.

Appearance wise, they seem to be like any other frog that lives along cascading streams.

During the 2.5 weeks that she was here, Umilaela examined the morphology of frogs and tadpoles from the genera Huia, Amolops, and Meristogenys in our Zoological Reference Collection (ZRC).

The research that she is working on is an extension of her (recently submitted) PhD dissertation, which seeks to paint a clearer picture of the systematics of torrent frogs in Southeast Asia using integrative taxonomy approaches.

She has collected over 1,600 specimens of frogs and tadpoles from Sumatra, Indonesia during her fieldwork. According to Umilaela, the dataset generated in her research is the most comprehensive dataset to date.

The morphological data that she has gathered here, when combined with further genetic analysis, will hopefully unravel the complicated systematics of Southeast Asian torrent frogs.

Upon graduation, Umilaela has plans to continue working on this as part of her postdoctoral research.

We wish her all the best in her research!