Prof. Biju’s talk

by Madhava Meegaskumbura on February 13th, 2012

EES lab at the University of Peradeniya, had their first invited speaker, and it was non other than the renowned systematist & conservation biologist Prof. S. D. Biju from Delhi University.
He gave a lucid introduction to (vertebrate) life on earth, and highlighted the amphibians in space and time. He explained how the general public was mobilized towards amphibian conservation in India. Now frogs in India are as charismatic as the Tigers and Elephants!
Following is an abstract of his talk, and a brief introduction about the scientist:
LIFE: understanding with uncertain knowledge – halting human induced amphibian extinction
SD Biju, Department of Environmental Studies, Systematics Lab,
University of Delhi, Delhi 110 007
Abstract: Life happened on earth 3.5 billion years back and human life came in much later. In spite of scientific progress, about 70% of species still remain undiscovered and nameless. We have discovered about 1.7 million species on land and in water. So what remains undiscovered is a huge portion of our biodiversity.
Against the background of still unknown richness of biodiversity, this century has witnessed rapid extinctions of species. Millions of species are disappearing directly as a result of human destruction of natural habitats.
There are about 7000 species of known amphibians. Among vertebrates, they are the third largest group – after fishes and birds. Many amphibians are yet to be discovered and many aspects of the known species are unknown. On the express road to discoveries, descriptions and conservation action is an urgent need.
Amphibians were the first vertebrates to venture out onto land. The earliest amphibians resembled modern coelacanth and lungfish both of which have leg-like fins that enabled them to crawl on land. Once acquiring solid land, these animals underwent drastic adaptations that sowed the seeds for the evolution of all higher group of vertebrates. Though small in size, amphibians have successfully survived the massive upheavals on earth which wiped out the midgets as well as giants like dinosaurs.
Currently, these hardy survivors of cataclysmic events are helpless to handle habitat destruction that threatens them with extinction. As agents of this massive habitat destruction, it is high time that we take action and conserve these beautiful creatures before they go extinct.
Amphibians fascinate us not only because they have lived on this earth longer than us but also because of their beauty, behaviour and biological characteristics. Many amphibian activities have human friendly results: they control pests of agriculture and vectors of diseases like malaria. They contribute to healthy ecosystems by being a vital link between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Amphibians are also an asset to biomedical research; by studying the permeable skin of amphibians, scientists have made advancements towards potential painkillers, HIV and skin cancer treatments.
Frogs are indicators of ecosystem health. Silence of frogs is a loud message that something is seriously wrong with our ecosystems.
Relevant Publications
Biju, S.D. and Bossuyt, F. 2003. New frog family from India reveals an ancient biogeographical link with the Seychelles. Nature  425: 711-714.
Biju, S.D. and Bossuyt, F. 2009. Systematics and phylogeny of Philautus Gistel, 1848 (Anura, Rhacophoridae) in the Western Ghats of India, with descriptions of 12 new species. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 155: 374-444.
Roelants, K., Gower, D.J., Wilkinson, M., Simon P. Loader, Biju, S.D., Karen Guillaume, Moriau, L., Bossuyt, F. 2007.  Global patterns of diversification in the history of modern
amphibians. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci., USA 104 (3): 887-892.
Biju, S.D., Ines Van Bocxlaer, Varad B. Giri, Simon P. Loader and Franky Bossuyt. 2009. Two new endemic genera and a new species of toad (Anura: Bufonidae) from the Western Ghats of India. BMC Research Notes 2009, 2: 241.
Biju, S.D., Roelants, K. and Bossuyt, F. 2008. Phylogenetic position of the montane treefrog Polypedates variabilis Jerdon, 1853 (Anura: Rhacophoridae), and description of a
related species. Organisms, Diversity and Evolution 8: 267-276.
Ines Van Bocxlaer, Simon P. Loader, Kim Roelants, S.D. Biju, Michele Menegon and Franky Bossuyt. 2009. Gradual Adaptation Toward a Range-Expansion Phenotype Initiated
the Global Radiation of Toads. Science 327 (5966): 679–682.
Michael Hoffmann, ……….. S.D. Biju (and others) 2010. The Impact of Conservation on the Status of the World’s Vertebrates. Science 330, 1503-1509.
About the speaker:  Sathyabhama Das Biju (SD Biju) is Professor in the Department of Environmental Studies (Systematics Lab, University of Delhi. He has a PhD in Biology (Animal Science: Amphibians) from Vrije Universiteit (Brussels) with the greatest distinction, as well as a PhD in Botany (Plant Systematics) from Calicut University. He is also Scientific Associate at the British Museum of Natural History, London and a visiting researcher/faculty at Vrije Universiteit, Brussels. Biju specializes in systematics of Indian amphibians, with over 30 years of field experience. He has discovered over 100 new species of amphibians (52 formally described till 2011), including the description of a new family, six new genera and the smallest Indian tetrapod. Biju is the recipient of the prestigious IUCN/SSC Amphibian Specialist Group’s Sabin Award for the year 2008 in recognition of his amphibian research and conservation initiatives. The award carried a cash prize of 25,000 USD and a citation. In 2011, Biju received the Earth Heroes – Wildlife Service Award by Sanctuary Asia. Presently,
he is the coordinator of Lost! Amphibians of India program, an initiative to rediscover 50 ‘lost’ amphibians which have not been reported after their original descriptions, for a period ranging from 30 to 170 years He is also the Project Director of Western Ghats Network of Protected Areas for Threatened Amphibians (WNPATA) project