KU News Release
April 13, 2010
Contact: Brendan M. Lynch, University Relations, (785) 864-8855
Graduate student works to safeguard Philippine wildlife
LAWRENCE — As a teenager, Cameron Siler was a self-admitted amphibian nerd. He crammed his room with aquariums and passed countless hours nurturing and studying frogs and lizards.
“The rule in our house was … no snakes,” said Siler, today a doctoral student in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Kansas. “But at one point I had 10 10-gallon aquariums and there were 25 different animals — mostly frogs, newts and salamanders.”
Some adolescent obsessions fade, but not Siler’s. “I just assumed that once I came to college, my passion would be over,” he said. “I’m very grateful that I haven’t had to give it up.”
Siler has built his youthful infatuation into a promising career as a conservation biologist and scientist. In 2009, he spent nine months hop-scotching islands in the Philippines, where he catalogued, studied and promoted that nation’s astounding biodiversity.
Siler led a field team that collected 6,000 photographs, 100 frog-mating call recordings, 4,000 genetic samples and notes on more than 20 ecological factors for every specimen encountered. His research took him to sites on the islands of Lubang, Marinduque, Luzon, Catanduanes, Lipinig, Bohol, Negros, Mindanao, Camiguin Sur, Cebu and Siquijor.
“We would take boats, vans, busses — and occasionally we’d fly on little propeller planes or small jets — packing on 25 of our team members and countless bags for personal gear and camping gear,” said Siler. “It’s a pretty exhausting process getting between these areas.”
With data collected from the field, Siler wrote reports for the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources, including information on species encountered, population sizes and relative abundance of existing species, habitat requirements for each species, general habitat quality and community support for conservation.
Further, Siler deposited his data at KU’s Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Institute and the Philippine National Museum, where it is available to the global scientific community.
Because habitat destruction threatens many of the species that Siler worked to catalogue in the Philippines, another aspect of his work involved making Filipinos more aware of the richness and value of biodiversity in their country.
“Students really don’t get to learn too much about biodiversity and how important it is to protect the forest and animals that live in it,” said the KU researcher. “So part of my effort is trying to bridge this gap by creating education tools using biodiversity information, photographs and illustrations of frogs, lizards and snakes, and putting together publicly available tools for students from high school level to college level.”
Siler also is interested in providing younger Filipino students with coloring books and photo guides. He said that there are more than 320 dialects in the Philippines that make public education more challenging.
“You can go through just one island and encounter five or six different dialects,” he said. “Having a language that everyone can read is difficult at times. We’re beginning our educational projects by translating material into some of the most-commonly spoken dialects and eventually into some of the less-commonly spoken dialects.”
Siler’s most recent work in the Philippines was supported by a Fulbright-Hays grant from the U.S. Department of Education.
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