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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 2 (2012 Deadline)

Biodiversity and conservation in the Lower Mekong: empowering female herpetologists through capacity building and regional networking

PI:  Anchalee Aowphol (Kasetsart University), with co-PIs Niane Sivongxay (Wildlife Conservation Society Laos and National University of Laos) and Huy Duc Hoang (University of Science Ho Chi Minh City)
U.S. Partner: Bryan L. Stuart (North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences)
Project Dates: August 2013 to July 2016
The Lower Mekong harbors a rich diversity of amphibian and reptile, most of which are found only in the region. Amphibians and reptiles play essential roles in intact ecosystems, serving as predators and prey. However, very little is known on the biology of most species of amphibians and reptiles in the region, and many new species of amphibians and reptiles continue to be discovered. Many of these species are considered to be threatened with extinction because of rapid deforestation and overharvesting for food, traditional medicine, and the international pet trade. Information on which species occur where, and their basic biology, is needed so that these species can be effectively conserved.

Thailand 1
Korkhwan Termprayoon (left) and her team examine a sample at the Sakaerat Environmental Research Station in Thailand (Photo courtesy Dr. Aowphol).

Thailand 2
The Vietnamese research team (with local rangers) at Bidoup-Nui Ba National Park (Photo courtesy Dr. Aowphol).

This project proposes to address the lack of knowledge on amphibians and reptiles in the Lower Mekong by supporting the research programs of nine female scientists who study amphibians and reptiles (herpetologists) at three universities in Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. The project will also help by creating a research network among the participants and their institutions through field research exchanges among these countries and a study tour on amphibian and reptile biodiversity research in the United States.
Summary of Recent Activities
In the first few months of the project during the fall of 2013, the Thailand team, based at Kasetsart University, started their field and lab work. Somphouthone Phimmachak, a PhD student in zoology, began her research on newts of the genus Tylototriton in Laos. Korkhwan Termprayoon, a zoology master’s student, began her study of the Eastern bent-toed gecko Cyrtodaylus intermedius during her fieldwork at the Sakaerat Environmental Research Station. Ms. Phimmachak and Ms. Termprayoon and incoming PhD students Sengvilay Seateun and Siriporn Yodthong started preliminary work on three subprojects at the Phu Luang Widlife Sanctuary in Loei. One project is focused on the taxonomy of cascade frogs of the genus Odorrana, but only a few individual O. chloronota specimens were found due to dry stream conditions. The second project aims to investigate the spread of the amphibian chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, which has caused amphibian population declines, while the third project centers on the systematics of cryptic frog species.
The Lao project team, from the National University of Laos, held a meeting with the Wildlife Conservation Society to discuss collaboration, fieldwork, roles, and responsibilities. Recruitment for female master’s students to conduct the four planned projects is under way. Meanwhile, the Vietnamese team, from the University of Science Ho Chi Minh City, introduced the project to undergraduate and graduate students of the Faculty of Biology. Overall information of the project such as the funding source, membership, general research activities, research plan, and research period were provided. In December 2013, co-PI Huy Duc Hoang and Duong Thi Thuy Le visited Bidoup-Nui Ba National Park to evaluate potential research sites.
In the first half of 2014, the Lao and Vietnamese research teams will conduct fieldwork alongside the Thai team and PI Anchalee Aowphol at the Phu Luang site, including a resumption of Odorrana research. The Vietnamese team will also be carrying out amphibian ecology and diversity research at two selected sites at Bidoup-Nui Ba.
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