Betty and E.P. Franklin Grant Awardees Announced

The awardees of the Betty and E.P. Franklin Grant in Tropical Biology and Conservation are Sarah Joy Bittick, Charlie de la Rosa, Tyler McCraney, and Kathryn Peiman. You can read more about them here.

UCLA forges new partnership to promote the conservation and responsible management of the Congo Basin's tropical forests

The University of California, Los Angeles has officially joined the Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP). By doing so, UCLA affirms that their activities in Africa are consistent with the very principles within the cooperation framework of CBFP members to advance sustainable management of forest ecosystems and conservation of biodiversity in Central Africa.

Learn about our new Consortium Center for Integrative Development in Cameroon Initiative

We're happy to share a presentation about the initiative with you.
Please click here to view it (link to download a print-quality version also included).

Speciation research on the Reunion gray white-eye

A short introduction to the research of how the Reunion gray white-eye has diversified into different plumage forms in different parts of the small island of Reunion, in the South Indian Ocean.

NSF PIRE Science and Policy Workshop Yaounde, Cameroon, July 3, 2013

Coverage from the National Cameroon TV station (CRTV) reporting on the goals and expectations of the Science and Policy Workshop, held as part of the National Science Foundation's (NSF, United States of America) Partnerships in Research and Education (PIRE). Watch the video on CTR's Youtube Channel.

Tracking Animals on the Move

Tracking animal migration patterns has important scientific implications. Such monitoring helps predict responses to changes in climate and land use. It also assists with disease control if migrating animals carry infection. However, monitoring these movements over long distances and across time presents a challenge. To meet these challenges, a team of scientists with the Migration Interest Group: Research Applied Toward Education (MIGRATE) network has developed inexpensive technologies and training programs so that a broad cross section of international scientists can follow highly mobile animals."

To Predict a Bird's Song, Head Out to Space

"Thomas Smith, an ecologist at UCLA, and his team from the US, UK, Cyprus, and The Netherlands, found that satellite data, combined with traditional field studies, could help them predict the variations in singing by the common little greenbul (Andropadus virens, pictured), a songbird found in many habitats across Africa.

The study, published online in Evolutionary Applications, not only shows how bird songs can vary, but demonstrates how combining satellite data with field studies can trace the evolution and variation of any species. It is also the first study to ever use satellite data to track variation of earth-bound species of animals or plants.

Central African Biodiversity Alliance

The Central African Biodiversity Alliance is an international partnership that seeks to develop an integrated framework for conserving central African biodiversity under climate change that is both evolutionary-informed and grounded in the socioeconomic constraints of the region. At present, this partnership is funded by the National Science Foundation-Partners in International Research and Education program and the Arcus Foundation.

The Drill Project

A fascinating and rare glimpse into the life of drills living on Bioko Island in a film produced by Drexel University for the project.

Predicting hotspots for future flu outbreaks

UCLA Newsroom news release By Alison Hewitt

The Center for Tropical Research publishes a paper on predicting likely hotspots for reassorment based on research locations where bird flu outbreaks, human flu outbreaks and swine populations overlapped.This paper is published in the peer-reviewed public health journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. More coverage in an LA Times article titled, UCLA-led team predicts China, Egypt could be new-flu hot spots

Related article: 14 sick, 5 dead as new bird flu moves beyond birds, threatens people

by Eryn Brown in Los Angeles Times

Trevon Fuller, a research fellow at UCLA's Center for Tropical Research, is quoted in a Los Angeles Times article about the spread of the H7N9 bird flu virus in Shanghai.


The Fall 2012 CTR Newsletter features an article by Samantha Cheng on exploring cryptic diversity with Indian and Pacific Ocean Big Fin Reef Squids. Kevin Njabo reports on workshops held to focus on building the capacity to control animal-borne influenza in Cameroon and Egypt.

Samantha with freshly caught Sepioteuthis cf. lessoniana in Pulau Seribu Islands off of Jakarta Bay in Java.

A female vet from GOVS samples a domestic duck for AIV in Egypt.

Kevin Njabo works with Dr. Judith Ndongo , a professor at the University of Yaounde I and Bavou martial of Global Viral Forecasting Initiative (GVFI) to analyze data on influenza in wild birds in Cameroon using ArcGIS.

CTR Spotlight

CTR Avian Influenza Virus Research and Surveillance Projects in North, Central, and South America, Cameroon, and Vietnam

In 2006, CTR was awarded a four-year grant from the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases entitled “Effects of Avian Migration and Anthropogenic Change on the Distribution and Transmission Risks of Avian Influenza.” CTR researchers are working in the field and the laboratory to determine the role that North American migratory passerines play in the dispersion of avian influenza virus (AIV) strains. Collaborators have collected more than 36,000 cloacal and tracheal bird samples to screen for AIV. CTR researchers are also monitoring wild and domestic birds for AIV in Cameroon and Vietnam. For more information, click here.

Videos on Heron Island Summit

CTR Director Tom Smith was a keynote speaker at the Applied Evolution Summit, “Interdisciplinary Solutions to Evolutionary Challenges in Food, Health and the Environment,” held on Heron Island, Australia, January 4-8, 2010. Click here to view the summit video, Evolution Island -  Sustainable Solutions to Global Challenges.

Current CTR Projects

Learn about current CTR projects on West Nile virus, mosquitoes and avian malaria, endangered and threatened plant and animal populations, rainforest restoration, lizard and bird behavior, species distribution modeling, and more on the Research page.

Photos of zebras are needed for a CTR research study on the evolution of stripe variation in African plains zebra. Read more.

International Research and Training Center in Ecuador

International Research and Training Center in Ecuador Jordan Karubian, Director of the IRTC program in Ecuador, coordinates research, training, and education programs in the Chocó rainforest. Read more and view video about the Ecuador IRTC.

CTR Updates - November 2012

CTR Field Research Trips

Anthony Chasar traveled to Cameroon in May 2012 to continue NIH funded fieldwork on the ecological and social dynamics influencing spillover of avian influenza among species. During this fieldwork, it was revealed that large numbers of swine are raised specifically to sell over the Christmas and New Year’s holiday period and are transported, sometimes great distances, from rural areas to metropolitan areas for slaughter. This means that a variety of influenza strains that are carried by pigs could be transported quickly across long distances. We will focus future sampling efforts on this holiday time period, gathering data on transport routes of pigs and associated rates and timing of influenza infections in order to understand how outbreaks may spread from one place to another.

Jordan Karubian traveled to Papua New Guinea and Australia with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to investigate the evolution of elaborate plumage traits in males and females of Malurus fairy-wrens birds.  Jordan also spent time in Ecuador to continue his research on seed dispersal by long-wattled umbrellabirds.  With support from the National Geographic Society, Jordan and local Ecuadorian researchers also outfitted umbrellabirds with GPS tags to assess how their movement patterns vary in relation to fruit availability.  The research results show that birds travel much larger distances than previously suspected, suggesting that current reserve boundaries may not be sufficient for the long-term conservation of this species. Jordan is also using GPS units to track brown pelicans in the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in an NSF-funded project.  Working with postdoctoral fellow Scott Walter, Jordan has tagged 33 animals and has recorded large movements of over 100 kilometers in a day.

Brenda Larison visited Uganda and Kenya during July and August. In Uganda she visited Kidepo Valley National Park to collect biopsy samples from plains zebra. These samples will be part of a genetic study addressing the effects of isolation and small population size. She was assisted by Gita Kolluru, former postdoctoral scholar in UCLA's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and current professor at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. CTR director Tom Smith assisted Brenda with biopsy sampling at Lake Mburo National Park. Samples from Lake Mburo will be used both in the above mentioned study as well as for seeking the genes responsible for zebra stripe patterns and understanding what the advantages are of being striped. An article on the project was published on the CTR Website. Fieldwork was funded by the National Geographic Society.

Kevin Njabo led a field crew for CTR’s avian influenza project in Menufiya, Egypt to collect samples from wild birds and domestic poultry in February and March, 2012. A major impetus for this surveillance effort was to identify the animal husbandry practices that contribute to the persistence of  H5N1 in rural villages in Egypt’s Nile Valley and Delta region. A similar effort was carried out in Cameroon in July and August. This fieldwork is part of a multi-country collaborative effort funded by the National Institutes of Health-Fogarty (NIH) International Center to examine spillover and transmission of avian influenza between wild birds, domestic poultry, swine, and humans.

Hilton Oyamaguchi conducted a common garden experiment in Brazil in Fall 2011 and Spring 2012 to test the heritability of morphological variation between populations of the lesser treefrog in the Amazon rainforest and the Cerrado. The aim of this study was to determine whether the observed variation in the morphology of treefrogs between these two habitat types is strictly a plastic response to different environmental conditions or if it has a heritable component. He carried out this experiment in collaboration with Carlos Navas of the Physiology Department at the University of São Paulo, Brazil and with Ryo Okubo, a recently graduated student from UCLA’s Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) program. Ryo spent two months in Dr. Nava’s laboratory running experiments after Hilton returned to the United States. This work was made possible by a generous donation from Susan and Dan Gottlieb, owners of the G2 Gallery in Venice Beach, California.

Kristen Ruegg led a field research trip to the Washington Cascades to collect samples from Swainson's thrushes for genetic analysis of a hybrid zone between two forms of this species with divergent migratory pathways and overwintering locations. Joining her on the trip were UCLA graduate student, Rachel Johnston, and CTR’s recently appointed lab technician, Sirena Lao. The samples they collected will be used by Rachel to identify genes that are important for migratory behavior, and by Kristen, Rachel and Sirena to study the dynamics of a hybrid zone between divergent migratory forms.  

CTR Recent Awards, Presentations, and Appointments

Jaime Chaves moved to the University of Miami in August for a postdoctoral appointment with Albert Uy to work on the genomics of Darwin's finches.

Emily Curd received a Mildred E. Mathias Grant and a Research Award from the UCLA Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (June 2012) for her research on the roles of vegetation and soil depth in structuring soil bacterial and fungal communities and how this might affect soil organic carbon(C) metabolism. The soil is the largest terrestrial sink for C and it holds twice as much C as vegetation. Annual mineralization of this C into the atmosphere adds 10 times more CO2 than that derived from burning fossil fuels, and some proportion of this is returned to the soil by C inputs derived from plants. Fungal and bacterial communities are major contributors to soil C metabolism and thus control much of the CO2 flux between plant-derived carbons, the soil, and the atmosphere. Emily’s research is being conducted at Sedgwick Reserve in Santa Ynez, California. The 5,896-acre reserve is part of the University of California Natural Reserve System, and is administered through the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). Her awards will cover field expenses, microbial community enzyme function profiling, and DNA sequencing.

G. Andrew Frickerreceived a graduate researcher position for the summer of 2012 and the 2012-2013 school year for his research on tropical forests in Gabon and Panama. His research is conducted under the supervision of Sassan Saatchiand Thomas Gillespie.  He is using discrete-return lidar and large-footprint lidar to determine biomass distribution in Gabon and patterns of diversity and richness on Barro Colorado Island (BCI), Panama. He presented a poster on preliminary results of the research in Panama at the 2012 Ecological Society of America (ESA) conference in Portland, Oregon August 5th-10th, 2012 entitled “Coupling forest structure and sub-canopy topography to alpha diversity across spatial scales in the 50 ha plot Barro Colorado Island, Panama”.  He also gave an invited talk at the ForestSAT 2012 conference in Corvallis, Oregon September 11th-14th, 2012 entitled “Correction of Waveform Lidar Sub-canopy Elevation Model Using a Semi-automated Filter”.

Trevon Fuller gave a presentation entitled “An integrated analysis system for detecting anomalous virus outbreaks from imperfect surveillance data” at the Chemical and Biological Defense Science and Technology Conference in Las Vegas, on November 17th, 2011. This presentation reported a modeling technique developed at CTR that correlates virus occurrences with environmental data measured with satellite images. This data is used to characterize the natural ecological niche of a virus, which is where you would expect to see the virus in the wild under normal circumstances. This allows decision makers to rapidly determine whether a new outbreak of the virus likely represents spillover from wildlife hosts or a deliberate/accidental introduction (such as terrorists releasing a recombinant virus). The presentation provided two examples of the approach: predicting geographic hotspots of monkeypox in Tropical Africa and mapping areas of influenza risk and sites of novel virus emergence in East Asia. CTR research on monkeypox was recently published in the journal EcoHealth: Trevon also presented a poster entitled “A modeling approach to identifying geographic epicenters of novel influenza virus emergence” at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 60th Annual Meeting in Philadelphia on December 7th, 2011. CTR researchers are collaborating with the Center for International Cooperation in Agronomical Research for Development, EcoHealth Alliance, the Free University of Brussels, the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and Oklahoma University to predict reassortment (the exchange of genes between influenza strains), which can produce novel viruses that are even more deadly to humans. We have identified regions in China where different types of influenza overlap geographically, which serves as a proxy for the risk that new types of influenza could evolve in these regions. We also determined that sites in China where there is a high risk of new strains of flu evolving have high abundances of domestic ducks, swine, and intensive agricultural production. These environmental variables could potentially be used to predict reassortment events, which can help health authorities prevent the spread of new strains of influenza.

Ryan Harrigan, Trevon Fuller, and Kevin Njabo led training workshops in Cameroon and Egypt to train local biologists and veterinarians in the use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) for predictive modeling of disease. The goal of the workshops was to build capacity in these two countries to predict and ultimately prevent disease outbreaks. The workshops took place in Yaoundé, Cameroon on August 13th-17th, 2012, and in Cairo, Egypt on February 28th-March 1st, 2012. See this newsletter’s workshop report for more details.

Adriana Garmendia, a graduate student from Mexico doing an internship at the UCLA Center for Tropical Research, attended the 97th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Portland, Oregon, held August 5th-10th, 2012.  She gave a presentation on “Landscape attributes impacting terrestrial mammal assemblages in the Lacandona Rainforest, Mexico” which is part of her dissertation research. 

Ryan Harrigan presented a talk at the 2012 US-International Association for Landscape Ecology (US-IALE) conference, held in Newport, Rhode Island April 8th-12th, 2012, entitled, "Maximizing Evolutionary Potential Across a Southern California Urban Landscape".

Jordan Karubian, CTR’s Director for Latin America and Assistant Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, was recently awarded the annual Ernest A. Lynton Award for the Scholarship of Engagement for Early Career Faculty.  This prize recognizes an early career faculty member who connects his or her teaching, research, and service to community engagement. Jordan developed his engaged style of research while working in Northwest Ecuador, an area with extraordinary species diversity and high concentrations of human populations. He has expanded his efforts to include both Papua New Guinea and the Gulf of Mexico where he lives and works. His research embodies the spirit and practice of engaged scholarship, and has received ample support from friends and members of CTR.  We congratulate Jordan for his inclusive, collaborative, and problem-solving work that emphasizes the reciprocity and true partnership between community members and professionals, and for his receipt of this prestigious award.  You can read a fascinating article about Jordan’s work on the New England Resource Center for Higher Education website:

Rachel Johnston received a Research Award from the UCLA Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in June 2012.  She is using the award to study the genetic control of avian migration by comparing transcriptome-wide gene expression in migrating and non-migrating Swainson’s thrushes.  

Kevin Njabo travelled to Cameroon May 2nd-4th, 2012 to serve as a moderator for a Biorisk Management Training workshop, held at the Yaoundé Hilton Hotel, Republic of Cameroon. The workshop sought to promote biosafety and biosecurity training in the Central African region for scientists who conduct research on highly infectious diseases. The workshop was organized by Sandia National Laboratories in collaboration with faculty and scientists from the Center for Tropical Research (CTR), UCLA Jonathan and Karin Fielding School of Public Health, and UCLA Global Bio Lab (GBL). The workshop used classroom-based modules and was co-moderated by Bill Arndt and Cecilia Williams of the International Biological Threat Reduction (IBTR) program at Sandia National Laboratories, and Sira Mady Dabo from the UCLA School of Public Health and UCLA Global Bio Lab. The workshop was hosted by the UCLA International Research and Training Center in Yaoundé, Cameroon.

Tom Smith and Kevin Njabo led a workshop on REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) in Yaounde, Cameroon May 6th-9th, 2012. The purpose of the workshop was to officially launch the Dja Biosphere Regional REDD+ Project, in which CTR is collaborating with Global Green Carbon to use carbon financing to protect the Dja Biosphere Reserve (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and a surrounding buffer zone. This project could have huge social and environmental benefits for the region. The workshop brought together high-level representatives from six Cameroon government ministries (Ministries of Forestry, the Environment, Agriculture & Development, Energy & Water, Industry & Mines, and Livestock & Fisheries) with representatives from 17 NGO’s with an interest in the region. The workshop consisted of an educational overview of REDD+, a detailed discussion of the Stage 1 Dja REDD+ Feasibility Report, and roundtable discussions on the key components of the project’s development. Other members of the team included Tony Chasar(CTR Staff Research Associate), Kirsten McGregor (President and Co-founder of Global Green Carbon), Marta Suber (Global Green Carbon REDD and Forestry Technician), and Edward Mitchard (Global Green Carbon Director of Carbon).

Kevin Njabo travelled to Kayseri, Turkey September 8th- 12th, 2012 to attend the 1st National Symposium (with International Participation) on Vectors and Vector-borne Diseases, organized by the Vectors and Vector-borne Diseases Research and Implementation Center of Erciyes University. Kevin presented his research on vectors of avian malaria in Africa and their blood feeding habits.

Hilton Oyamaguchi was invited to be a panelist at the Young Environmentalist Symposium at the G2 Gallery in Venice Beach, California, where he discussed frog conservation in Brazil and answered questions about environmental issues facing Brazil’s Amazon region.  He also presented his work on morphological variation in the Lesser Treefrog between the Amazon and Cerrado biomes at the 15th Annual Biology Research Symposium at UCLA, for which he received the outstanding poster presentation award.  He also presented his work at the 1st Joint Congress on Evolutionary Biology in Ottawa and at the World of Congress of Herpetology in Vancouver August 8th-12th, 2012. In Vancouver, Hilton presented his evaluation of the effects of natural selection and genetic drift in the diversification frogs along the Amazon and Cerrado gradients, for which he received an honorable mention for the Henri Seibert Award from the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles. He received the Jorge Paulo Lemann Scholarship from the International Institute, UCLA, to continue his studies in 2012-2013.

Chelsea Robinson received a Graduate Research Mentorship Award for the 2012-2013 school year for her research on forest diversity along Volcán Barva in Costa Rica, which she conducts under the supervision of Sassan Saatchiand Tom Gillespie.  She is using active radar and lidar sensors to determine patterns of topography and forest structure and relating it to ground-collected data on tree taxonomic diversity and ground estimations of aboveground biomass.  By extrapolating the relationship across the images, she will be able to effectively map diversity and aboveground biomass in this region.  She presented a poster on preliminary results of this research at the 2012 Ecological Society of America (ESA) conference in Portland, Oregon August 5th-10th, 2012, entitled “Assessment of Variations in Taxonomic Diversity and Forest Structure Along an Altitudinal Gradient in Tropical Montane Forest of Costa Rica.”

New Publications

Jaime Chaves made the cover of the Journal of Evolutionary Biology for his March 2012 paper entitled “Origin and population history of a recent colonizer, the yellow warbler in Galápagos and Cocos Islands.”

Eduardo Mendoza-Ramirez, a CTR alumnus who is now a postdoctoral researcher at Michoacan University of San Nicolas de Hidalgo in Morelia, Mexico, recently published an article entitled “Preliminary assessment of the effectiveness of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor for protecting potential Baird’s tapir habitat in southern Mexico” in the journal Integrative Zoology. The study, which was done in collaboration with Tom Smith and Trevon Fuller of CTR, designs optimal corridors that can be used by the tapir, an endangered species that is the largest land animal in Central America, to cross between patches of intact forest in the Yucatan Peninsula.

Four CTR scientists and alums were authors on a new study published recently in the journal Nature. The study revealed that many of the world’s tropical protected areas are struggling to sustain their biodiversity. CTR Senior Research Fellow William Laurance, from James Cook University led the study.

New Grants

CTR Receives New Grant Support

Tom Smith and CTR colleagues Katherine Gonder (University of Albany ) and Nicola Anthony (University of New Orleans) received a five year $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation Partnerships in International Research and Education (NSF PIRE) program. This exciting project will unite senior investigators, junior researchers and students from the U.S., Africa and Europe into a common research and education plan centered in Gabon and Cameroon, Africa. A major emphasis of the PIRE project will be to collectively build an undergraduate and graduate educational program that will partner U.S. and African students in a common learning environment and provide them with cutting edge skills in the biological, environmental and social sciences. The overall research goal of the grant is to develop an integrated framework for protecting and managing central African biodiversity under climate change that is both informed by evolution and sensitive to the socioeconomic constraints of the region.

Tom Smith and CTR were awarded a one-year $100,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to examine the “Comparative Spillover Dynamics of Avian Influenza in Endemic Countries.” Other partners on the grant include the EcoHealth Alliance, Stanford University and the University of Oklahoma. This award continues research support for the partnership on this topic provided for the past three years by the Fogarty International Center of NIH. The partners will collect and analyze data on wild waterfowl migration, poultry farm size, market dynamics and human contact networks with these sources of infection. CTR will collaborate with the other partners to combine the perspectives of spatial, network, and dynamical epidemiological models in a GIS-based database system to predict the spatial variation of influenza A transmission and risk of spillover.

Paul Barber’s Research Group Receives New Grant Support

Paul Barberand his lab were awarded a National Science Foundation Partnership in International Research and Education (NSF PIRE) grant in collaboration with San Diego State University (SDSU), the Smithsonian, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Moss Landing Marine Labs and National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). The $5 million grant is focused on understanding marine biodiversity patterns in Indonesia and how these may be impacted by anthropogenic stress. Paul Barber was also awarded a grant from the University of California-Historically Black College and Universities (UC-HBCU) initiative. This grant brings students from HBCU's to UCLA and to Indonesia to conduct biodiversity research and learn the ins and outs of applying to graduate school.

CTR Bird

Center for Tropical Research | UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability
La Kretz Hall, Suite 300 | 619 Charles E. Young Dr. East | Los Angeles, CA 90095-1496

The Center for Tropical Research, located on the third floor of La Kretz Hall, is part of the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at the University of California, Los Angeles. For general inquiries, contact Christa Gomez, CTR Office Manager, at 310-206-6234, or by email at Visitors are always welcome.

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