All Hail Our Amphibian Overlords and Ancestors – Jodi Rowley joins Real Scientists

After a big week with Greetchen Diaz featuring some great discussions into novel science pathways, diversity and women in science, we’re returning to the Southern Hemisphere to meet Dr Jodi Rowley (@jodirowley) of the Australia Museum, Sydney.

Most of us would have visited museums as children and marvelled at the collections of artefacts and the fossilised remains of ancient creatures.  While dinosaurs always get the glory (and justifiably so), there is a class of animals that also deserves our veneration: the amphibians.  Long before birds flew and figs grew upon thorn, amphibians evolved as one of the most important intermediaries between land and sea.  Evolving in the Devonian period from lunged-fish, the amphibians evolved into four main groups of modern day species, 90% of which are frogs.  Frogs. How great are frogs? They are important ecological indicators and are also pretty cute.  Apart from frogs, amphibians include salamanders, they of the strange and wondrous ability to grow back limbs.  So amphibians are pretty amazing, and Dr Jodi Rowley has spent many years studying them.



Here’s Jodi in her own words:

“I grew up in Sydney, am an only child and was always encouraged to pursue my dreams, however corny that sounds. I’m lucky in that it never occurred to me that as a female, I couldn’t pursue a career in field biology. I’m so very fortunate that I grew up in that time and place and with very supportive parents. I lived away from Sydney for 5.5 years, first to Townsville for my PhD ( I was fortunate to have the best amphibian ecology mentor there is in my supervisor Ross Alford), where I got a very significant taste of field work (radio tracking over 100 frogs on the rainforests of North Queensland), then to Southeast Asia. I moved back to Sydney in late 2008 to an awesome job at the Australian Museum. As well as being an amphibian biologist at the museum, I coordinate the Australian Museum Research Institute, which is another excuse to communicate science- that of the other researchers at the museum!

I wish I had a good story as to why I got into science, and specifically into amphibian biology and conservation. I always loved biology at school, and had a love for wildlife and natural places, but also enjoyed  illustration and design. I didn’t actually decide on science as a career until after I finished high school. I got a pretty good mark in my final exams, and enrolled in environmental science at the University of New South Wales. There I got exposed to frogs, and that was it!
I broadly understood that biodiversity conservation was something I wanted to pursue, but it wasn’t until I got hands-on experience in the field, working with frogs, that it became a passion, bordering on obsession. I explore local forest looking for amphibians in my spare time- it’s amazing that my passion and career overlap! I probably shouldn’t tell my work this, but I’d still turn up to work in my spare time even if I wasn’t getting paid!
I started conducting field expeditions in Southeast Asia in 2006. I joined a trip in northeastern Cambodia as a bit of a test for me (and for my potential new place of work to test me!). We walked for days through rough terrain, I got a puncture wound through my foot (bamboo was removed from it for the next month!), and we ran out of food (right at the end). But the wildlife and the forest and the experiences were amazing. I was hooked. So I moved to Cambodia after my PhD at James Cook university, and began working for Conservation International as a wildlife biologist. For the next two years I spent most of my time in the forests of Cambodia, Vietnam and China, in search of poorly known, often highly threatened and sometimes undescribed species of amphibian, documenting their distribution, biology and threats. In my job at the Australian Museum I’ve continued that. In the course of this work my colleagues have also discovered a number of frog species, including the vampire flying frog, and a frog with an incredibly complex call (not like your usual frog ‘croak, croak’). I love the field- it’s often incredibly physically difficult getting to the places we explore, we sleep in hammocks under a tarp in the monsoon season, we work at night and get little sleep, and I’ve had scrub typhus twice. But I have the amazing privilege of working with great friends and colleagues in the field (and after, writing papers etc), be in some special wild places and find frogs! And I feel like I’m making a difference, however small, to amphibian conservation.  So it’s  totally worth it! I’ve conducted over 20 expeditions in Southeast Asia in search of amphibians now, and hope I can continue well into the future.
I’m in to science communication- I can talk about frogs for ever! I hope that I occasionally inspire people, at least open their eyes more to how cool frogs are and what amazing creatures we stand to lose. I’m also really into organic gardening- I have a community garden plot near my house, and like growing crazy heirloom veggies from seed. Especially purple ones (purple carrots, onions and cauliflower to name a few). And I have two whippet dogs that I love!”
Please welcome Dr Jodi Rowley of the Australia Museum to Real Scientists!

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