Photograph courtesy of Jonathon Kolby
Photograph courtesy of Jonathon Kolby
Birthplace: Union, New Jersey
Current City: Townsville, Queensland, Australia
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Ever since I was a child, I was drawn to nature and the outdoors. I had a strong appreciation for wildlife and knew I wanted to work in that field. After keeping an array of lizards, turtles, and frogs as pets, I developed a fascination with reptiles and amphibians and wanted to become a herpetologist.
How did you get started in your field of work?
When I was 15, I was presented with an invaluable opportunity to join Dr. James Lazell of the Conservation Agency on an expedition to survey reptile and amphibian biodiversity in Hong Kong and China. It was the most important experience during my youth with respect to my future career in research. During the next 15 years, I continued spending my summers studying reptile and amphibian diversity around the world, including additional places such as New Caledonia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Australia, Nicaragua, and Honduras. All of these experiences helped guide my development as a young researcher and led to my current position as a Ph.D. student at James Cook University, Australia, studying the global spread of amphibian chytrid fungus.
What inspires you to dedicate your life to your work?
The health of our planet is currently under great pressures from the actions of humans, including pollution, habitat destriction, and climate change. Due to an increasingly fast-paced urbanized lifestyle, people risk losing an appreciation for nature and the global importance of maitaining healthy ecosystems. Amphibians are currently disappearing at an alarming rate, and if nothing is done, hundreds if not thousands of species may become extinct in the not so distant future. The spread of amphibian chytrid fungus is partly driving this wave of declines and poses one of the greatest conservation challenges of modern times. Unfortunately, this extinction crisis is occurring quietly, and most people are unaware. Through my work, I hope to raise public awareness by giving the issue a louder voice, find ways to prevent additional losses of amphibian biodiversity, and develop measures to control future wildlife disease epidemics caused by pathogen pollution.
What's a normal day like for you?
On a "normal day," I am likely working on multiple projects simultaneously while also working a full-time job (or being a full-time student). I have my hands full with grant applications, analyzing field data, writing manuscripts for publication, and designing new research projects. I'm typically very busy, but I really enjoy what I do and feel lucky to be able to work on projects I am passionate about.
Do you have a hero?
My heroes are all those who dedicate their lives to protecting wildlife and make daily sacrifices, which often go unnoticed and unrewarded. I admire everyone who is trying to make a difference and create a better future.
What has been your favorite experience in the field? The most challenging?
During my amphibian research in the rain forest of Cusuco National Park, Honduras, in 2007, I found an unusual frog one night that slipped through my fingers as I attempted to catch it. I was unable to identify which species it was, but I had already seen most species in the region and had never seen anything like this one before. It was my last night at that site and I had to wait a year before being able to return to that location in 2008 to conduct a second season of fieldwork. It was a cold, rainy night, and I could not believe my eyes the moment I saw what appeared to be the same frog, literally sitting on the same rock where I failed to catch it the year before. This time I was successful, and the frog was positively identified as Craugastor milesi, a species not seen for nearly 25 years and declared to be extinct. In the midst of my project studying a disease that is causing amphibians to go extinct, it was a very rewarding moment to find this special frog and learn that this species had been hanging on to existence.
What are your other passions?
For the past ten years, I have had a very strong passion for photography. I find it to be a way of expresssing myself artistically while also conveying to others the way I see the world around me. I enjoy all sorts of wildlife photography, but find macrophotography to be the most fun.
I also really enjoy climbing trees. I became certified in tree climbing in 2009 to conduct a research project and found it to be an incredible sport. You really have to learn about trees before you attempt to climb them, almost looking at them as individuals each with a different personality. To sit 60-plus feet up a tree and just observe the forest all around you is a really unique experience.
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