Frog Study Receives National Geographic's 7,000th Research Grant

David Braun
National Geographic News
May 9, 2001

A study of frogs that could yield benefits for both conservation and human health has received the 7,000th grant awarded by the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration.

The recipient of the grant is Tyrone B. Hayes, 33, an associate professor in the department of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley.

Funding for Hayes' research was approved by the National Geographic committee at a recent meeting in Peru, where committee members visited several scientists in the field who are also being supported by the Society.

Hayes' project brings to 7,000 the total number of grants that the Committee for Research and Exploration has awarded since it was established more than a century ago. The long list of grantees and their work includes some of the most distinguished names in research and exploration and a number of milestones in science and discovery (see sidebar).

Hayes will use the grant to further his study of the genus Hyperolius, a reed frog that is common in Africa. His work focuses on frog hormones, many of which are very similar to human hormones.

As part of the research, Hayes will conduct studies of the African reed frog this year in Ethiopia and Uganda. Several members of the Hyperolius genus change color permanently when they reach maturity and are able to reproduce, and in some species the males' coloring is different from that of females. Both traits are rare in frogs, and determining the cause may provide insight as well into characteristics of other species.

"Tyrone is an amazing young scholar [with] extraordinary synthetic abilities," said Raymond B. Huey, professor in the zoology department at the University of Washington. "This is a bold project, which requires a synthesis of very different fields—hormones, embryology and pollution. And he is tackling this not in the lab, but in the bush in Africa."

Probing Color Change

Hayes' research team will observe, count and gather reed frogs in the field to study whether differences in color patterns are genetically controlled and whether hormones alter color patterns.

Exploring the influence of genetics and hormones on color pattern variation in males within a species requires studying different populations of a single species. Hayes' research team wants to determine whether males with different color patterns exhibit different behaviors.

The researchers hope to learn the ecological and evolutionary reasons for the sexual color differences in the species.

"In understanding hormonal mechanisms and potential adaptive advantages within populations, we will gain insight into the mechanisms leading to differences between populations and the differences between species," said Hayes.

Continued on Next Page >>


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