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NSF awards $393,000 grant to OSU professor for study on frog evolution

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a three-year, $393,000 grant to Dr. Daniel Moen, Assistant Professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at Oklahoma State University, to support an international, large-scale study on the importance many factors have on the evolution of habitat change in frogs and toads.

Additionally, the project will support training of undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers in a diversity of subjects and will include a summer research program for undergraduates at OSU.

The primary goals of the study are to use evolutionary relationships and to estimate major shifts between frog habitat types (for example, living in water versus in trees) and to explore what explains these shifts. The project will also address the factors that explain large-scale patterns of ecological and morphological evolution across frogs (and toads) around the world.

A major purpose of estimating evolutionary relationships among organisms is to understand patterns of character evolution such as habitat change, yet relatively little is known about why specific patterns are observed. Are some ecological strategies – such as those that are more specialized – evolutionary dead ends? Are transitions between others more common? Why are changes between some types many times more frequent than others?

frog research 002Along with Dr. John Wiens, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona, Moen’s lab group will address these questions in frogs and develop statistical tools to examine them in other groups of organisms. The work will include gathering data on frog body form from specimens in museum collections around the country, conducting fieldwork in four countries (Cameroon, Madagascar, Spain, and the USA) to collect data on jumping and swimming performance, and estimating a new evolutionary tree of relationships among frog families.

Moen will also work with an electronic arts class to develop an outreach video on the project, in collaboration with Andy Mattern (Assistant Professor in OSU’s Department of Art, Graphic Design and Art History).

Now in his second year at OSU, Moen earned his Ph.D. from Stony Brook University in 2012. Students in his lab study the evolution of ecology, morphology, and performance, primarily in amphibians.