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LAII Funding Contributes to Success of Long-Term Field Research

Each year the LAII awards graduate students across campus with funding to support their research in Latin America. Field research grants facilitate exploratory field research experiences, PhD Fellowships aid doctoral students as they complete their dissertations, and FLAS Fellowships enable students to pursue less-commonly-taught languages. Just as the LAII funding contributes to the students' short-term degree goals, so too does it contribute, in many cases, to their long-term success as scholars in their fields. This has been the case for Mason Ryan, a PhD candidate in the UNM Department of Biology.

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In 2008 Ryan received an LAII/Tinker Foundation Field Research Grant to investigate "extinction vulnerability in Costa Rican frogs" and in 2010/11 he was awarded an LAII PhD Fellowship. In part due to this support from the LAII, Ryan was able to spend the past five years developing an international field research project which brought together researchers from UNM and the University of Costa Rica (UCR).

According to Ryan, it is by no means a stretch of the imagination to connect his recent success in the field with the earlier support he received from the LAII. The initial field research grant he received enabled him to collect preliminary data and to begin coordinating the international research team, and the subsequent PhD Fellowship further facilitated his work by providing him with the ability to dedicate time to writing grants to fund the project and to producing papers in coordination with his fellow researchers in Costa Rica.

The benefits of the collaborative relationship which Ryan developed between UNM and UCR researchers cannot be overstated. Ryan acknowledges that his work would not have been possible without the help and tutelage of Costa Rican researchers Gerardo Chaves and Federico Bolaños, or their students Beatriz Willink, Hector Zumbado-Ulate, Adrián García-Rodríguez, and Edwin Gómez. In addition to their field contributions, all of these collaborators have been co-authors on the publications.

Ryan's international field research has yielded multiple journal articles, including, most recently, the following:

The UNM Newsroom also recently covered Ryan's research, in an article titled "Too wet for frogs: La Niña disrupts tropical frog leaf litter communities: UNM scientists study effects of La Niña on frogs in tropical Costa Rica."

When asked about the outcome of his research, Ryan said that the five-year study has led to "encouraging news suggesting the tropical leaf litter frogs are capable of rapid recovery from extreme climatic disturbances. Of course, this depends on whether outside factors such as habitat modification or disease are not simultaneously afflicting frog populations. If these additional stressors are not a major factor during an extreme event, species diversity and abundance may rapidly recover to pre-climatic disturbance levels."

Image: Photograph of Mason Ryan in the field with colleagues. Reprinted with permission.

--Posted Friday, January 23, 2015.