Why We Collect
Current knowledge of the evolutionary history, distribution and population status of southeast Asian amphibian and reptile species is quite poor. Although museum specimens from southeast Asia date back to the 19th century, records are spotty and few with vague locality data. Information on a species' taxonomy, phylogeny, natural history, distribution and population health is required before informed conservation action can be implemented.
Physical proof of a species' presence- The field surveys for this study provide valuable voucher specimens, that is, preserved specimens which document the occurrence of a species at a well-defined site. Museum specimens are the only means for validating the presence of a species in a given area. By collecting vouchers, accurate identifications can be made, and if necessary, re-identification is possible. While some advocate the use of photo vouchers only, this does not allow for mis-identifications to be easily corrected. For some rare, endangered or threatened species, we record a photo voucher with locality data and detailed habitat descriptions only. These photos are deposited in the Myanmar Project Image Collection at CAS and will be available online.
No substitute for the real thing- Surveys that rely solely on visual observations or photographic evidence can be inconclusive. Such methods simply do not provide sufficient information for researchers and may be unreliable due to varying experience and expertise of surveyors and observers. Further, photographs offer little assistance in identifying cryptic species (species that are indistinguishable morphologically and require molecular data to determine species). Data from visual or photographic studies are often difficult to access as opposed to specimens housed in museum collections. Specimens collected following standard museum practices provide a permanent record that can referenced for species confirmation.
A wealth of data- Not only are museum specimens verifiable, but they provide a wealth of scientific and natural history information. For example, stomach contents can be examined to determine diet preferences, and reproductive stage can help determine breeding patterns. Tissue samples allow for molecular studies in evolution or population dynamics or to determine cryptic species. When an animal is collected, information regarding its microhabitat is recorded as well as behavioral data. In addition, when sampling frogs, their calls may be recorded in-situ. Frog calls serve to maintain cohesiveness within a species, and thus can be used to evaluate taxonomy. The calls for most of the Myanmar frog species are unknown. Similarly, tadpoles of many frog species have never been described. We collect tadpoles and soon will be matching tadpoles and adults through molecular markers. Museum specimens allow for future research with technologies that have yet to be developed. Specimens originally valued for their external characteristics are now being evaluated using their "internal" attributes as revealed by light microscopy, x-ray, scanning electron microscopy and molecular analysis. None of these current technologies could have been predicted at the time of the early museum collections.
A unique fauna, an invaluable opportunity- Because of Myanmar's location at the crossroads of three biogeographic regions, samples from Myanmar are critical for many of the phylogenetic and phylogeographic questions being addressed in southeast Asia. Specimens are needed to identify and describe new species. Thus far, we have documented 174 species in Myanmar. In addition to the known species, 14 new species have been described based on specimens from this survey, and an additional 41 new species await formal scientific description. The baseline information on the distribution and habitat preference will allow us to construct predictive spatial models for species ranges to determine new areas to survey or conserve.
Only by collecting can we document the diversity of the fauna within Myanmar, and only with this documentation can informed conservation actions be implemented.