Dr. Rafe Brown studies evolutionary processes of diversification in megadiverse conservation hotspot island archipelagos of Southeast Asia. As a biogeographer and a systematic herpetologist, Rafe maintains a commitment to empirical systematics, estimation of herpetological diversity, and taxonomy of Asian amphibians and reptiles.
Like so many U.S.-born-and-raised herpetologists, Curator Rafe Brown got his start growing up in rolling hills of southwestern Ohio. Brown spent most of his childhood on farms in Mainville and Goshen, Ohio, just outside of Cincinnati. His family divided summers between Ohio and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where they camped for weeks every year on the south shores of Lake Superior. During most of these summers, Brown and his brothers and sister hunted for snakes, frogs, and insects in whatever forests they could access; during the school year Brown attended the Greater Cincinnati Herpetological Society meetings once a month at the Cincinnati Natural History Museum, now the Geier Collections and Research Center.
As a teenager and young adult Brown was influenced by Ohio-based herpetologists Paul Dawson of Bethany School, Jeff Davis, Paul Krusling (Denton Co. Schools), Scott Moody of Ohio University, Daniel Gist of University of Cincinnati, and most importantly John Ferner of Thomas More College, Kentucky. In college Brown was privileged to Interact with Brian Bock (now Associate Professor, Instituto de Biologia, Universidad de Antioguia, Columbia), Robert Kaplan of Reed College. and most importantly Sheldon Guttman of Miami University.
After attending Reed College and working with Bob Kaplan for several years (including a transformative trip to S. Korea to study breeding ecology of Bombina orientalis), Brown transferred to Miami University where he worked in the laboratory of Sheldon Guttman. Rafe completed his undergraduate degree in 1994 and Master's work with Guttman in 1997. In the intervening years, Rafe worked extensively in the Philippines, after first traveling to the country with ornithologist Robert Kennedy. Together with John Ferner and Filipino collaborators Arvin Diesmos of the Philippine National Museum and Angel Alcala of the Silliman University, and the late Walter Brown (no relation) of the California Academy of Sciences, Brown published many early systematics works on Philippine herpetofauna. As he and Diesmos attempted to make sense of Philippine fauna and come to terms with differences between the formative works of Robert Inger and the late Edward Taylor, they made numerous collaborative herpetological discoveries and re-traced the 100 year old Philippine tradition of herpetology pioneered by Taylor.
Brown’s dissertation work, conducted at the University of Texas at Austin under the direction of David Cannatella and David Hillis involved a study of acoustic communication and evolution of ecomorphology in Asian and Melanesian frogs of the family Ceratobatrachidae. After a year of postdoctoral work at the University of California Berkeley with Rafe’s graduate school peer Jim McGuire, Brown began his current position in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Biodiversity Institute at the University of Kansas in January 2005. In addition to specialty seminars in a variety of topics, Brown teaches EEB’s classes in Herpetology, Biogeography, and NSF Doctoral Dissertation Grant writing.
Brown’ work involves the study of evolutionary processes of diversification of vertebrates in island archipelagos. As a biogeographer working in the region that inspired Alfred Russel Wallace to conceive of the field of Zoogeography, Brown remains focused on documenting patterns of land vertebrate diversity and testing hypotheses about processes that give rise to biodiversity, limit species distributions, compartmentalize diversity, and maintain hotspots of diversity through time.
As a museum curator, Brown maintains one of the world’s most significant biodiversity repository resources, the KU Herpetological Collections. His interest in collection-based research complements his interest in biodiversity conservation and he maintains a commitment to empirical systematics and organismal biogeography, as well as basic taxonomic works in regions where biodiversity is particularly underestimated and imperiled. By studying amphibians and reptiles in Southeast Asia, Rafe hopes to make contributions that will help to ameliorate the biodiversity crises affecting megadiverse nations such as the Philippines.