KU researcher Rafe Brown receives Fulbright Award to the Philippines

Fri, 06/07/2024


Christine Metz Howard

Rafe Brown, professor of ecology & evolutionary biology and winner of a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Award, in the Philippines.

LAWRENCE — Rafe Brown, professor of ecology & evolutionary biology at the University of Kansas, has received a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Award to travel to the Philippines to study biodiversity.

The Fulbright award will allow Brown to spend a year in the Philippines conducting fieldwork to sample amphibians and reptiles. The research studies the biodiversity of a rare stretch of pristine tropical forest that extends from a volcanic peak to the sea.

For more than 20 years, Brown has studied the evolution, distribution, dispersal and diversity of land vertebrates in the archipelagos of the Philippines, Indonesia and the Solomon Islands.

Brown said the Fulbright award supports his “dream sabbatical,” providing an opportunity to remain in the Philippines through the monsoon season to witness the weather system’s effect on amphibian activity in the rainforests. The Philippines has the highest concentration of endemic land vertebrate species in the world.

“This opportunity means the world to me and is something I have been imagining for more than two decades,” Brown said. “I’m thrilled that it is coming to fruition and looking forward to the year ahead.”

Fulbright U.S. Scholar Awards are prestigious and competitive fellowships that provide unique opportunities for scholars to teach and conduct research abroad, as well as forge partnerships with international institutions. Brown is one of 800 U.S. citizens who will teach or conduct research abroad for the 2024-2025 academic year through the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program.

The award expands upon a successful, long-term partnership among KU, Partido State University and Ateneo de Naga University, including faculty and student exchanges.

While in the Philippines, Brown will be based at PSU, which has campuses in the city of Goa and the coastal town of Caramoan, a day’s drive south of Manila. Michael Clores, a marine ecologist and vice president of PSU, reciprocally visited KU in 2018 as a visiting scholar. Brown will teach a biogeography and field sampling methodology course at PSU while conducting research on a multidisciplinary project with Michael Cuesta, a professor from nearby AdNU in Naga City on Luzon Island.

Conceived before the pandemic, the multidisciplinary project is a collaboration among the three universities and studies the biodiversity along a rare, continuously forested stretch of habitat in the Caramoan Peninsula. The area extends from the volcanic peak of Mount Isarog through the pristine coastal forests of Caramoan National Park to the Pacific Ocean’s reefs, seagrass beds and small islands.

Much of the naturally forested habitat under study is unprotected and threatened by the harvesting of timber and forest products such as rattan, abaca, banana and coconut, as well as forest clearing for growing rice and vegetables. Spurred by the TV series “Survivor Philippines,” the area has also seen a rapidly expanding adventure tourism industry.

Brown’s sampling will create a baseline for annual comparisons and follow-up surveys. The data could one day be used for conservation efforts and establishing a peninsula-wide management plan.

By providing information, images and videos on the species that are unique to the region, the project aims to promote a shared Caramoan identity and increase pride in these species, which will drive a coordinated effort to sustainably manage the region’s natural resources.

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to build lasting connections between the people of the U.S. and the people of other countries. Since its establishment in 1946, the Fulbright Program has given more than 400,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists and scientists the opportunity to study, teach, conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.

Fri, 06/07/2024


Christine Metz Howard