Amphibians & Reptiles - Research

Assistant Curator of Herpetology Sara Ruane specializes in snake systematics and evolution, although her general  interests in herpetology are broad…as long as it’s about snakes. Beginning as a postdoctoral scholar at the American Museum of Natural History, Ruane has worked on phylogenetics of Madagascar’s pseudoxyrhophiine snakes, using molecular data as well as ecological and morphological data to aid in understanding what factors promote speciation in these snakes. Since joining the Field Museum in 2021, Ruane has been able to continue her work in Madagascar and help support graduate students there; through these new collaborations via the Association Vahatra and University of Antananarivo, she now has projects on chameleon cryptic diversity in progress as well. Ruane is also examining undescribed diversity in poorly known snakes of New Guinea, via a grant funded by the National Science Foundation; this work has already resulted in multiple new species descriptions, with more to come. Additional research from the Ruane Lab includes systematics of homalopsids, which has included working with Emeritus Curator Voris, and examining urban snake population genetics. Soon after joining the museum, the Walder Foundation granted Ruane a Biota Award to re-survey and inventory reptiles and amphibians of Will County, IL and has already resulted in hundreds of herpetological tissues and specimens for the collection. Ruane’s lab, which includes graduate students, interns, and postdoctoral scholars, focuses primarily on snakes, especially with respect to systematics, speciation, phylogenetics, and phylogeography.

Collections Manager Chun Kamei’s primary research interests are taxonomy, systematics, biogeography, and the natural history of amphibians, reptiles, and swamp eels in India. Kamei received her master’s degree in botany, and she taught as Assistant Professor at St. Stephen’s College, University of Delhi, India. Her PhD project focused on caecilians (legless amphibians, also called naked snakes or land sharks) from the underexplored North Eastern Region (NER) of India. The NER, known to be biologically rich, remained largely unexplored for caecilians until 2009. Kamei’s PhD work aimed to better understand the diversity, taxonomy, systematics and biogeography of the region’s caecilians using morphological, anatomical, genetic, life history, and distribution data. Kamei subsequently obtained a Marie Curie postdoctoral fellowship hosted by David Gower and Mark Wilkinson at the Natural History Museum, London, UK. Research publications that Kamei has authored has included the discovery and description of many new species of caecilians, frogs, lizards, and swamp eels, new genera and a new family (Chikilidae) of amphibians, as well as rediscoveries of several species once thought to have gone extinct. Kamei maintains her research interest in the taxonomy and systematics of amphibians and reptiles from India and neighboring regions, but her primary focus these days is on the collection management duties where she works to maintain and build the Field’s amphibians and reptiles collection. Kamei has a keen interest in improving access to the collections with an emphasis on best practices to facilitate collections use in a manner that benefits the requirements of the research community while maintaining collections integrity and its long-term sustainability. 

Curator Emeritus Harold K. Voris continues his research on the systematics and ecology of aquatic snakes in collaboration with faculty and students from Asian and American institutions. In fresh water swamps and marine estuaries in Borneo and Thailand, in collaboration with colleagues and students, Voris explores how aquatic snakes budget their activities between the two major life zones, land and water. In these semi-aquatic tropical habitats there are assemblages of snakes belonging to several independent lineages that have evolved aquatic habits. Each lineage represents an independent evolutionary experiment and each species within each lineage, an example of how life activities can be partitioned between these two life zones. Through comparisons between lineages, and among species within lineages, they are gaining insights into the reasons why these fundamentally terrestrial vertebrates have re-invaded the sea so often through evolutionary history. Voris also continues studies with research associates W. B. Jeffries and C. M. Yang on the coevolutionary relationships between barnacles and sea snakes and decapod crustaceans found in the sea adjacent to Singapore. An aquatic snakes website and Pleistocene sea level maps are available.

Collection Manager Emeritus Alan Resetar focuses his survey work in the Chicago Region and in particular within northwest Indiana. His projects emphasize the ecology and conservation of the Calumet Region herpetofauna. In cooperation with the National Park Service, Indiana Department of Environmental Management and Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Resetar collects data on the distribution and ecology of this herpetofauna. In spite of large scale habitat disruption and destruction, there are still sizable remnants left of the patchwork of habitats that make the region unique, including prairie, marsh, mesophytic and hydromesophytic forest, bog, fen, savanna, foredune, and old fields. Industrial strength herpetology in a post-industrial landscape describes his research focus. From 1974 to 1995, Resetar has compiled data on over 2,100 live specimens that are released after extensive data collection on each individual. Resetar’s work has documented range contractions and extensions and provided insight into the habitat use of various species, species richness of key habitats, annual activity cycles, conservation problems, and management of rare species. A downloadable guide to Calumet Region amphibians and reptiles are available. 

Early in his career, Curator Emeritus Robert F. Inger began to specialize in the ecology, systematics and zoogeography of the herpetofauna and ichthyofauna of Southeast Asia, especially the amphibians. His research has concentrated on the ecology of communities of amphibians and reptiles in Bornean forests, a project that continues to the present. Robert Inger's fieldwork began in 1950 with his first trip to Borneo. Since that trip he has returned to Borneo over sixteen times. He also conducted fieldwork in peninsular Malaysia, Thailand, India, China, Brunei, and Zaire. A substantial part of the Division's collections consists of specimens Inger has collected. His Bornean fieldwork alone added over 41,500 specimens. Inger's collections contain extremely large series accompanied by detailed field notes. His extensive field work in Southeast Asia has led to systematic works on the herpetofauna of tropical Asia, with emphasis on the Bornean fauna. These studies, involving both Inger and Harold Voris include analysis of relative abundances over a twenty-two-year period at a single Bornean site, and regional diversity of the herpetofauna of Borneo. Downloadable guides to Malaysian frogs and reptiles are available. Inger continued his research up until his death in 2019.