Three’s a Charm

new frog species: Rana kauffeldi (named after Kauffeld)


The existence of a third species of leopard frog, residing in wetlands stretching from Connecticut to North Carolina, was confirmed by a team of Rutgers researchers, validating a claim made more than a half century ago by the naturalist Carl Kauffeld. The scientific name for the new species is Rana kauffeldi.

More than a half century after claims by naturalist Carl Kauffeld that a new frog species existing in New York and New Jersey were dismissed, a Rutgers researcher and team of scientists have proven that the frog is indeed living in wetlands stretching from Connecticut to North Carolina. “Even though he was clearly onto something, the claim Carl Kauffeld made in his 1937 paper fell short,” said School of Environmental and Biological Sciences doctoral candidate Jeremy Feinberg. “We had the benefits of genetic testing and bioacoustic analysis to prove that, even though this frog might look like the two other leopard frogs in the area, it was actually a third and separate species.”

In a paper published in PLOS ONE, Feinberg and his research team revealed the scientific name for the new species: Rana kauffeldi (named after Kauffeld). The leopard frog, first encountered by Feinberg on Staten Island six years ago, will be commonly referred to as the Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog. — Robin Lally

A Cause of Climate Change

Greenhouse gases are commonly cited as the major cause of climate change, but Rutgers researchers at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences and School of Arts and Sciences have found that circulation of the ocean plays an equally important role in regulating the earth’s climate. In their study, which was recently published in Science, the researchers say that  the major cooling of the earth and continental ice buildup in the Northern Hemisphere 2.7 million years ago coincided with a shift in the circulation of the ocean, pulling heat and carbon dioxide into the Atlantic and moving them through the deep ocean from north to south until it was released in the Pacific.

The ocean conveyor system, Rutgers scientists believe, underwent a change at the time when there was a major expansion in the volume of the glaciers in the Northern Hemisphere and a substantial fall in sea levels. Antarctic ice cut off heat exchange at the ocean’s surface and forced it into deep water. They believe this caused the earlier global climate change, not carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The researchers’ findings, based on ocean sediment core samples between 2.5 and 3.3 million years old, provide scientists with a deeper understanding of the mechanisms of climate change today.

The study shows that the change in heat distribution between the ocean basins is important for understanding future climate change. However, scientists can’t predict precisely what effect the  carbon dioxide that is being pulled into the ocean from the atmosphere will have on the climate. But, because more carbon dioxide has been released in the past 200 years than during any recent period in  geological history, interactions between carbon dioxide, temperature changes and precipitation, and ocean circulation will result in  profound changes. — Ken Branson

Earth’s First Settlers

An international team of 100 researchers, Rutgers scientists among them, recently completed an unprecedented two-year project to map the evolution of insects using a molecular data set of unparalleled quality and dimensions. The initial report on their groundbreaking work appeared in Science. The researchers found that insects originated at the same time as the earliest terrestrial plants, about 480 million years ago, suggesting that insects and plants shaped the earliest terrestrial ecosystems together. When the dinosaurs ruled the earth, dragonflies and damselflies had already been there for many millions of years. The researchers determined as well that insects developed wings long before any other animal could do so, and at nearly the same time that land plants first grew substantially to form forests.

Karl Kjer, a professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, was one of  the three directors of the team. Jessica Ware GSNB’08, an assistant professor of biology at Rutgers University–Newark who also worked on the team, says the study of insects is vital. “Insects are diverse, economically and ecologically important organisms,” she says. “The biodiversity of insects is huge.” — Carla Capizzi

Value Added

If protecting human rights is not a compelling enough argument, a recent report coauthored by a Rutgers professor gives developing nations another reason to promote inclusiveness of LGBTQA citizens. It is good for the economy. The study, recently released by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law and the U.S. Agency for International Development, evaluated what impact the poor treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people had on economic development in 39 emerging economies. The report found that each additional right a nation grants its LGBTQA citizens equates to a $320 per capita increase in its gross national product, about a 3 percent increase.

“We can make a human rights case, we can make a moral case, and we can say of course it matters,’’ says Yana V. Rodgers, a professor in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies in the School of Arts and Sciences who coauthored the report. “But sometimes policymakers need numerical and quantitative arguments showing that more inclusion matters. Here is a report that crunches the numbers and can get LGBTQA rights to the policy table.’’ —Andrea Alexander