Cathy Bevier

Associate Professor of Biology Cathy Bevier’s scientific interest in frogs predates the alarming and well-documented global decline in amphibian populations. But now, with an estimated one third of all frog species threatened by extinction, there’s a new level of urgency in the research she does with Colby student research assistants.

And it’s not just the frogs that may benefit.

Bevier arrived at Colby for the 1999-2000 academic year, the year of the first Colby Undergraduate Research Symposium. This April 28 she was one of three faculty speakers at the keynote event for the 12th annual symposium, and she traced the arc of her research that has engaged more than two dozen undergraduates on the front lines of herpetology research.

Mitchell Family Professor of Economics Debra Barbezat and Dana Professor of Music Steven Saunders shared the stage at the keynote event, speaking respectively about their work with students in tracing the disappearance of African-American jockeys from American horseracing and reconstructing music from historical source materials for performance.

Bevier’s research is focused on mink frogs, which range from central Maine north and have not been studied intensively since the 1970s. In her first years at Colby she studied calling dynamics and territorial fidelity, with almost all the fieldwork at night when the frogs are active. More recently she started to investigate skin secretions of the distinctively scented mink frogs. Her presentation included a slide showing the headline, “Frog Skin Secretions Could Yield Antibiotic Bonanza.”

With the amphibian die-off escalating, the research could hold promise for saving frogs as well as for developing new antimicrobial agents to help humans. Bevier and her students recently went beyond the skin secretions to study the anti-fungal properties of symbiotic bacteria that live on the frogs’ skin.

Throughout the presentation Bevier credited student assistants for important contributions to the research, and their names appeared as coauthors on some of the journal articles she projected. She also talked about interdisciplinary collaboration: with chemists analyzing secretions and a computer scientist who developed a program to assist with image analysis. Through it all, her enthusiasm for the scientific inquiry and fascination with frogs shone through. “That was a lot of fun,” she said at least twice after describing a piece of the project.

In closing she invited audience members to join in observing Save the Frogs Day—Friday, April 29 this year.