Not many students have seen amphibians in the field. It’s important for young generations to experience nature.

Mizuki Takahashi

When Mizuki Takahashi was examining the variety of insects found in the suburbs of Tokyo, Japan, he enjoyed the experience immensely, as long as his nighttime explorations did not incur the wrath of his parents – or the police.

"Since I was little, I loved catching insects, frogs and crayfish and analyzing them," he says. "If I didn't come home by 7 p.m., a few times, my parents called the police and they were looking for me."

These days, with Takahashi setting much of his own schedule outside of teaching, he is able to take his time searching for wildlife and making observations in the forests and streams near campus. He sees similarities between central Pennsylvania and Tokyo. Beech and oak trees are dominant. Being in a forest near campus often feels like his childhood home, minus the prevalence of bamboo. Twenty-seven years old when he came to the U.S., Takahashi wanted to be at the center of amphibian research and activity. "The Japanese people in general pay attention to conservation, but there is less money invested in ecological research than in the U.S." Takahashi says. "There are more opportunities in this country."

One of his main interests is about inbreeding depression in amphibian populations. His goal is to test how inbreeding affects survival, growth, and mating behaviors using aquatic mesocosms, which are water enclosures used for experimentation. "We don't know much about how inbreeding is affecting globally declining amphibian populations," he says. "They don't have great migratory abilities. They can't cross a road or fly. So habitat fragmentation can lead to inbreeding which likely interacts with other threats such as pollution and diseases."

Takahashi's mission as a professor is to introduce students to that world through the study of amphibian biology, conservation genetics and behavioral ecology. "A lot of students do not have direct experience with nature," Takahashi says. "Not many students have seen amphibians in the field. It's important for young generations to experience nature. If you don't have that appreciation, there is no reason to appreciate nature globally." 

Posted October 10, 2013