9 October 2018: Yale-NUS researcher wins National Geographic Society Grant to conduct stick insect research

By Daryl Yang 

Assistant Professor of Science (Environmental Studies) Eunice Tan was awarded the prestigious National Geographic Society (NGS) research grant to study stick insects’ ecology and behaviour in the wild, which will be effective from 1 December 2018 through to 30 November 2019.

One of the largest non-profit scientific and educational institutions in the world, NGS was founded in 1888 and aims to push the boundaries of exploration to further our understanding of the planet and empower people to generate solutions for a more sustainable future.

“I am very honoured and excited to receive the National Geographic Society (NGS) grant. NGS is a world leader in exploration, and everyone knows about the amazing work they do,” Dr Tan shared.

Image by Charmaine Chua for Yale-NUS College. 

Prior to joining Yale-NUS College, Dr Tan conducted doctoral research at the University of Melbourne on the evolution of colour patterns in Australian leaf beetles using a combination of phylogenetic comparative analyses and field experiments.

Her love for this field blossomed in her undergraduate days at the National University of Singapore.

“I have been interested in ecology and animal behaviour since I was an undergraduate. I loved going on field trips as an undergraduate in Life Sciences – we went to forests in Singapore and Malaysia. It was such great fun, and being able to explore nature and the thrill of discovery is such an amazing experience,” she reflected.

“I went on to do an honours project that involved studying the paternity of highland moss using microsatellite markers, and for my Masters’ research studied the functional significance of web decorations of orb-weaving spiders in Yunnan, China and Singapore.”

For this upcoming research project that she was awarded the grant for, Dr Tan will focus on stick insects.

Image by Charmaine Chua for Yale-NUS College. 

“The research will be performed during field trips to Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore, where we will study the stick insects’ ecology and behaviour in the wild,” she explained. This will consist of searching for the insects in their natural environment and observing their behaviour.

Dr Tan also shared that this upcoming research project is similar to her previous work involving spiders and beetles.

“My previous research, while using different taxa such as spiders and beetles focused on the ecological interactions of animals involving colour patterns and behaviour, and these same lines of research interest are what I am examining in stick insects,” she noted.

Reflecting on her experience in applying for the grant, Dr Tan expressed gratitude for the support and mentorship of her senior colleagues at Yale-NUS College.

“Being at Yale-NUS, I have had the privilege of mentorship from senior scientists who have a wealth of experience, and I find discussions with them very insightful. The Director of the Science Division, Stephen Pointing, who had previously received NGS grants, has been a great mentor in helping me proofread my grant application,” she said.

Dr Tan’s research project will also involve other members of the Yale-NUS community. Another Postdoctoral Fellow of Science (Life Sciences), Dr Sebastian Pohl, will be part of the research team. Students will also be involved as research assistants during the semester or summer. Over the summer of 2018, Celia Ng (Class of 2020) assisted in the research project on stick insects as part of the Summer Research Programme offered by the Yale-NUS Centre for International & Professional Experience.