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Eastern Spadefoot Toad sitting in leaves.

Oregon State Ph.D. candidate sheds light on better way to study reputedly secretive toad

By Steve Lundeberg

Photo of an eastern spadefoot toad by Anne Devan-Song

Research by an Integrative Biology Ph.D. candidate in Oregon State University’s College of Science has upended the conventional wisdom that for a century has incorrectly guided the study of a toad listed as endangered in part of its range.

Anne Devan-Song used spotlighting – shining a light in a dark spot and looking for eye reflections – to find large numbers of the eastern spadefoot toad in Virginia and Rhode Island. The study illustrates how confirmation bias – a tendency to interpret new information as ratification of existing theories – can hamper discovery and the development of better ones.

Devan-Song’s work shows that the toad spends much more time above ground than commonly believed. “Progress in learning about the toad, its ecology and its conservation has been greatly hindered by a misconception that persisted even when evidence to the contrary was presented,” she says.

Her findings were published in the Journal of Herpetology. The National Park Service, through a cooperative agreement with the University of Rhode Island, supported this research.

Read the full story here.