Associate Professor Murray Littlejohn
Murray Littlejohn’s name has been at the forefront of frog research in Australia since he began his career in evolutionary biology in the 1950s. Murray is a pioneer in the application of audio recording to the study of sound communication in animals or bio-acoustics. His knowledge and experience influenced students and researchers for decades, and he continues to inspire new generations of herpetologists with his dedication to science and his love of amphibians.
He commenced this research as a BSc Honours student in Zoology at the University of Western Australia in March 1954. After completing a PhD there in December 1957, he spent the next 18 months on post-doctoral studies at the University of Texas at Austin. He returned to Australia in October 1959 to take up a lectureship in Zoology at the University of Melbourne, where he remained until retirement at the level of Reader/Associate Professor in February 1998. He is continuing his association with the University of Melbourne in the honorary position of Principal Fellow (with the title of Associate Professor) in the School of BioSciences. Murray was a Research Associate at Museum Victoria from September 2003 to August 2018.
Murray’s model system is acoustic communication in frogs, using species that occur in temperate Australia and the southern United States. His approach to research has been mainly through field studies, both observational and experimental, particularly in the development and application of methods of recording, analysis and description of acoustic signals, and field playback experiments directed at understanding the role of acoustic signals in mate choice by females and territorial behavior of males. In addition to numerous primary research publications in Australian and international journals, he has written or co-authored 22 chapters that were published in symposium volumes or books. These chapters deal with the broader aspects of acoustic communication, speciation processes, species concepts, hybrid zones, and zoogeography. He has also co-authored field guides to the frogs of Victoria and Tasmania.
He has described two new Australian species (Crinia subinsignifera, Crinia sloanei), and co-authored descriptions of eight new species: seven Australian and one North American (Lithobates blairi). Two frogs have been named in his honour- Littlejohn’s Toadlet (Uperoleia littlejohni) and Littlejohn’s Tree Frog (Litoria littlejohni).
Murray’s achievements are widely recognized, especially in the United States. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (elected 1968), an Honorary Foreign Member of the American Society of Ichthyology and Herpetology (elected 1977), and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Victoria (elected 2005). He was the foundation President of The Australian Society of Herpetologists (1965-69) and was made an Honorary Member in 1982. He was President of the Ecological Society of Australia (1989-90), President of the Second World Congress of Herpetology (1993-94) and was a member of the International Herpetological Committee for the first three congresses, and a Vice-President of the Society for the Study of Evolution (1969). He also received Fulbright Travel Grants on two occasions (1958-58 and 1966), and was a Visiting Erskine Fellow at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand in May-June 1977. Murray received an Award of Excellence from the Australasian Sound Recording Association in 2010. An international symposium in his honour, entitled “Evolutionary Diversification: Insights from Studies of Geographical Variation and Hybridisation,” was held at the University of Missouri-Columbia in June 1999.
Murray at the Jancourt field site, Victoria, April 1996.
In retirement, Murray has maintained his academic interests in acoustic communication, evolution and behaviour through: analysis and writing up unpublished data and observations from his active phase of research; attendance at seminars, conferences and a discussion group; and consulting with colleagues and graduate students.
Murray at Mount Stewart, Northern Ireland, June 2018. Photograph by Jenny Crofts.