Research InterestsResearch Interests
Dr. Musser researches the geographic origins of murine rodents in Asia by examining the phylogenetic relationships between the rats and mice found on that continent and their Indo-Australian cousins. His particular interest is the murine rodents endemic to Sulawesi, the largest of the swath of islands between the Asian continent and New Guinea.
While murine rodents constitute only about 10% of the fauna on the Asian mainland, east of the Sunda Shelf they form 30-40% of island and continental faunas. While most species represent the typical rat or mouse morphology, many have evolved on different archipelagos into counterparts of squirrels, shrews, and otters.
When Dr. Musser began his work three decades ago, very little was known about these rats and mice; most relationships reported in the literature were speculations and not hypotheses based upon critical systematic revisions. Whether the Indo-Australian murines originated on New Guinea and Australia and moved west, or evolved on continental Asia and moved eastward, the Indonesian island of Sulawesi was at the geographic crossroads, and of sufficient size to support a large and diverse fauna.
Dr. Musser's research began in the 1970s with the study of specimens in museum collections and then moved to Sulawesi, where he lived for three years in primary forests along transects from coastal lowlands to mountaintops. There he collected skins, skulls, skeletons, fluid-preserved specimens, and chromosome spreads of species already recorded from the island. Dr. Musser also collected samples of 10 undescribed species that were not even represented in older collections of museums, as well as attendant altitudinal and ecological data.
These studies have led to systematic revisions of groups in the Indo-Malayan region and land areas to the east of Sulawesi to provide a new and credible picture of species diversity and zoogeographic relationships among rodents in that part of the world.