Dr. Rohan Pethiyagoda, Sri Lanka’s foremost biodiversity expert was conferred the prestigious ‘Linnean Medal’ for Zoology 2022 by the Linnean Society of London on Tuesday (24).
Dr. Rohan Pethiyagoda has played a critical role in the understanding and conservation of the astonishing freshwater fish diversity of Sri Lanka and the region more broadly, through original research and support for others.
Together with colleagues at WHT, Pethiyagoda has been responsible for the discovery and/or description of almost 100 new species of vertebrates from Sri Lanka, including fishes, amphibians and lizards, in addition to 43 species of freshwater crabs. This work also led to the finding that some 19 species of Sri Lankan amphibians have become extinct in the past 130 years, the highest national extinction record in the world.
Several new species have been named in his honour, including the fishes Dawkinsia rohani and Rasboroides rohani; the microhylid frog Uperodon rohani; the dragon lizard Calotes pethiyagodai; the jumping spider Onomastus pethiyagodai and the dragonfly Macromidia donaldi pethiyagodai. In 2020, a team of scientists led by S. D. Biju named a new genus of South and Southeast Asian tree frogs Rohanixalus in Pethiyagoda’s honour.
In July 2012, Pethiyagoda and colleagues named a genus of South Asian freshwater fishes Dawkinsia in honour of the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, following which Pethiyagoda told AFP that “Richard Dawkins has through his writings helped us understand that the universe is far more beautiful and awe-inspiring than any religion has imagined”. Pethiyagoda also named the freshwater cyprinid genus Haludaria after the Begali youth known only as Haludar, who illustrated the fishes depicted in Francis Hamilton’s (1822) “Fishes of the Ganges”, the founder work of Indian ichthyology.
The Linnean Medal may be seen as the Nobel Prize for naturalists. The Linnean Medal was instituted in May 1888 in connection with the Centenary of the Society in the same year.