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Researcher's gliding treefrog photo wins prestigious award
"Cusp of Chaos" by Brandon A. Güell

Researcher's gliding treefrog photo wins prestigious award

British Ecological Society selects FIU postdoctoral researcher's photo as the student winner in the animals category

October 20, 2023 at 9:08am

A pair of gliding treefrogs take the winning student photo award in the 2023 Capturing Ecology Photography Competition — well, the photographer, FIU postdoctoral researcher Brandon A. Güell did.

Capturing Ecology is an annual photography competition focused on showcasing the beauty of ecology. It is run by the British Ecological Society — the oldest ecological society in the world and the largest scientific society for ecologists in Europe. Güell’s photo titled “Cusp of Chaos” was selected as the Student Winner in the category of Individuals and Populations (Animals) for this year.

“I am thrilled to have my study species and Ph.D. research highlighted through my photography at such a large scale, and I am proud to represent Costa Rica, both as a photographer and researcher,” Güell said. “I also love having the opportunity to share my work so others can appreciate the chaos and beauty of this rare breeding event.”

A first-generation Costa Rican-American, Güell grew up listening to the adventures of his uncle who worked as a park ranger in Costa Rica for many years. His uncle’s stories fueled Güell’s drive to pursue his dream of working among wildlife.

The award-winning photo was taken during a massive breeding aggregation on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula. It shows a pair of gliding treefrogs (Agalychnis spurrelli) searching for a leaf on which to lay their eggs. Güell snapped the photo while conducting research on the gliding treefrog’s explosive breeding and the effect environmental conditions have on the frog’s breeding process.

Güell first used photography as a tool for research in 2015 through an NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates. Güell used macro videography to study the hatching behavior of red-eyed treefrog embryos in response to flooding and other disturbances.

“I used photography and videography extensively in my own research after that, and I’ve been obsessed with wildlife photography and scientific photojournalism ever since,” Güell said. “I fell in love with the challenge of capturing rare and unique moments in nature and sharing my experiences with the world.”

Güell is currently a postdoctoral research associate in FIU’s Institute of Environment. He is working with FIU aquatic ecologist Nathan Dorn studying the predator-prey interactions and small animal population dynamics in the Florida Everglades.


FIU postdoctoral researcher Brandon A. Güell.

Photo by Brandon Guell

This image titled “Treefrog Pool Party” was awarded Highly Commended in the “Behaviour: Amphibians and Reptiles” category in 2022. The Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year is considered the most prestigious competition for wildlife photography.

The Winning Image: 'Cusp of Chaos'

Copyright: Brandon A. Güell

Copyright: Brandon A. Güell

A pair of gliding treefrogs (Agalychnis spurrelli) search for a bare leaf on which to lay their clutch amidst countless recently laid eggs and thousands of reproducing individuals during a massive breeding aggregation on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula. Gliding treefrogs begin breeding at night and continue to reproduce and lay eggs through the early morning which is when Güell took this photo.

At times, Güell would stand waist or chest deep in water for hours, holding his photography and research gear above the water’s surface, all while trying to avoid the resident caimans that also come to the pond to feed on falling frogs. The image highlights the spectacular way gliding treefrogs interact with each other and their environment during their explosive breeding events and the drama that unfolds when males scramble with one another to seek out reproductive opportunities.