On November 5, 2011, I attended the joint meeting of the Idaho Herpetological Society (IHS) and Idaho chapter of Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC). This meeting occurs annually and was held at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, ID. I was invited to be the keynote speaker for the meeting to talk about my work in the field of landscape genetics in several amphibian and reptile species. I was excited to attend the meeting as I had participated in IHS meetings several years ago when I was a graduate student at Idaho State University, but had not been able to attend the meeting recently. One of the interesting aspects of this meeting is that it is attended by both hobbyists and researchers, and both groups have opportunities to present their work and interests. I think it is great because hobbyists are exposed to the latest scientific research on reptile and amphibians in the region and researchers learn about the latest trends in the pet trade as well as getting an opportunity to see some neat captive herps! Additionally, communication between hobbyists and researchers is even more important because of the impact of invasive reptiles in the United States (such as bullfrogs in the western US and Burmese pythons in the Everglades).
My presentation focused on how we can landscape genetics to assist conservation of reptiles and amphibians. Landscape genetics tests the correlation of environmental or landscape variables on gene flow among populations. In other words, we can use genetic and spatial data to understand what factors are important for animal movement and how habitat fragmentation will affect them.
Some results I presented included the role of the Yellowstone fires in leading to greater connectivity in tiger salamanders (Ambystoma mavortium), the different ways in which fire, forest harvest, and volcanic eruption change the pattern of gene flow in two species of tailed frogs (Ascaphus montanus and A. truei), and how roads, climate, and topography allow us to predict connectivity corridors for midget faded rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus concolor) in Wyoming. The first two studies I completed in graduate school, and the rattlesnake project was conducted as part of my work within The Orianne Society.
There were several other presentations at the meeting that were quite interesting. To celebrate 2011 as the “Year of the Turtle”, Dr. Chuck Peterson, a professor at Idaho State University, talked about the painted turtle (Chrysemys picta), which is actually the only native turtle in Idaho. In addition, Tyler Messina of Reptile Adventures brought in a number of captive turtle and tortoises, including a Russian tortoise (Testudo horsfieldii), African spurred tortoise (Geochelone sulcata), and box turtles (Terrapene carolina). Another common theme of the meeting revolved around the work on Costa Rican amphibians by Dr. John Cossel and his students at Northwest Nazarene. Their research has focused on the presence of chytrid fungus in Costa Rican amphibians. Chytrid has been implicated in severe amphibian declines and so understanding where it occurs is very important. Dr. Cossel presented a photo slide show of Costa Rican amphibians and noted that they found species of amphibians that were thought to have disappeared due to chytrid, but may be recovering from the disease outbreak. His students Andrew Olsen and Alicia Hedrick presented their research on chytrid presence in Monteverde reserve in Costa Rica. They found chytrid on some species, but there were also species that did not have chytrid, which is a promising sign. Finally, Jessie Cossel discussed the blue-sided treefrog (Agalychnis annae), a once widespread Costa Rican species that now only occurs in polluted waterbodies in the city of San Jose. She investigated whether the pollution has reduced the chytrid threat to the species, although such pollution may have more long-term negative consequences.
Another research topic presented was the use of DNA extracted from water samples to identify the presence of a species. Dr. David Pilliod discussed the use of this technique with Rocky Mountain tailed frogs and Idaho giant salamanders (Dicamptodon aterrimus) and he and colleagues were able to successfully extract frog and salamander DNA in several streams. The Orianne Society is currently applying this technique to detect presence of eastern hellbenders (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) in Tennessee and Georgia, and we are finding it successful as well.
This is only a sample of the subjects presented at the meeting, and I greatly enjoyed the entire meeting. I would like to especially thank the Idaho Herpetological Society for inviting me to the meeting, and I would certainly encourage anyone in the Idaho area interested in reptiles and amphibians to attend this meeting in the future.