Authored by Denim Jochimsen and Stephen Spear
Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC) is an inclusive partnership comprised of scientists, naturalists, federal and state employees, non-profit organizations and citizens dedicated to the conservation of amphibians, reptiles and their habitats. PARC established five working groups to enhance communication among members within different regions of the Unites States. Each region hosts an annual meeting where members come together and discuss conservation issues facing local herpetofauna. These meetings include presentations, breakout groups for specific topics and workshops.
Orianne Society staff attended this year’s Southeast PARC (SEPARC) meeting at Camp McDowell located near the Bankhead National Forest in Northern Alabama on February 18-21. Not surprisingly, a major theme of the meeting was conservation of Alabama reptiles and amphibians. Several presentations referenced the reintroduction of Eastern Indigo Snakes into Conecuh National Forest in Alabama, an effort in which The Orianne Society has been a key contributor. Overall, the reintroduction effort has been an Indigo Snake conservation success story, and the restored population will continue to be augmented and monitored to ensure continued success.
The main Orianne Society contribution to the SEPARC agenda was a workshop on using environmental DNA (eDNA) co-led by our Stephen Spear and Todd Pierson (University of Tennessee). Approximately 30 people attended the workshop, including academic and agency professionals as well as graduate students. Stephen and Todd first presented information on examples of how eDNA has been used for herpetological conservation and talked about study design. The second component of the workshop featured a hands-on field tutorial on how to collect and filter eDNA samples. It is apparent that enthusiasm for eDNA methods is growing, and one of the main benefits of this type of workshop is that it demonstrated how eDNA can be useful for field biologists while emphasizing eDNA as a complementary tool for traditional field studies.
Finally, one of the great aspects of a SEPARC meeting is that they are always held near natural areas that have interesting herpetological diversity, and all the attendees enjoy nature and herping! This year’s meeting was no exception. As the meeting venue is situated near the Bankhead National Forest, there were plenty of opportunities to wander the property and adjacent areas in search of herpetofauna. Groups of attendees would embark on hikes during the lunch break, after the day’s presentations concluded and following sunset. Hikers observed an abundance of Southern Zigzag Salamanders (Plethodon ventralis) beneath rocks, logs or bark on the hillsides adjacent to the venue cabins. They get their name due to red zig-zag marks that extend down the length of their backs. However, coloration can be quite variable, making this species difficult to distinguish from other woodland salamanders. The trait to look for: patches of orange coloration near their “armpit.”
A stretch of rocky cliffs along the river provides habitat for Green Salamanders (Aneides aeneus). As their name suggests, this species has patches of green coloration along their backs as bright and brilliant as the lichen species anchored to the cliffs. These salamanders have square toe tips that enable them to climb the rock faces. They hide in damp crevices within the rocky cliffs, so they can be extremely difficult to observe. However, they seem to be locally abundant in this area, and the rainy evenings increased their activity, so those that spent some time looking were able to observe them.
Finally, the rainy weather encouraged breeding activity of several anuran species—the most exciting of which was the secretive Mountain Chorus Frog (Pseudacris brachyphona). This species breeds in extremely shallow bodies of water and is difficult to observe due to their small body size. An extensive search of a shallow wetland yielded several adult males and two egg masses!