After two years of virtual meetings, the Southeastern Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (SEPARC) annual meeting returned to an in-person affair. Hosted just outside of Asheville, North Carolina, the 2023 meeting was attended by approximately 300 people from around the southeast who are involved in reptile or amphibian conservation in one way or another. Because SEPARC has developed into one of the premier professional meetings in the southeast, it presents a great opportunity to discuss both current and future projects with a wide variety of partners from agencies, universities, and other NGOs. In fact, the theme of this year’s meeting was ‘Together Again, Renewing Connections’, highlighting the importance of the networking that occurs at these meetings. Overall, I had a great time reconnecting with a bunch of folks that I had not seen in several years.
SEPARC 2023 featured lots of interesting talks and presentations. The keynote panel and related talks focused on captive propagation and reintroduction efforts, which have become increasingly common management strategies for rare herpetofauna. This included significant discussions about interagency collaboration and how we can best facilitate these types of projects that are often logistically challenging and expensive. Other featured sessions included an early career development panel (SEPARC is a great place for students to meet people) and discussions surrounding SEPARC’s Task Teams, which each focus on a particular conservation issue or species. In addition to the featured sessions, there were also lots of poster presentations and research talks, highlighting projects from around the region. Some major themes included disease research, gopher frog work, and the challenges of managing invasive species.
One of the main reasons that I like to attend meetings like SEPARC is the opportunity to share the results of our ongoing research projects with a large group of peers. SEPARC is somewhat unique among scientific conferences in that everyone is together in a single session so a majority of attendees get to hear about your work. Presenting our research lets people know what we are working on and provides a great opportunity to share success stories or lessons learned that could benefit other conservation projects. This year, I presented on a portion of my dissertation research, focusing on the phenology (the timing of life history events) of Reticulated Flatwoods Salamanders (Ambystoma bishopi) and how that phenology is likely to change in response to a changing climate. We examined flatwoods salamander phenology using 10 years of drift fence data from Eglin Air Force Base and combined observed phenology with several climate models to examine how it may change in the future. Overall, short-term shifts in phenology seem unlikely to make the current conservation situation worse. However, few years will likely have an ideal intersection of hydrology and phenology, which is similar to what we have observed in the field in recent years. The challenge for ongoing conservation efforts will be to ensure that reproduction happens frequently enough to allow populations to persist and to minimize the effects of other stressors (e.g., fire suppression).
Overall, we had a great time at SEPARC 2023. It was great to see so many collaborators and friends working across the southeast and hear all about the exciting research happening on a plethora of reptile and amphibian species.