Q and A with Dr. Steve Spear on the Southeast Partners in
Amphibian and Reptile Conservation
Annual Meeting

For those that don’t know, what is
the goal of the Southeast PARC annual meeting?

The meeting aims to bring together people who have a common
interest in reptile and amphibian conservation and to build partnerships among different
groups and agencies including universities, federal agencies, state agencies,
non-profit groups (like the Orianne Society), and industry. It combines research presentations with task
teams and workshops that emphasize working together to actively improve
amphibian and reptile conservation

Have you been to the annual meeting before?

No, this was my first SE PARC meeting and I was quite
impressed overall by the variety of topics covered and the energy of the task
teams and workshops In particular, I
should acknowledge the hard work of Dr. JJ Apodaca (an
Orianne Society collaborator at Florida State
University) and the Orianne Society CEO, Dr. Chris Jenkins, who planned and
organized a successful meeting (editors note: stay tuned to href=”http://www.oriannesociety.org”>www.oriannesociety.org for Dr. Jenkins’ blog regarding the Caribbean
session of the SE PARC meeting).

What was your presentation about?

  Enlarge Photo

Dr. Steven Spear gives his presentation on
hellbender DNA sampling at the recent
SE PARC annual meeting

My presentation involved extracting DNA from river water to
detect the presence of hellbenders (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) in Tennessee and Georgia. The successful use of this technique would
provide a low-cost and easier way for conservationists to identify rivers with
hellbender populations. Our research has
shown that we can indeed find hellbender DNA (and therefore hellbenders) simply
by filtering water samples and laboratory testing. In fact, we found evidence of hellbender DNA
in streams that we thought to have only one hellbender living in it! Additionally, we found hellbender DNA in
several sites from which they were not previously known. Using water samples to survey for species
will be useful for many aquatic species other than hellbenders, and I was
excited to see the enthusiasm for the technique from many members of the
audience at the meeting. I anticipate
that this will become an important tool for managers trying to find locations
of rare amphibians and aquatic reptiles.

What other presentations did you find interesting?

There was a major session on Caribbean conservation
organized by Dr. Jenkins and Jen Stabile.
The Caribbean is a relatively new frontier for SE PARC, and the session
was sponsored by the Orianne Society.
The Caribbean has some of the highest reptile and amphibian diversity in
the world, and almost all of these species are endemic to the region. This means that they are found only in the
Caribbean, and so extinctions in the Caribbean would lead to extinction for the
entire species The keynote address, by
Fred Burton, addressed one such species, the blue iguana (Cyclura lewisi) of Grand Cayman Island. Fred discussed his efforts to develop a
recovery program, and the important successes he has had both with protecting
land and captive breeding. This is one
of the most imperiled reptile species on earth and much work remains to be
done, but thanks to the efforts of Fred and his colleagues there is optimism
for this species.

Several of the Caribbean presentations focused on the
endangered amphibians of Puerto Rico and Haiti
Puerto Rico is home to a wide variety of small frogs known as coquis, and they are a source of national pride for this
island Unfortunately, the frogs are
declining due to the chytrid fungus disease, which is
wiping out many amphibian species Both
Dr. Patricia Burrowes and Dr. Rafael Joglar talked about this disease, and the role that climate
change may have in increasing the effect of the disease on frogs. In Haiti, it is extensive deforestation that
is endangering frogs, and Dr. Martinez Rivera discussed his work with partners
to both document Haitian frog biodiversity and protect the remaining
forests Finally, Dr. Kent class=SpellE>Vliet gave a fascinating presentation on the biology of the
rare and threatened Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer).

Some other highlights included presentations on the
influence of climate change on future herpetological populations, research on secretive
plethodontid (lungless)
salamanders, disease, road ecology, and population genetics. The variety and quality of presentation
topics is a great demonstration of the strength of the SE PARC group and an
example of how the organization is tackling key conservation challenges.

Does SE PARC only focus on research?

No, in addition to sharing results of research and
conservation actions, a key contribution of PARC is the development of task
teams to directly tackle conservation problems
The current task teams include invasive species, disease,
reintroduction/translocation, Gopher frog/Crayfish frog conservation,
education/outreach, and priority amphibian and reptile conservation areas
(PARCAs) I have been involved in the
PARCA initiative and we presented some of our initial ideas of identifying
PARCAs at this meeting, which is described by JJ Apodaca in this issue. I also participated in the Gopher
frog/Crayfish frog task team at this meeting
This is a very active group dedicated to identifying the current status
of these two species of threatened southeastern amphibians and priorities for
future research and conservation. At
this point, it was mostly a learning experience for me, but I was impressed by
both the size and enthusiasm of the group.

Two new working groups were also introduced at this meeting
— a Hellbender working group and a Caribbean working group. Obviously, I was excited about the formation
of the hellbender group and actively participated in the first meeting. We had discussions about the most important
challenges for hellbender conservation and survival, and what some priority
areas may be for habitat management
Ultimately, our initial tasks for this group were to develop a communication
listserv for all members, and work toward education and outreach activities
(videos, posters, educational signs) to show everyone these amazing creatures
that are harmless, but often persecuted due to their large size. I look forward to the further development of
this group.

Any final thoughts?

SE PARC is an exciting group, and we had an extremely
productive meeting in two days I am
looking forward to continuing to be an active member of SE PARC and to meetings
in future years.

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