Research Projects Developing as a Consequence of Herpetofaunal Inventories by the University of Georgia's Savannah River Ecology Laboratory (SREL)
Thus far we have made great progress in our herpetofaunal surveys of the Southeast Coastal Network Parks. In most parks we have documented and vouchered the majority of common species and are now generally focused on finding uncommon and cryptic species that may inhabit the parks. While inventory is a necessary and important first step in the conservation of reptile and amphibian species, further research is needed to establish management schemes that will ensure the survival of each species in the future. Thus, while the focus of our effort will continue to be the inventory of the 16 parks, we are also collaborating with several other researchers and graduate students conducting research on some of the individual reptile and amphibian species found within the parks.
Data collection for these projects will be conducted as part of our normal surveys, not diminishing the time or effort we invest at each park, and none of the projects require killing specimens or causing undo harm to any of the reptiles or amphibians involved. We anticipate that each park involved in these peripheral research efforts will facilitate the process of any paperwork associated with the effort so that we can begin each project on our next visit. Following is a list of projects that we are collaborating on as part of the parks survey.
1. Temperature-specific metabolism and diving behavior of the black swamp snake (Seminatrix pygaea). University of Georgia. As part of a larger Ph.D. dissertation on the behavior and metabolism of aquatic snakes by Chris Winne, a graduate student in herpetology at SREL, this project is focused on studying the behavior of the little-studied black swamp snake, an aquatic species with a limited distribution in the Southeast. In parks where these snakes occur a few individuals may be taken (with permission from the park administration) and temporarily housed in the laboratory at SREL. There, behavioral attributes such as respiration frequency, metabolism, diving behavior, and foraging behavior will be studied. Snakes will be returned to the park unharmed and released at their capture location at end of the study. Data collected will be used to determine the reason for this species’ unusual distribution and to determine what habitats and conditions this species needs to survive.
2. Wide-ranging genetic analysis of brown watersnake (Nerodia taxispilota) and diamondback watersnake (Nerodia rhombifer) populations. University of Georgia. This project is also being conducted by Chris Winne, who will use genetic analysis to determine the evolutionary relationship between and within these two closely related species. We will collect a small (< 0.2 ml) blood sample from any brown or diamondback watersnake captured during our surveys and return these samples to SREL for genetic analysis. Snakes will be immediately released. The data collected from this project will provide insight into the evolution of watersnakes in the Southeast.
for the presence of fungal or bacterial disease in amphibians in the Southeast.
University of Georgia, in collaboration with Peter Daszack of the Consortium
for Conservation Medicine; Although the exact cause of recently reported global
amphibian declines remains in question, one of the leading theories is disease,
particularly an infection called chytrid fungus. This disease is thought to
have caused dramatic declines in amphibian populations in other parts of the
world but has not yet been reported in the southeastern
structure in two species of skinks, the northern prairie skink (Eumeces septentrionalis)
and the five-lined skink (Eumeces fasciatus). University of North
Dakota. While many studies have been done on the behavior and life history
of skinks, little is known about the population structure of most of the species.
We will collaborate with Greg Fuerst, a researcher at the University of North
Dakota, who is using genetic studies to compare the population structure of
these two species, both across their range and in small isolated populations
I.D. key for North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. Smithsonian
Institution. We will collect all leeches encountered on reptiles or amphibians
during our herpetofaunal surveys and send them to William Moser at the Smithsonian
Institution for use in the development of a leech identification key for the
studies of cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorus) and copperheads (Agkistrodon
contortrix). Louisiana State University. The southeastern
studies of tri-colored snakes: eastern coral snake (Micrurus fulvius)
and scarlet kingsnake (Lampropeltis triangulum) and the evolution of
mimicry. American Museum of Natural History. Although it is widely speculated
that the harmless scarlet snake and scarlet kingsnake are brightly colored as
a mimic of the venomous coral snake, the evolution and geographic variation
of this phenomenon are poorly understood. We will collaborate with Mike Friedman
rare, unusual, and environmentally sensitive species of snakes to assess biological
diversity in national parks.
skin I.D. key for southeastern Coastal Plain of the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama,
and northern Florida.
10. Range-wide genetic analysis
of the ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus).
11. Range-wide phylogenetic
studies of the Gopher Frog (Rana sevosa and Rana capito).
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