Shannon E. Pittman


I am a senior at Davidson College and have been a member of the herp lab since the spring of my freshman year. I began by helping collect data for a five-year stream salamander project evaluating the effects of urbanization on stream salamander populations. Since my freshman year, I have conducted several of my own research projects including evaluating the effectiveness of a citizen-science coverboard program initiated by Davidson College herpetology lab (CRCCP), assessing the effects of different terrestrial habitats on post-metamorphic Fowler's Toads (Bufo fowleri), and studying the ecological traits of Cope's Gray Treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelis) using PVC pipe refugia. I spent the fall of my junior year in Queensland, Australia studying rainforest restoration and ecology with The School for Field Studies. Currently, I am performing an in-depth ecological study on a population of bog turtles (Glyptemys muhlenbergii) in the Piedmont of North Carolina.


Catawba River corridor coverboard program (CRCCP): a citizen science approach to amphibian and reptile inventory

Shannon E. Pittman and Michael E. Dorcas

red salamander

Coverboards are a useful inventory tool for many species of amphibians and reptiles, and provide a simple and effective method to involve the public in scientific research.  The Davidson College Catawba River Corridor Coverboard Program (CRCCP) was initiated in 2003 to help coordinate the efforts of public and private sectors in surveying amphibians and reptiles.  Fourteen sites were established within the Catawba River Corridor in North and South Carolina.  Participants included schools, private industries and locally-operated nature preserves.  A total of 38 species was documented between 2003 and 2005, including 18 species of amphibians and 20 species of reptiles.  Coverboards proved more effective for inventory of salamanders, anurans, and lizards (47%, 44%, and 48%, respectively, of within-range species), and less effective for snakes and turtles (35%, and 24%, respectively, of within-range species).  The CRCCP provided the opportunity for many people, including numerous school children, to become involved in scientific research.  Data collected through the CRCCP are essential to the development of effective monitoring programs and conservation measures.


Activity, growth, and survivorship of post-metamorphic Fowler's Toads (Bufo fowleri) in different terrestrial habitats

Shannon E. Pittman, Chad A. Jennsion, Steven J. Price, Michael E. Dorcas

Habitat destruction is one of the main contributors to the well-documented global amphibian decline. As forested land is converted to agricultural or urban uses, the resident amphibians generally must emigrate or perish because the land no longer provides suitable habitat. The effects of land conversion (increased air and soil temperature, decreased humidity, etc.) are not limited to strictly delineated property lines or development plans; they may extend considerable distances into undeveloped forest. Our objective was to determine if these alterations affect the activity, growth, and survivorship of Fowler’s toads (Bufo fowleri). If Fowler’s toads—a generalist species—are adversely affected by adjacent disturbed habitat, sensitive amphibians may be suffering similarly or to a greater extent. We found reduced activity, growth, and survivorship in field plots, which we attribute to increased exposure. Toads appeared to be best suited to edge habitat, in which they grew faster and were more active. More refined studies over longer periods are greatly needed to better understand the effects of land use on amphibian health.


The Ecology of Cope’s Gray Treefrogs (Hyla chrysoscelis) Determined Using PVC Pipe Refugia

Shannon E. Pittman, Amory L. Jendrek, Steven J. Price, Michael E. Dorcas

pipe frog


Wetlands are essential breeding sites for many amphibian species, including Cope’s gray treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelis).  The importance of terrestrial habitat surrounding wetlands to amphibian life history is also well-known, although it is generally understudied and understated.  This study examined the recapture rates, habitat use, site fidelity, and growth rates of H. chrysoscelis within a wetland and its surrounding terrestrial habitat over a 15-month study period.  Using visual implant elastomer and visual implant alpha tags, we were able to track individuals as they used a grid of 110 PVC pipes for refugia. PVC pipes allow treefrogs to be sampled when not actively calling or breeding.  All captured individuals were aged, sexed, measured, and weighed.  We captured a total of 82 individuals (141 captures total) with 59 recaptures, with the majority of captured frogs being males.  Sampling occurred from September 2005 to November 2006 with the highest number of captures occurring in October 2005 and May, June and July 2006.  Treefrogs occupied pipes every month except during winter (December, January, and February).  Recapture rates varied widely per month, with a decrease in the relative number of recaptures during the breeding season (May, June, and July).  Preferred pipes were in terrestrial habitat (p < 0.05) or were closer to trees (p<0.005).  Treefrogs displayed high site fidelity, as only three frogs were recaptured in pipes different from those in which they were originally captured.  Young treefrogs underwent rapid growth (0.09 mm/day) throughout the late summer and fall.  Our results suggest that H. chrysoscelis prefer terrestrial habitat adjacent to wetlands and have high site fidelity, which could have important implications for monitoring and conservation of treefrogs and other amphibians that use terrestrial habitat.

bog turtle 3

Ecology, Conservation, and Management of a Bog Turtle (Glyptemys muhlenbergii) Population in the Western Piedmont of North Carolina*

Shannon E. Pittman and Michael E. Dorcas

bog turtle 2

The bog turtle (Glyptemys muhlenbergii) is a small, elusive turtle that occurs in isolated populations scattered throughout the mountains and western Piedmont of North Carolina (Herman 1994; Ernst 1994).  Bog turtles generally inhabit wetlands, bogs, swamps, and fens (Ernst 1994).  The destruction and alteration of bog turtle habitat threatens this species throughout its range and has, among other things, resulted in federal protection of this species.  Southern populations of the bog turtle are listed by the federal government as threatened by similarity of appearance to northern populations (USFWS, 1997a, 1997b).  In North Carolina, this species is listed as threatened (NCWRC 2004).

Friday Bog located in Gaston County of North Carolina is the largest known and most extensively studied bog in the Piedmont of North Carolina (more than 50 turtles marked). Mark-recapture data has been collected from this site by Project Bog Turtle since 1991. Friday Bog has also undergone gradual natural succession since its discovery in 1991, apparently rendering the site less suitable for bog turtles over time. Because we have access to historical data back to 1991, this site provides an excellent opportunity to study the effects of natural succession on population size and demographics.


1) Examine the activity patterns, movements, and habitat use of bog turtles at a Piedmont meadow bog using radiotelemetry

We are currently radiotracking 10 bog turtles (5 males and 5 females) and will continue to track these turtles through the breeding and nesting seasons and the eventual selection of an overwintering site.
2) Determine the effects of habitat succession on bog turtle population size and structure.


By intensively probing and trapping this bog, we hope to gain an estimate of the current bog turtle population size . We will use historical data and program MARK to determine survivorship of bog turtles, population growth, and recapture rates from 1991 through 2007.
3) Examine the effects of season on activity and detectability of bog turtles.
We are conducting standardized trapping and probing at Friday Bog during four distinct sampling periods (late April/ May, June, July, September).A comparison of concurrent trapping and probing data will allow for detailed analysis of the effects of turtle activity on detectability and how that relationship changes over seasons.
*Project supported by: North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, Catawba Lands Conservancy, Project Bog Turtle, and Davidson College Biology Department    

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Some photos by Michael E. Dorcas and Kristen K. Cecala