New Publication: spatial variation in turtle microbiota

Turtle populations around the world are continually confronted with changing environments that affect their ecology and conservation status. Among freshwater turtles, population dynamics are thought to be mediated by complex yet often cryptic causes. One recent direction of focus in addressing these causes is the turtle-associated microbiota. In turtles, the gut-associated microbiota is of exceptional interest due to its continual association with host species under changing conditions. Diet-based fluctuations and changes in microbial diversity may correspond to varying external environments at both the individual and population level. Environmental responses are of particular interest due to the anthropogenic changes that may underlie them. Pollutants, disruption of climatic patterns, and habitat fragmentation all have the potential to affect turtle-associated microbiota and subsequent population and species conservation. To better understand potential human-induced changes, the diversity of turtle-associated microbiota over local spatial gradients must be better understood.We examined microbial community a- and b-diversity among 30 adult False Map Turtles (Graptemys pseudogeographica) at three sites within the lower Missouri River, United States. Our results indicate significant microbial community centroid differences among sites (b-diversity), which are likely mediated by various local environmental factors. Such factors will have to be carefully considered in any future attribution of anthropogenic determinants on turtle-associated microbiota as it relates to turtle population dynamics.

Madison JD, Butterfield MM, Davis DR, Kerby JL. 2022. Spatial dynamics of false map turtle (Graptemys pseudogeographica) bacterial microbiota in the lower Missouri River, United States. Journal of Herpetology 56:258–265. [PDF]

New Publications: two chapters on wildlife and T&E species in Texas Almanac

I recently revised and expanded (along with Travis J. LaDuc, Curator of Herpetology at The University of Texas at Austin) two chapters in the 71st Edition of the Texas Almanac: one on Texas wildlife and the other on threatened and endangered wildlife. We were able to greatly expand the chapter on Texas wildlife by revising and updating the previous mammal section and adding in new lists of fishes, amphibians, reptiles, and birds. In previous editions, these non-mammal sections were not included. The Texas Almanac is available for purchase through the Texas State Historical Association or through Amazon.

Davis DR, LaDuc TJ. 2022. Texas’ threatened and endangered wildlife. In Hatch R (ed.), Texas Almanac 2022–2023, 71st edition, p. 101. Texas State Historical Association, Austin, Texas.

Davis DR, LaDuc TJ. 2022. Texas wildlife. In Hatch R (ed.), Texas Almanac 2022–2023, 71st edition, p. 75–100. Texas State Historical Association, Austin, Texas.

New Publication: using eDNA to detect threatened newts

The Black-spotted Newt (Notophthalmus meridionalis) is a chronically understudied salamander species, with many aspects of its natural history, ecology, and distribution poorly known. Previous studies using traditional methodologies have had limited success documenting N. meridionalis on the landscape, detecting individuals at 6% (7 of 114) and 1% (2 of 221) of sites surveyed. A novel environmental DNA (eDNA) assay was designed and implemented with the goals of assessing the current distribution of N. meridionalis across south Texas, USA, and better understanding the conditions for positive eDNA detections. We conducted eDNA sampling and traditional surveys at 80 sites throughout south Texas. Notophthalmus meridionalis was detected at 12 localities in total: four localities using eDNA surveys, four localities using traditional methods, and four localities with both methodologies. eDNA detections were obtained from five counties, including one where N. meridionalis has never been reported and another where N. meridionalis has not been observed since the 1930s. eDNA detections were obtained in all four seasons, generally following moderate to heavy rainfall events. Our results support the increased use of eDNA surveys to detect rare and cryptic amphibians and to better understand the current distribution of this imperiled species. 

Robinson PS, Davis DR, Collins SM, Kline RJ. 2022. Defining the current distribution of the imperiled black-spotted newt across south Texas, USA. Global Ecology and Conservation 36:e02131. [PDF]

New Publication: developing an eDNA survey for Himalayan anurans

Wildlife monitoring programs are instrumental for the assessment of species, habitat status, and for the management of factors affecting them. This is particularly important for species found in freshwater ecosystems, such as amphibians, as they have higher estimated extinction rates than terrestrial species. We developed and validated two species-specific environmental DNA (eDNA) protocols and applied them in the field to detect the Hazara Torrent Frog (Allopaa hazarensis) and Murree Hills Frog (Nanorana vicina). Additionally, we compared eDNA surveys with visual encounter surveys and estimated site occupancy. eDNA surveys resulted in higher occurrence probabilities for both A. hazarensis and N. vicina than for visual encounter surveys. Detection probability using eDNA was greater for both species, particularly for A. hazarensis. The top-ranked detection model for visual encounter surveys included effects of both year and temperature on both species, and the top-ranked occupancy model included effects of elevation and year. The top-ranked detection model for eDNA data was the null model, and the top-ranked occupancy model included effects of elevation, year, and wetland type. To our knowledge, this is the first time an eDNA survey has been used to monitor amphibian species in the Himalayan region.

Saeed M, Rais M, Akram A, Williams MR, Kellner KF, Hashsham SA, Davis DR. 2022. Development and validation of an eDNA protocol for monitoring endemic Asian spiny frogs in the Himalayan region of Pakistan. Scientific Reports 12:5624. [PDF]

New Publication: developing and testing a siren eDNA assay

Environmental DNA (eDNA) assays have become a major aspect of surveys for aquatic organisms in the past decade. These methods are highly sensitive, making them well-suited for monitoring rare and cryptic species. Current efforts to study the Rio Grande Siren in southern Texas have been hampered due to the cryptic nature of these aquatic salamanders. Arid conditions further add to the difficulty in studying this species, as many water bodies they inhabit are ephemeral, sometimes constraining sampling efforts to a short window after heavy rain. Additionally, sirens are known to cease activity and reside underground when ponds begin to dry or as water temperatures increase. Conventional sampling efforts require extensive trap-hours to be effective, which is not always possible within the required sampling window. This study presents the development of a novel eDNA assay technique for this elusive species using conventional PCR and Sanger sequencing and compares eDNA sampling results with simultaneous trapping at multiple sites to assess the relative effectiveness of the procedure. Rio Grande Siren detection via eDNA sampling was significantly higher at all sites compared to trapping, confirming the utility of this assay for species detection. This methodology gives promise for future work assessing the distribution and status of the Rio Grande Siren and has potential for use on other southern Texas amphibians. 

Ruppert KM, Davis DR, Rahman MS, Kline RJ. 2022. Development and assessment of an environmental DNA (eDNA) assay for a cryptic Siren (Amphibia: Sirenidae). Environmental Advances 7:100163. [PDF]

New Publication: revised South Dakota field guide

The Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of South Dakota (second edition) is now available! This newly-revised guide describes and illustrates all reptile and amphibian species in South Dakota in one reference. Color photos, updated distribution maps, and descriptions of life history and habitats help the reader identify 45 known and two possible species and understand the role these interesting animals play in nature. The second edition includes new illustrations and additional identification keys and reflects updated taxonomy and recent knowledge gained from university and community scientists. This field guide provides a glimpse into the lives of these intriguing members of South Dakota’s diverse natural heritage. Click here to purchase it ($20, shipped)

Kiesow AM, Davis DR. 2020. Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of South Dakota. Second edition. South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, Pierre, South Dakota. vii + 161 pp.

New Publications: new notes on Texas and South Dakota amphibians and reptiles

Twelve new, short notes were involving amphibians and reptiles in Texas and South Dakota were published from December 2020–December 2021 in Herpetological Review. Six are single Geographic Distribution Notes, three are far larger collections of distributional records (containing 12, 17, and 31 records), and three are Natural History Notes. All Texas distribution records were from south Texas (e.g., Guadiana et al. 2020) and along the Gulf Coast (e.g., Davis 2021c), while those from South Dakota are from the south-central region (Davis. 2021a). The Natural History Notes include a report of a new diet record for Masticophis flagellum (Robinson and Davis 2020), information of reproductive timing for Kinosternon flavescens (Davis et al. 2021), and information on aquatic escape behavior and time spent submerged by Anolis sagrei (Davis 2021d). 

Davis DR. 2021a. New amphibian and reptile distribution records from eastern South Dakota, USA. Herpetological Review 52:97–99. [PDF]

Davis DR. 2021b. Geographic distribution: Anolis carolinensis (Green Anole). Herpetological Review 52:795. [PDF]

Davis DR. 2021c. New distributional records of amphibians and reptile from the Western Gulf Coastal Plain of Texas, USA. Herpetological Review 52:807–809. [PDF]

Davis DR. 2021d. Anolis sagrei (Brown Anole). Aquatic escape behavior. Herpetological Review 52:853–854. [PDF]

Davis DR, Robinson PS, LaDuc TJ. 2021. Kinosternon flavescens (Yellow Mud Turtle). Reproduction. Herpetological Review 52:391–392. [PDF]

Guadiana CJ, Davis DR. 2021. Geographic distribution: Salvadora grahamiae (Eastern Patch-nosed Snake). Herpetological Review 52:580. [PDF]

Guadiana CJ, Robinson PS, Schalk MS, Davis DR. 2020. New county records of amphibians and reptiles from south Texas, USA. Herpetological Review 51:799–803. [PDF]

Oyervides M, Sosa-Gutierrez CG, Davis DR. 2020. Geographic distribution: Ophisaurus attenuatus (Slender Glass Lizard). Herpetological Review 51:541. [PDF]

Rash RS, Davis DR. 2020. Geographic distribution: Rana sphenocephala (Southern Leopard Frog). Herpetological Review 51:71–72. [PDF]

Robinson PS, Davis DR. 2020. Masticophis flagellum (Coachwhip). Diet. Herpetological Review 51:148. [PDF]

Robinson PS, Davis DR, Kline RJ. 2020. Geographic distribution: Notophthalmus meridionalis (Black-spotted Newt). Herpetological Review 51:531. [PDF]

Salmon GT, Davis DR. 2021. Geographic distribution: Tropidoclonion lineatum (Lined Snake). Herpetological Review 52:348–349. [PDF]

New Publication: Drone Surveys for Freshwater Turtles

Conservation concerns are increasing for numerous freshwater turtle species, including Pseudemys gorzugi, which has led to a call for more research. However, traditional sampling methodologies are often time consuming, labor intensive, and invasive, restricting the amount of data that can be collected. Biases of traditional sampling methods can further impair the quality of the data collected, and these shortfalls may discourage their use. The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, drones) for conducting wildlife surveys has recently demonstrated the potential to bridge gaps in data collection by offering a less labor intensive, minimally invasive, and more efficient process. Photographs and video can be obtained by camera attachments during a drone flight and analyzed to determine population counts, abundance, and other types of data. In this study we developed a detailed protocol to survey for large, freshwater turtle species in an arid, riverine landscape. This protocol was implemented with a DJI Matrice 600 Pro drone and a SONY ILCE α6000 digital camera to determine P. gorzugi and sympatric turtle species occurrence across 42 sites in southwestern Texas, USA. The use of a large drone and high resolution camera resulted in high identification percentages, demonstrating the potential of drones to survey for large, freshwater turtle species. Numerous advantages to drone-based surveys were identified as well as some challenges, which were addressed with additional refinement of the protocol. Our data highlight the utility of drones for conducting freshwater turtle surveys and provide a guideline to those considering implementing drone-mounted high-resolution cameras as a survey tool.

Bogolin AP, Davis DR, Kline RJ, Rahman AF. 2021. A drone-based survey for large, basking freshwater turtles species. PLoS ONE 16:e0257720. [PDF]

New publication: Effects of COVID-19 on herpetologists

The emergence of a global pandemic due to the spread of COVID-19 has had profound effects on how research and scholarly activities are conducted for many professional herpetologists. Responses to COVID-19 and mitigation efforts vary by country and institution but have largely resulted in the closures of academic campuses and research areas, travel restrictions, and interruptions in research funding. These responses have forced herpetologists to change the way they manage their professional responsibilities.

Davis DR, Allen B. 2020. Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on herpetologists. World Congress of Herpetology Newsletter 1(2):26–31. [PDF]


New publications: new notes on South Dakota amphibians and reptiles

Three new, short notes were involving amphibians and reptiles in South Dakota were published in the December 2020 issue of Herpetological Review. The first was the description of two new county records for Wood Frogs (Rana sylvatica) in northeastern South Dakota. Wood Frogs have recently been expanding its range into and along the Prairie Coteau in recent years (see link). These specimens were collected by regional biologists in April 2020 represent two of eight new localities where individuals were seen or heard chorusing in April 2020. The second is a new record of Plains Hog-nosed Snake (Heterodon nasicus) from Gregory County. Though this specimen was collected in 1925, erroneous locality information recorded the individual from nearby in Nebraska, though the snake was actually collected near Fort Randall, along the Missouri River in present day Gregory County, South Dakota. The third is a note reporting an additional, previously unreported predator of the Smooth Greensnake (Opheodrys vernalis), the Wild Turkey, after an adult Smooth Greensnake was discovered in the crop of a Wild Turkey that was harvested in April 2020

Davis DR, Schardin B. 2020. Opheodrys vernalis (Smooth Greensnake). Predation. Herpetological Review 51:874. [PDF]

Davis DR. 2020. Geographic distribution: Heterodon nasicus (Plains Hog-nosed Snake). Herpetological Review 51:780. [PDF]

Davis DR, McElroy OD, Skadsen DR. 2020. Geographic distribution: Rana sylvatica (Wood Frog). Herpetological Review 51:770–771. [PDF]