SEPARC Meeting 2014: Importance of Thorough Field Work and Knowing your Species…but I’m a Population Geneticist…

So what’s worth driving through Snowmageddon 2014 to a lake resort park in Kentucky? Hanging out with a bunch of fellow herp (reptile and amphibians) lovers on Valentine’s Day and talking about how to conserve these charismatic creatures! That’s what I did this weekend at the annual Southeast Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (SEPARC) Meeting!
The theme of this year’s meeting was “Conservation from Mountains to Sea”, with the key note address from Dr. Thomas Pauley on Allegheny Mountain Salamanders: 47 Years of Observations. The overarching theme of many of the talks was the importance of collecting detailed field observations of all species you come into contact with (not just the endangered ones, or the ones you’re interested in), and knowing your species of interest.

Diligent scientist taking detailed field notes!
Diligent scientist taking detailed field notes!

Many people in herpetology love the field, finding their species of interest, and learning about ecology and life history through direct observations. As a population geneticist, I’m kind of the opposite. I do love the field, but my true love is in the DNA, and linking genetic patterns to processes. A few of the species I’ve worked on I’ve never seen in person, just their DNA. This is not an uncommon occurrence in my field, many of us have only seen our species in the form of clear liquid in a tube.

This is my study species
This is my study species

All biologists wear many hats, for myself as a population geneticist some of my hats include geneticist, statistician, bioinformatic(-ician?), herpetologist, modeler…so really it’s not surprising we might not have time to spend days, weeks, months, or years in the field collecting. As the theme of the SEPARC meeting suggested, we really need years in the field to understand our species thoroughly. Reading articles will help to understand the species, but since demography and life history varies widely throughout a range we can’t apply findings universally.
So what does that mean for us lab nerds? Collaborations! No one can be an expert on every hat they wear, but getting together a bunch of experts of varying specialties, that’s where the magic happens. I’ve been lucky enough to work with a group containing ecologists who have spent decades in the field really understanding the ecology of amphibians, phylogeneticists who spend their time thinking about long-term evolutionary history of amphibians, and population geneticists who think about how these processes have interacted to shape the current genetic patterns of a population.
This is the reason I love the SEPARC meetings, it gets together biologists from each of these fields along with governmental agencies to find solutions for herp conservation. So the message I took away from the meeting? Partnership!


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