Reminder: today is the final day to submit an abstract for JMIH 2019! More information here: https://conferences.k-state.edu/jmih/abstract-submission/
2019 marks the 50th anniversary of Herpetological Review. The March issue features a 42-page special section that retraces the history of HR, which began as a regional society newsletter, consisting of a few pages assembled by precocious teenagers. We hope that SSAR members will take time to read this retrospective, to better appreciate the contributions of hundreds of colleagues in service to the herpetological community.
This issue is scheduled to be mailed on 29 March, and full contents are available online to SSAR members here. All Natural History Notes, Geographic Distribution Notes, Book Reviews, and other select sections are Open Access and are available for download at the same link. If you are not a member of SSAR, please consider joining the leading international herpetological society. Student and online-only rates available. Read more about membership information here!
In this installment of the SSAR leadership profiles project, Jessica Tingle, the current chair of the Student Participation Committee, explains the committee’s activities and her experience getting involved with the committee.
In general, the Student Participation Committee aims to increase student engagement in any way possible by providing opportunities for individual students to have a voice in the SSAR. The committee does not have a cap on the number of students who may join, and its activities depend in part on the number of active student committee members at any given time.
Historically, the committee has focused on organizing student events (e.g. workshops and socials) at the annual Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (JMIH), and also on working with other committees to brainstorm ways to recruit and retain student members. The committee has expanded its role since summer 2018 by taking on several new projects, detailed below.
Because neither the SSAR bylaws nor the supplement to the SSAR constitution outlines duties for the Student Participation Committee, this committee has considerable leeway. Jeremy Feinberg, a previous chair, created a manual to help with the job. New chairs can add to this living document as they go.
Activities throughout the year, including at the annual meeting
Organizing student workshops for JMIH begins with brainstorming ideas for workshop topics. In the past, we’ve had workshops on topics such as “how to get a job,” “law and order in herpetology,” “how to teach a field course,” and many others. Once committee members decide on the topic for the year’s workshop, they must seek out experts in the field who would be willing to help lead the workshop. Then, they must work out logistics such as advertising and figuring out whether they can provide lunch during the workshop. Sometimes the SSAR student committee works with the Herpetologists’ League student committee to set up joint workshops.
In August 2018, the Student Participation Committee created a survey for students, postdocs, and other young members (summary of the results here). This survey provided information that has guided the committee’s activities over the last several months. For example, we have created a monthly email newsletter in response to comments that the SSAR should be more communicative about its activities and opportunities. The Student Participation Committee now helps out with the SSAR’s social media presence. We began this series of SSAR leadership profiles to give members a better idea of the SSAR’s organization, activities, and ways they can get involved. We’ve also worked closely with the SSAR president, secretary, treasurer, and other leaders to improve the SSAR student experience in various ways. Some examples include the push for the SSAR to provide money for conference travel grants before JMIH instead of afterwards as reimbursement, and looking into ways to secure affordable food for students who attend JMIH.
Day-to-day activities on the committee involve a lot of communication by email to discuss current projects and new ideas. When we have a project, like these SSAR leadership profiles, individual students work on their parts of the project and we pass document drafts back and forth to give each other feedback. Some committee members stay on top of the SSAR social media accounts throughout the year. As chair, I spend a lot of time communicating with other SSAR leaders and occasionally the leaders of the other major herpetological societies, Herpetologists’ League (HL) and the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (ASIH), to figure out new initiatives. For example, we share many goals in common with the HL’s Diversity and Inclusivity Committee, so it makes sense to collaborate.
Interactions with other SSAR committees and leaders
As mentioned above, the Student Participation Committee regularly works with other SSAR leaders. The committee chair communicates with the president, secretary, and occasionally the treasurer involving upper-level SSAR decisions that affect students. The Student Participation Committee and the Membership Committee share a similar goal of engaging with members, so we bounce ideas off each other and can join forces whenever it makes sense to do so. We often interact with the Web Committee to put new materials online. More recently, a couple members of the Student Participation Committee have been working closely with the Mentorship Committee to expand the JMIH mentorship program. I can foresee working with several other committees in the future, including the Long Range Planning Committee. Additionally, some members of the SSAR Student Participation Committee help out with Herpetologists’ League’s Diversity and Inclusivity Committee and Graduate Studies Committee to achieve shared goals between the societies.
Path to joining the Student Participation Committee
Then-president Rick Shine asked me after JMIH 2018 if I’d be willing to chair the Student Participation Committee. I wholeheartedly agreed, since I’d been an SSAR member for seven years and wanted to become more actively involved in the society. Prior to talking to Rick, I did not realize that students could get involved in a variety of ways. It turns out that I could have become involved much earlier, had I known!
After becoming chair, I sent a general call to students trying to get more people on the committee. The enthusiastic response wowed me, with high-school students up to PhD candidates offering to help out. The Student Participation Committee provides a relatively low-stakes way for students to become involved in the SSAR. Since the committee has several activities, individual members can pick which ones interest them the most. Some students have chosen to take on small roles that give them a taste of leadership responsibility in the SSAR, while others have chosen to take on larger roles.
Anyone can contribute to the Student Participation Committee without needing a lot of “relevant” prior experience. We’re all capable of coming up with ideas and helping out in some way or another. As a result, becoming a member of the committee is a great first step for getting leadership experience. It’s also not hard to join the committee. You simply have to email the current chair and tell them you’re interested!
As far as chairing the committee, I’ve found that organizational skills and people skills can both be really helpful. In my case, I was a member of an undergraduate herpetology club during college, and eventually became president during my senior year. The experience coordinating with other students to organize field trips, outreach events, and guest speakers has helped me tremendously. I’m also a pretty organized person in general, which has helped me keep track of multiple committee activities that often happen simultaneously. It also helps that I really like people – as a committee chair, you end up interacting with a lot of SSAR members on a regular basis.
Future of the committee
The lack of very specific guidelines for the Student Participation Committee creates a challenge at times, but it also provides wonderful flexibility for the committee’s role to evolve as students who join it bring in new perspectives. I hope that we maintain our current momentum, as I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish over the last few months through the efforts of several dedicated individuals and the strong support of the SSAR leadership.
We especially want to increase involvement of younger students and students from underrepresented groups. Representing students with the greatest possible variety of personal experiences will increase our ability to identify areas of need so that we can make positive change. With the supportive leadership that we currently have in the SSAR, students can make substantial contributions to the future of our field. We really are the future of herpetology.
If you are a student who would like to join the Student Participation Committee, please contact Jessica Tingle (email@example.com). We welcome students of any level: high school, undergrad, grad, and folks in between degrees.
The SSAR Student Participation Committee has begun a project where we will profile the SSAR’s committees and leadership positions. Our goal is to provide members with a better idea of what the society and its leaders do throughout the year, since many members’ contact with the SSAR happens primarily during the annual Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (JMIH). We plan to release a couple new profiles each month, and we may pick up the pace if additional students would like to help out with the project by interviewing SSAR leaders and writing up profiles. We hope that these leadership profiles will inspire members, especially young members, to become more active in the SSAR.
Here is a list of profiles that we have completed. We will update the list as we add new profiles.
If you are a student who would like to help out with this project, please contact the Chair of the Student Participation Committee, Jessica Tingle (firstname.lastname@example.org).
This is the second post in this new series from SSAR! Our members often join SSAR to learn more about the organisms that fascinate them. Each month, we are excited to profile the herpetological interest of one of our community members and to feature their focal amphibian or reptile species/system.
Featured SSAR member: Sebastian A. Harris
What is your study species (or species group) and why is it interesting?
Luckily, I get to study several snake species as I’m primarily interested in community ecology. Small to medium sized colubrids will be my focus for the next few years. Northern Ringneck Snakes, Eastern Garter Snakes, Eastern Milk Snakes, Northern Red-bellied Snakes and possibly Smooth Greensnakes will be incorporated in my research. I’ve always been infatuated with snakes from afar, and I actually had the opportunity to study Timber Rattlesnakes during my Masters research at East Stroudsburg University. It’s difficult to pinpoint why snakes are interesting. Perhaps their enigmatic nature is a big reason, along with the fact that they’re among the most misunderstood creatures on the planet. Their diversity and proliferation despite being limbless on a planet full of bipeds and tetrapods is one unifying intrigue of snakes. Overall, snakes simply possess some intrinsic allure about them. I’ve always found them to be the most interesting group of animals on the planet, and I’m grateful to have set out on a path where I can study them!
What is it about this species that you study?
I’ve always been most interested in dynamics between vastly different organismal groups. I’m also interested in factors that influence their spatial distribution on several scales. With that being said, I’ll be studying how snake (and possibly salamander) diversity is affected by a dominant mound-building ant species, Formica exsectoides. Ant mounds have been reported to support large numbers of hibernating reptiles (especially juvenile snakes) and amphibians. Hence, the engineering effects of Allegheny Mound Ants may be associated with greater snake diversity than nearby habitat patches. Conversely, the territorial nature of ant colonies may negatively affect local snake diversity. There’s been very little research exploring this relationship, despite its possible importance for understanding snake community ecology. On a larger scale, much attention has gone to climactic drivers of distribution patterns. However, biotic factors, such as ecosystem engineering by dominant ant species, may contribute to snake diversity patterns we observe at the landscape scale.
Who are you, how did you get where you are, and what’s your story?
I grew up in Allentown, PA, devoid of any real exposure to nature. However, I, like many others born in the 90’s, was captivated by Zoobooks, Discovery Channel Documentaries and people like Steve Irwin. I was also obsessed with Pokemon (bear with me) which sort of fulfilled my desire to explore and find cool things. Growing up in the heart of a city without a car in the family meant I was tied to my neighborhood. Hence, I found solace in things like Animal Planet (Jeff Corwin especially) which kept my interest in wildlife active throughout my childhood. I spent some time during high school as an intern at Wildlands Conservancy, where I made connections to established herpetologists in Pennsylvania. I eventually was accepted to Delaware Valley College and graduated in 2014. I then went on to East Stroudsburg University for my Masters degree, where I studied Timber Rattlesnakes under Dr. Thomas C. LaDuke. I’ve since graduated and am now working on a PhD at Rutgers University. I spared many details but that’s the gist!
Why are you a member of SSAR?
SSAR allows me to keep up with the latest work in our field, and serves as inspiration for my own work and time spent out in nature. One of my former professors would frequently tell me: “the more you know, the more you notice.” Discoveries made by fellow herpetologists make outings more meaningful. It adds dimensions to my own observations, and adds to a database of random natural history notes I can carry around in my head. It’s rare that I get to share the societies wonderful discoveries in casual conversation, but I do my best to share when I can! Of course, the welfare of our reptiles and amphibians matters most, and tireless work from fellow members keeps me up to date with the state of our field and the subjects we care so much about.
SSAR is very pleased to announce that it will continue to provide support for postdoctoral fellows to attend and present their research at SSAR’s annual meetings and meet and interact with leaders in the field, which comes at a key time in their careers when they are seeking permanent positions. Awards are open to postdocs from all countries. The next round of awards will be made to attend the Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists in Snowbird, Utah (July 24–28, 2019).
Applications are due on May 3rd, 2019. For more details about this award, visit its permanent webpage here. For more details about the 2019 application, see the following document: Metallinou Award 2019
For several years, the SSAR mentorship program has paired young members with more experienced members to help them get the most out of our annual conference, the Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (JMIH). For JMIH 2019, the SSAR is joining forces with the Herpetologists’ League to expand the program.
Signing up for the program
The JMIH registration form will have a checkbox for students to indicate their interest in the program. If a student checks the box, then their contact information will be automatically sent to the program organizers. The program organizers will send out a questionnaire for students to indicate their research and career interests, and they will use the responses to make mentor-mentee matches.
Folks who’d like to act as a mentor for the program can check a different box on the registration form to indicate their interest. We would love to have older students, postdocs, and more established society members as mentors in the program.
How the program works
Everyone in the program meets as a group near the beginning of JMIH. This meeting gives everyone the chance to get to know each other over a meal provided by the SSAR, and it provides an opportunity for program organizers to give suggestions for making the most out of the mentorship interactions.
After the initial meeting, mentor-mentee pairs can meet up when and how they choose. Interactions often include attending poster sessions together, checking in over coffee, and/or talking over a meal. Mentors can also help their mentees to meet other researchers.
This is the first in a new series of posts from SSAR! Our members often join SSAR to learn more about the organisms that fascinate them. Each month, we are excited to profile the herpetological interest of one of our community members and to feature their focal amphibian or reptile species/system.
Featured SSAR member: Molly C. Womack
What is your study species (or species group) and why is it interesting?
Most tetrapods (including you and your dog) have a tympanic middle ear that aids in hearing airborne sound on land. Yet, many anuran species (frogs and toads) have lost tympanic middle ears (termed earlessness), despite anurans’ use of acoustic communication. Furthermore, earless anurans are found in many habitats, unlike other sensory loss cases (e.g., eye loss in cavefish) that share selection environments.
What is it about this species that you study?
My work on earless frogs tries to understand both why so many frogs are earless and how (at the genetic and developmental level) they lose these structures. I have found, compared to eared species, earless species are less sensitive to high frequency sounds, show no additional differences in their skulls, have smaller average body sizes, and have larger genomes. My work in the Hoke Lab at Colorado State University points towards changes in development rate or length predisposing the tympanic middle ear (an already late-forming structure) to evolutionary loss. It is then likely that lineage-specific environmental, life history, or ecological selection pressures select for or allow this loss.
Who are you, how did you get where you are, and what’s your story?
I am an Oklahoma and Florida raised LGBTQ member of SSAR. My interest in herpetology was spawned when I discovered evolutionary research during my sophomore year of college at the University of Florida (go gators!). My first research project investigated the morphology and function of sea and water snake cloacas. I fell in love with histology and morphology and haven’t looked back.
Why are you a member of SSAR?
I am a member of SSAR because I really enjoy the passion that people in the SSAR community bring to their work. I was not destined to become a herpetologist but the amazing diversity of herps and the diversity of those that study them that inspire me to continue working in this field. I look forward to contributing to and protecting that diversity.
The remaining contents of the Roger Conant, Ernie Liner, and Victor Hutchison Libraries are being stored at a facility in Salt Lake City, compliments of our former Publications Secretary Breck Bartholomew. It is time to find good homes for these books, journals, and reprints. Several boxes of Ernie Liner’s books will be taken to the JMIH in Snowbird (24-28 July 2019) for the silent and live auctions. Anyone wishing to sort through the material in the storage facility in Salt Lake City is invited to do so. The storage unit is 12 x 30 feet and is full. It includes the Conant and Liner filing cabinets (also available), boxes of books, journals, and reprints, as well as various pieces of framed art, posters, and other items from the Liner collection. Please note that to get to the storage unit in Salt Lake City from Snowbird, you will need a vehicle. Breck will be available throughout the JMIH to meet at the storage unit. You can make prior arrangements with Breck by email (Breck@herplit.com) or phone (801-867-1042). Materials at the storage unit will be priced as follows: paperback books $2; hardback books $5; other items will be on a donation basis. You will need to take the library materials with you and ship them home yourself. At the end of the JMIH, the remaining books, journals, and reprints will be given to a worthy institution.
SSAR is pleased to announce the George B. Rabb Undergraduate Poster Award, sponsored by Zoo Atlanta. The award honors our colleague George Rabb (1930-2017), former Director of the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, IL, and highly respected advocate and spokesman for wildlife conservation.
To be eligible to compete for this award, a student must be an undergraduate, or have graduated in the previous spring semester. The student must be the first author on the poster and must present the poster during the student poster competition at the annual JMIH or SSAR meeting. There can be additional authors on the poster. As is the case for the SSAR Victor Hutchison Student Poster Award, the competing student must be a current member of SSAR. Abstract submission is the same as for anyone else submitting to present at the annual meetings. See the JMIH website for information. The first George B. Rabb award will be presented at the 2019 JMIH meeting in Snowbird, Utah. The prize includes a $250 check and an SSAR book.