Dr. David M. Sever passed away on 19 April 2019. David was well known in the herpetological community for over 40 years of work on the natural history of amphibians and reptiles, specifically the evolution of primary and secondary sexual characteristics. David was a long-time member of the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles (SSAR), and its predecessor, The Ohio Herpetological Society, and had been attending herpetological conferences since the early 1970s. David recognized the importance of scientific societies and presenting research at conferences and encouraged all of his students to attend the Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, sponsored by three societies of which he was an active member (American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, The Herpetologists’ League, and SSAR). In lieu of flowers and other gifts, Marlis Sever (David’s wife) has requested that donations be made in his name to a travel fund that SSAR has agreed to maintain and earmark for student travel to SSAR–sponsored conferences. Those donations can be made here.
The Joint Meeting of Ichthyology and Herpetology (JMIH) Meeting Management and Planning Committee (MMPC) met 11 April 2017 through 13 April 2019, and their report is available here: JMIH MMPC Report
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!
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.
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.
Below is a summary of results from a survey of SSAR student members, written by Jessica Tingle (chair, Student Participation Committee; firstname.lastname@example.org). If you would like to see the full report, please email Jessica for a PDF. You can also contact Jessica if you are interested in getting involved in the Student Participation Committee.
In August 2018, the SSAR Student Participation Committee conducted a survey of young members to collect data on their motivations for joining and remaining in the SSAR, and to elicit feedback to help the SSAR improve the young member experience. The survey specifically asked for responses from students, post-docs, and other young members. A handful of people who were neither students nor post-docs responded, with some of them specifying that they were early-career. In total, 178 people responded, including 134 students and 19 post-docs. As of August 2018, the SSAR had 1613 members, including 425 students. Thus, nearly 1/3 of student members responded to the survey. Of the 134 student responses, 46% came from PhD students, 25% from master’s students, 16% from undergraduates, 7% from students in between degrees, and 7% from high school students.
Why Folks Join the SSAR
We asked why people joined the SSAR in the first place. In general, students, postdocs, and faculty/professional members gave similar responses. People join the SSAR due to their interest in herps and the attraction of social benefits (meeting herpetologists, being part of something that friends are also a part of, JMIH). Additionally, advisors have been influential in encouraging their students to join over the years. Finally, a desire for professional development opportunities played a role for nearly half of the students and postdocs who responded.
Why Folks Stay in the SSAR
We also asked why people remain members of the SSAR. Overall, their answers were pretty similar to the reasons they joined in the first place. Some of the factors motivating people to join the SSAR play less of a role in their decision to remain members. Most conspicuously, advisor suggestion plays virtually no role in member retention. Not surprisingly, student research and travel grants play a role in retaining student members, but not postdocs or faculty/professionals, even though they contributed to many postdocs’ and faculty/professionals’ initial decision to join when they were students. Some factors matter more for retention than for the initial decision to join. Seibert and Hutchinson Awards for conference presentations play very little role in getting people to join, but they do contribute to student retention. Book discounts matter more for continuing student members than for newly joining student members – presumably students do not know about book discounts prior to joining.
Membership in Other Professional Societies
Many SSAR members also participate in other professional societies, especially Herpetologist’s League (35%) and the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (34%). Only 18% are members of professional societies such as the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB), the Ecological Society of America (ESA), and the Animal Behavior Society (ABS), and the Society for the Study of Evolution (SSE) that focus on a set of biological questions rather than on a taxon. Membership in these latter societies showed a marked trend based on career stages: the youngest students are highly unlikely to participate in these societies (0% of high school students and 5% of undergrads), only a small fraction of master’s students participate (9%), and much larger fractions of PhD students (30%), postdocs (16%), and faculty/professionals (28%) participate. This trend could indicate a shift in scientific focus over the course of a career. Many people first come to biology because they love a particular animal or group of animals, and then they get interested in a set of questions later on. For this reason, taxon-based societies like the SSAR probably draw more very young members (especially undergrads) than do societies like SICB, ESA, ABS, or SSE.
What Folks Want from their Membership in the SSAR
This open-ended question generated a variety of responses, many of which echoed responses from earlier questions on why people join and remain in the SSAR (e.g. interactions with other members, professional development, research grants, and travel support). Many people also mentioned the high-quality journals that the SSAR publishes; through an oversight, we neglected to include journals as a possible response to the earlier questions. Several responses indicated a desire for more engagement between the SSAR and its members, or more engagement with broader communities. For example, some of these folks as for more communication, possible in the form of a regular newsletter. Several wanted the SSAR to facilitate educational outreach.
What Folks Want from the annual Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists
This second open-ended question also generated a variety of responses. Nearly everyone attends JMIH with the goal of meeting new people (both professionally and socially). Some specifically commented that they hope to meet potential PhD or postdoc advisors. Many are drawn to the conference by the possibility of seeing old friends. Many young members hope for professional development opportunities such as workshops. Two people commented on affordability. One person called for more inclusivity (specifically, related to gender). Another suggested that conference organizers facilitate more opportunities for socializing over lunch and/or coffee to remove the onus from students (many of whom are introverted and/or attending the meeting alone).
This final open-ended question allowed folks to address topics not covered elsewhere in the survey. Many responses had to do with inclusivity. Two expressed concern over the lack of gender and other types of diversity in our society and among “herpers” more generally. One indicated that “diversity and inclusion are high priorities of any society that I support,” and another expressed gratitude to the SSAR “for addressing current diversity and inclusivity in the society.” Several respondents provided suggestions for future progress in this area, including: “providing more awards and editorial/reviewer positions on behalf of and to women”; “more female and minority speakers”; “don’t give awards to bigoted or objectifying members, regardless of their stature”; “preferred pronouns on name tags”; and “a student seat on the executive committee.” Several responses directly or indirectly called for the SSAR to be more proactive in building connections between its members. One of those said they are “not sure how to get more involved without it being overwhelming,” and another feels “there isn’t a lot of outreach to students or ways for us to participate in things.” Many responses related specifically to JMIH or to other topics covered in above sections. They included too many specific suggestions for us to summarize here, so anyone who is interested may request a copy of the full report (see contact info above).
The survey identified several areas where the SSAR can improve. First, the SSAR (and other taxon-based societies) seem likely to draw younger students than do other types of professional societies. Yet, many students want more communication in terms of what the society does and how they can get involved. They would also like the society to do more to help them meet other SSAR members. In response to these points, the SSAR will start a monthly email update, and we are expanding the role that the Student Participation Committee has played in the past. Additionally, outreach came up in responses to several of the questions. The SSAR executive board and Student Participation Committee are looking into ways that we can facilitate educational outreach so that our members can have a broader public impact. Inclusivity also came up several times. More people than ever have become aware than not everyone feels welcome in herpetology. We (like society at large) need to work hard on cultural change to make everyone welcome, regardless of their identity. This will be the largest issue for us to tackle, and it will require effort on the part of the whole membership. We are currently working on ways to facilitate this change, and we welcome any ideas from any members at any time.
Dear Members of SSAR,
We are writing to bring everyone up-to-date on the current situation regarding “The Rochester Affair”: that is, the debates that are occurring about a range of issues that arose after The Herpetologists’ League “Distinguished Herpetologist” lecture. This letter will summarise the SSAR’s responses to date, and it is modelled on a similar letter that ASIH has drafted to send out to its members. The three societies (SSAR, HL, SSAR) have been communicating with each other frequently, and are committed to moving forward on a united front to address the problems that have been revealed. We sincerely believe that the tensions that surfaced in Rochester can be harnessed to enable meaningful changes that will improve the functioning of professional herpetology in general, including the SSAR, into the future.
First, a sincere thank you all for your membership and continued support. Some of the issues that have emerged have the potential to be deeply divisive, and we appreciate the fact that our membership has remained highly supportive of SSAR initiatives and responses.
The meetings in Rochester, New York were a success thanks to all of you, our local hosts (Brian Witz, Nazareth College, and the city of Rochester), and our meeting’s management company (Kansas State University). Nonetheless, a number of issues were raised at the JMIH meetings that we need to address. Some of these are long overdue. One strong positive from the debates that emerged has been to elicit ideas and reflections by a wide cross-section of SSAR membership, including from groups who feel that the previous structure of meetings was not ideal for them. We are deeply committed to creating a safe and inclusive environment for all our members. We will need input from the entire membership to truly achieve that goal.
These are the actions that we have already taken or will have taken by JMIH 2019:
(1) The joint JMIH societies are working to expand the draft Code of Conduct to cover all JMIH attendees with a new joint Code of Conduct that will have explicit guidelines for proper conduct, a clear protocol for assessing breaches of the Code of Conduct, and consequences for violations of the Code of Conduct at our annual meetings. ASIH is to be congratulated for taking the lead on this important initiative.
(2) We are in talks with several ombudsmen services, to provide a trained professional for JMIH attendees who have any harassment issues to contact. This professional will independently evaluate and help us enforce our Code of Conduct.
(3) We have appointed Jessica Tingle (whom many of you will remember for her powerful presentation at the beginning of the SSAR business meeting in Rochester) as Chair of our Student Participation Committee. Jessica and her committee will look into ways of changing the practices of the SSAR to better represent our diversifying society. And we are determined to look broadly at issues such as race and identity as well as gender: SSAR needs to welcome everyone with a professional interest in herpetology.
(4) The societies are collaborating to support a symposium for next year’s JMIH that will focus on issues women herpetologists face and highlight opportunities for women within and outside academia.
As the details of these activities play out please feel free to reach out to the SSAR Board of Directors to provide any feedback, advice, or concerns you may have.
Rick Shine, President (email@example.com)
Marty Crump, President-Elect (Marty.Crump@nau.edu)
Aaron Bauer, Past-President (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Marion Preest, Secretary (email@example.com
Ann Paterson, Acting Treasurer (firstname.lastname@example.org)
SSAR Board of Directors:
Robin Andrews, Board Member (email@example.com)
Lee Fitzgerald, Board Member (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Tony Gamble, Board Member (email@example.com)
Jackie Litzgus, Board Member (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Ann Paterson, Board Member (email@example.com)
Melissa Pilgrim, Board Member (MPILGRIM@USCUPSTATE.EDU)
Emily Taylor, Board Member (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Greg Watkins-Colwell, Board Member (gregory.watkins-colwell@yale.
The SSAR student poster awards honor Victor Hutchison for his extensive contributions to herpetology and the development of future herpetologists. The 8th annual SSAR Victor Hutchison Student Poster Awards were presented at the Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists & and Herpetologists in Rochester, NY, 11-15 July 2018. This year there were 35 eligible poster submissions. In recognition of outstanding student poster presentations at the annual meeting, an award was given in each of the following categories: Physiology & Morphology (9 presentations); Evolution, Genetics, & Systematics (5 presentations); Conservation & Management (6 presentations); and Ecology, Natural History, Distribution, & Behavior (15 presentations). All awardees received a check for US $200 and a book from the Taylor & Francis Group of CRC Press.
This year’s judges were: Betsie Rothermel, Chair (Archbold Biological Station), Russell Burke (Hofstra University), Gerardo Carfagno (Manhattan College), Brad Carlson (Wabash College), Andrew Durso (Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry), Marina Gerson (California State University, Stanislaus), Brittany Ousterhout (University of Arkansas), Josh Pierce (U.S.F.S. Southern Research Station), Jonathan Rose (U.S.G.S. Western Ecological Research Center), John Rowe (Alma College), Phillip Skipwith (University of California, Berkeley), and Peter Uetz (Virginia Commonwealth University)
The Winners – Physiology & Morphology: Rebecca Jasulevicz (Villanova University), “A Bolder Shoulder: Pectoral Girdle Morphology in Geckos.” Evolution, Genetics, & Systematics: Haley Moniz (University Nevada, Reno), “Costs of Adaptation: Tradeoffs in Organismal Performance of Tetrodotoxin-Resistant Garter Snakes (Thamnophis).” Conservation & Management: Chelsea Kross (University of Arkansas), “The Effects of Prescribed Fire on the Development of Larval Crawfish Frogs (Lithobates areolatus).” Ecology, Natural History, Distribution, & Behavior: A.Z. Andis (Yale University), “A New, Noninvasive Method of Batch-marking Amphibians Across Developmental Stages” and Honorable Mention to Thomas Nhu (undergraduate, California Polytechnic State University), “Inglorious Baskers: Comparative Behavior of Pacific Rattlesnakes in Coastal and Inland Populations.”
For more information about this award, see here.