Our members often join SSAR to learn more about the organisms that fascinate them. Each month, we are excited to profile the herpetological interests of one of our community members and to feature their focal amphibian or reptile species/system. This our seventh such post.
Featured SSAR member: Allyson Fenwick
What is your study species (or species group) and why is it interesting?
Recently I’ve been studying Mediterranean geckos (Hemidactylus turcicus). They are interesting because they have spread around the world via hitchhiking with humans and can live outside of their expected climate envelope because outside of their native range in the Middle East (where they live on rocky cliffs) they are restricted to building walls. When they are introduced to a new area they expand very slowly and they do not seem to cause any harm to the natural community. I’m interested in them because I hope what they can tell us about invasion will translate to invasive species that spread quickly and cause a variety of negative effects.
What is it about this species that you study?
I study population genetics – I use DNA to evaluate how closely related individuals are within a site, across sites in a region, and across a north-south transect.
Who are you, how did you get where you are, and what’s your story?
I discovered my love of herps, particularly snakes, in high school when I was an education intern at my local zoo. I had wanted to be a zookeeper as long as I could remember. In college I focused on zoos and on herps. When I was a junior and spent a summer working full-time as an intern in the reptile house I realized I didn’t want to do 90% husbandry. After some deliberation in the year after I graduated with my B.S. in Zoology and B.A. in Theatre, I decided to get my M.S. and work towards being a reptile curator. My M.S. was pitviper phylogenetics using morphology, and I realized I loved it plus I loved teaching. So I searched out a Ph.D. where I could keep working on pitvipers (now with added DNA!) and hopefully eventually become a professor. After six years of Ph.D. and one year of a neat teaching postdoc on stoneflies, I was hired at the University of Central Oklahoma to teach evolution and genetics. There a colleague introduced me to the well-known population of Mediterranean geckos on campus and suggested I work on their population genetics. That’s been the project fueling my lab for the last five years.
Why are you a member of SSAR?
I joined SSAR when I was a M.S. student headed to JMIH and SSAR had the cheapest membership of the three herp societies. But SSAR became MY society, especially when I started going to the business meetings.