Crowdfunding fuels amphibian survey work

MAY 2013 - A UAF doctoral student is raising money through a crowdfunding website to complete field work this summer that will enhance the herpetological collection at the University of Alaska Museum of the North and provide a better understanding of the amphibian population in the Stikine River watershed.

Joshua Ream is working on an Interdisciplinary Studies Doctorate degree using methods from biology and social science to better understand the place of amphibians and reptiles in Alaska’s cultural and ecological heritage.

Ream’s crowdfunding goal is to raise $1,000 by May 31 to cover the costs of field work.

“The work will be conducted regardless of the success of the crowdfunding,” Ream says. “But a successful campaign will greatly enhance the scope of this and other project components.”

The project includes an inventory of amphibian populations on the Stikine River in Southeast Alaska, which flows for approximately 40 miles from the Canadian border to its mouth near the communities of Wrangell and Petersburg. Ream says the Stikine is reportedly home to all six of the known native species of amphibians, making it a herpetological hotspot compared to other regions of Alaska. But it’s been more than 20 years since the last comprehensive study of amphibians in the area.

“Tracking amphibians along the Stikine over time can help us to understand normal background fluctuations in their populations,” Ream says. “This knowledge allows us to monitor for unusual population events and to record amphibian responses to global changes near the northern limits of their known range.

“Amphibians act as the proverbial canary in the coalmine, giving advance warning of changes in the aquatic ecosystems. Changes in mean annual temperatures, numbers of frostless days, and levels of human activity are likely to cause changes in the distribution of amphibian species. Colonization of new amphibian species, the threat of invasive species, several of which have established populations in southeast Alaska, and the spread of amphibian diseases will also present new problems for natural resource managers.”

Ream says the museum has been instrumental in supporting his research by providing access to historical records, various sampling supplies, and as an outlet for outreach and education.

His dissertation advisor, Andres Lopez, the curator of the museum’s aquatics collection, says Josh’s passion for herpetological research has already produced great additions to the museum’s collections. “Thanks to his ongoing field research in the Stikine and his leadership role in the Alaska Herpetological Society, the museum collections are becoming increasingly valuable resources for the study and management of Alaska’s amphibians.”

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