Strategies for Success in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation

ROOM: HCCC, Room 23
Conservation and management of imperiled species are often fraught with social, cultural, fiscal and political challenges, requiring a diverse array of tools and approaches to achieve effective outcomes. In addition to budgetary shortfalls and the resource limitations they impose, conservation practitioners and managers face challenges of securing public and stakeholder support, devising cost- and time-effective ways to mitigate threats, along with the fundamental challenge of defining conservation “success” and identifying how to measure it. This symposium highlights strategies for addressing such challenges and identifies “ingredients” of successful conservation of amphibian and reptiles, two of the most imperiled biodiversity groups. Symposium speakers will discuss what constitutes success in conservation and how it may be achieved; identify emerging technologies that may be used to address challenges inherent to the conservation of imperiled species, such as rarity and uncertainty; and present case studies of effective amphibian and reptile conservation. Last, key presentations will provide lessons learned from past experiences, which could help steer current and future conservation efforts towards more effective outcomes, therefore strengthening the prospects of species recovery.

8:10AM What Constitutes Success/Effectiveness in Conservation and How It Is Achieved?
  Susan C. Walls
A fundamental challenge in conservation and management of imperiled species is defining what constitutes success, along with identifying metrics by which it may be measured. Population recovery, or some other biological measure of population viability, is the ultimate measure of conservation success. Other objectives can be incorporated within a decision framework to consider potential tradeoffs that maybe important to natural resource managers. Conservation success depends not only on knowing what strategies work, but also on learning critical lessons—both positive and negative—that can reduce uncertainty and foster effective conservation. Learning is therefore pivotal to conservation and management of natural resources and understanding what constitutes a lack of success can improve conservation effectiveness. My objectives are to identify elements of successful conservation of amphibians and reptiles, two of the most imperiled biodiversity groups; identify strategies for addressing challenges and mitigating threats; highlight key case studies that illustrate successful conservation with at-risk species; and provide “lessons learned” from past conservation efforts that could help steer current and future conservation towards more effective outcomes, therefore strengthening the prospects of species recovery. Conservation successes need to be celebrated in this era of escalating rates of population declines, species’ extinctions, and shortfalls in conservation funding. Clarifying what qualifies as success and how it can be achieved is a first step towards increasing effectiveness in conservation of amphibians and reptiles.
8:30AM A Case Study: How Do We Encourage Private Land Owners to Become Citizen Scientists for Herpetological Conservation?
  Whit Gibbons
Inventories to develop site-specific species lists typically precede monitoring or research on communities at a locality. Knowing what species are present in a region or specific locality can also aid in conservation and land management efforts. Biotic inventories at the regional level are critical for efforts on a national scale to conserve native herpetofauna in natural habitats on federal, state, and privately-owned lands. Government land holdings often have inventory, monitoring, and research supported by large grants that support inventories by professional ecologists from universities, government research laboratories, or consulting firms. Support even for preliminary inventories of local fauna, aside from game species and especially herpetofauna, is uncommon on private lands. The talk will provide an effective approach for enhancing survey efforts to reliably record the presence of amphibian and reptile species on private lands through contributions from citizen scientists
8:50AM Implementation of a Candidate Conservation Agreement for the Gopher Tortoise: the Key Role of Stakeholders
  Lora Smith
The gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) has experienced precipitous population declines over the past 100 years due largely to habitat loss. The gopher tortoise population west of the Mobile-Tombigbee River has been listed as a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) since 1987. In 2011, the UWFWS determined that listing of the eastern population as threatened was warranted, but precluded due to other priorities, thus the species is considered a candidate for listing in the east. Federal and state agencies, non-governmental and private organizations lead by the Department of Defense developed a Candidate Conservation Agreement (CCA) for the gopher tortoise in 2008. The purpose of the CCA is to implement proactive gopher tortoise conservation measures across its eastern range to potentially preclude the need to list the species under ESA. Assessments of the effectiveness of conservation measures requires information on the current status of gopher tortoise populations. Therefore, CCA parties initiated standardized survey methods using line transect distance sampling to estimate population size on managed areas across the range of the species. This effort has involved collaboration among federal and state agencies as well as private organizations involved in setting priorities, training, and implementing surveys. Since 2007, baseline data have been collected for more than 100 populations across 4 eastern states, representing both public and private lands in conservation easements. Survey data are being used to evaluate the status of the species across geographic and political boundaries and will ultimately be used to set targets for long term conservation of the species. Data are also being used to develop habitat models to identify priority conservation lands.
9:10AM Decision Analysis and Adaptive Management: Strategies to Overcome Challenges of Uncertainty and Inaction
  Katherine M. O’Donnell; Evan H. Campbell Grant
Conservation success depends not only on knowing what strategies work, but also on learning critical lessons from previous management actions. Conservation management decisions can be difficult because of data deficiencies, risks, limited available actions, competing objectives and trade-offs, disagreements among stakeholders, and decision paralysis (i.e., delays in implementing actions due to uncertainty). Decision analysis includes tools that can help managers clarify and make difficult decisions, despite these complexities. Adaptive management is one such strategy, and is used to formalize the learning process when decisions are recurrent. Decision analysis and adaptive management have been used in many wildlife management contexts, but are not widely used in amphibian and reptile conservation efforts. In this talk, we will describe several applications of decision analysis in amphibian and reptile management. We will also present some common situations where amphibian and reptile management problems could be aided by the formal application of decision analysis.
9:30AM Decision Science Says “Just Do It”: Translocation of Toads in the Rockies
  Erin Muths; F. Boyd Wright; Larissa L. Bailey
Decision science provides a defensible and transparent process by which to engage stakeholders, identify conservation priorities, and facilitate conservation action. Such a decision-analytic framework was used in revising the boreal toad (Anaxyrus boreas) conservation plan in the southern Rocky Mountains, USA and developing a list of actions (i.e., strategies) for advancing conservation of this species. Predating and contemporary to this decision effort, translocation projects were in progress in Colorado. The implementation of these exploratory conservation actions illustrates a willingness of stakeholders to engage in ostensibly risky activities at a time when failure is tolerable (i.e., before populations become too small, or there are too few populations). The decisions made to take those risks in the 1980s and 1990s are supported by the contribution of that information in developing current management strategies. Empirical data and expert insights, from both successes and failures, were incorporated into the SDM process to predict how different management strategies would perform with respect to the management objective of boreal toads persisting on the landscape. Specifically, predictions suggested that ‘no action’ will lead to a loss of approximately half of the existing breeding populations of toads, but utilizing strategies that involve translocation efforts, even with some uncertainty, will lead to significant improvement over the status quo (no action). These predictions also support the prioritization of research to reduce the uncertainty related to translocations, following one of the central precepts in decision analysis that as uncertainties are reduced, management and conservation outcomes are improved. Early translocations in Colorado were implemented in the face of risk. Results were mixed but the information gained has been invaluable in developing contemporary actions and identifying key uncertainties.
09:50AM Break
12:50PM Environmental DNA for Amphibian Conservation and Management: Lessons Learned in the First Decade
  Caren S. Goldberg
The first paper documenting detection of amphibians through analysis of DNA shed into water was published a decade ago. After a brief lull, the field of environmental DNA (eDNA) detection of vertebrates began to grow exponentially, with over 200 papers published by the end of 2017. To bring this powerful new technique into use for conservation, a series of challenges needs to be overcome: maximizing detection, minimizing contamination, and interpreting uncertainty. I used empirical results of eDNA analyses conducted by my research group for 28 amphibians in lotic and lentic systems across the western U.S., in Florida, and internationally to inform a synthetic understanding of eDNA detection for rare amphibians. Important lessons learned include: 1) contrary to early expectations, eDNA of vertebrates is not uniformly distributed even in small wetlands (<0.1 ha) and declines quickly with distance from source in streams; 2) eDNA detection probability increases with temperature as ectothermic animals become more active and decreases as temperatures reach degradative conditions (~25°C); 3) eDNA signal can disappear quickly when animals leave lotic systems to bask; 4) some species are more difficult to detect than others, even within taxonomic groups; and 5) eDNA production among and within individuals is highly variable. Even when sampling designs are highly informed by these issues, eDNA signals from low-density populations can be inconsistent and difficult to distinguish from background noise. This uncertainty presents a challenge for conservation and management decision-making, as well as for regulatory application. The most advanced program for integrating eDNA data into regulatory conservation decisions is for the great crested newt (Triturus cristatus) in the United Kingdom, which includes a highly specified sampling protocol and blind laboratory proficiency testing. I will explore opportunities and challenges for how analogous efforts could work for amphibians listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
1:10PM Synergy Is the Secret to Conservation Success
  Joseph J. Apodaca; Priya Nanjappa; Chris Petersen; Alex Novarro
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood” – Stephen Covey Collaborations and partnerships can bring diverse aspects (ideas, resources, knowledge, talent, skills, passion, and influence) to the conservation conversation and often contribute to successful outcomes. However, at times collaboration can be challenging as a result of conflicting conservation goals and priorities, but also because effective collaboration requires an investment in time to build positive relationships . Through nearly two decades of Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC), we have learned that when collaborators deeply understand the needs and intents of their partners, whose goals may seem in opposition to our own, they can often find common ground and opportunities to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes. Each group independently has the potential to make a positive contribution to conservation, but synchronizing efforts allows for the coalescence of skills and resources. Such synergies almost always lead to more effective conservation outcomes that are completed more quickly and are longer lasting. In this talk we will provide examples of some of the more unique partnerships in herpetofaunal conservation, including working with the military, timber industry partners, private landowners, and other nontraditional partnerships. Many of these will demonstrate how our successes have been in understanding our partner’s priorities as we develop strategies for addressing our own. We will also comment on our vision and strategies for growing our partner network into the future.
1:30PM Conservation of Northern Pinesnake (Pituophis Melanoleucus) Populations in New Jersey, Usa: on the Importance of Involving Stakeholders
  Joanna Burger; Robert T. Zappalorti; Michael Gochfeld; Emile DeVito
Northern Pinesnake (Pituophis melanoleucus) populations are decreasing throughout the species’ range and are listed as threatened or endangered in most states where they occur. These declines result from a combination of threats that include loss and degradation of nesting and hibernating habitat, habitat fragmentation, road mortality, poaching for pets, trade or sale, snake fungal disease, and predators. Our objective is to describe the role of stakeholders in the conservation of Pinesnakes. Stakeholders include state and federal agencies, universities, non-governmental conservation organizations, for-profit companies, and conservation-minded people from the general public have collaborated to gather basic biological data, identify the threats that put Pinesnakes most at risk, determine the threats that are amenable to management, and implement proven conservation measures. Most stakeholders are volunteers, including those with conservation-related employment who volunteer on snake-related activities. These volunteers have been essential to the conservation and protection of Pinesnakes in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Data from our 30+ year study of Pinesnakes indicates that management measures to protect and preserve these snakes are essential to maintain population stability, and that a wide range of stakeholders are needed to conduct research and implement conservation strategies.
1:50PM Reintroduction of the Louisiana Pinesnake to the Longleaf Pine Ecosystem
  Josh Pierce; Craig Rudolph; Steve Reichling
The rare and declining Louisiana pinesnake (Pituophis ruthveni) is highly vulnerable to global extinction. Fortunately, insightful members of the zoo community established a captive population of this species in the 1980s. Since 2010, this breeding population has been used as a source of individuals for release into restored habitat, in an attempt to establish a viable population. Initial results are encouraging, and participants are hopeful that reproduction in the wild will soon be documented. Essential elements of the reintroduction program include a committed and effective stakeholder group, a well-managed captive breeding population, sufficient genetic diversity, restored habitat to serve as reintroduction sites, and adequate funding. Future plans involve the establishment of several viable, reintroduced populations, primarily on public lands, in an attempt to recover this characteristic species of the fire-maintained pine forests of the West Gulf Coastal Plain.
2:10PM Reintroduction of Bullsnakes (Pituophis Catenifer Sayi) Into a Restored Prairie: A 25 Year Assessment
  John J. Moriarty
In 1991, ten Bullsnakes (Pituophis catenifer sayi) were released into a 480 ha recreated prairie complex within a 1000 ha park reserve in Hennepin County, Minnesota. Six of the snakes were followed for one year with good survival and signs of reproduction. An additional 36 snakes (29 hatchlings and 7 adults) have been added between 1993 and 1995. The population was casually monitored for the next 20 years with annual observations and occasional captures. In 2014, a mark recapture program began to assess the current status of the Bullsnake population. Over three seasons, 128 adult Bullsnakes were captured, while conducting other prairie management activities, and PIT tagged. Bullsnakes have been regularly captured over 2.5 km from the original release site. A nesting aggregation with a minimum of 35 female Bullsnakes was found on a 1000 m2 section of prairie. Bullsnakes have become a well-established, commonly observed part of the prairie fauna within the recreated prairie.
2:30PM Refreshment Break
3:20PM A Review of Survival, Habitat Selection, and Movement Ecology of Reintroduced Chinese Giant Salamanders
  Andrew Kouba; Lu Zhang; Scott Willard; Hong-Xing Zhang
Reintroductions of captive-reared animals are increasingly used as tools to supplement and recover wild populations of threatened species. For aquatic amphibians, very little is known about the viability of such conservation tools for recovery of a species. In order to better understand such reintroduction challenges, we utilized captive reared Chinese giant salamanders to begin answering questions related to the feasibility of such conservation strategies. For our study, we reintroduced 31 juvenile giant salamanders in two small river systems of central China and monitored their survivability, habitat selection and post-release movements. Salamanders were surgically implanted with radio transmitters, released into the wild, located daily for a year and subsequently captured at the end to collect morphometric data. Our results showed that if released outside of the rainy season and given enough time to heal from their surgical implants, captive-reared giant salamanders survive quite well in the wild. Moreover, given suitable habitat, such as streams with large boulders, deep pools for cover, and enough food resources, their survivability was greater. Regression models confirmed that presence of salamanders was positively associated with boulder size, river depth, and canopy cover but negatively associated with distance to boulders. Salamanders tended to show seasonal movement patterns associated with temperature and for the most part moved upstream and went longer distances and moved more frequently during the summer compared to other seasons. Results from this project contribute to a better understanding of the survivability and movement ecology for reintroduced Chinese giant salamanders and information provided here may help to guide future conservation efforts.
3:40PM Hanging By a Thread: Population Recovery and Persistence of Chiricahua Leopard Frogs in an Intensively Manage Landscape
  Blake Hossack; Brent Sigafus; Erin Muths; Richard Chandler; Paige Howell
Land transformation, limited water, and spread of non-native predators interact synergistically to threaten many native, aquatic species in the southwestern USA. In the Altar Valley, southern Arizona, establishment of invasive American Bullfrogs followed by an extended drought coincided with the near-extirpation of the federally-threatened Chiricahua Leopard Frog. After salvaging and captive-rearing of 7 adult and 13 larval Chiricahua Leopard Frogs from the last known population in the valley, landscape-scale eradication of American Bullfrogs and intensive habitat restoration set the stage for recovery. In 2003, Chiricahua Leopard Frog tadpoles were reintroduced into three locations on the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. Fifteen years later, the number of leopard frog populations in the valley continues to increase, but their fate likely still depends on preventing re-invasion by bullfrogs. The reliance by Chiricahua Leopard Frogs and many other native species on ponds constructed for livestock means their fate also depends upon frequent and sometimes intensive habitat management, because stock tanks can have high rates of dam failure or fill with sediment. We are working with land managers and developing statistical models to identify and protect habitats that are most critical to meta-population persistence, as well as to determine where it would be most beneficial to construct or repair stock ponds that could provide habitat for new source populations. Collaboration among researchers and land managers over the last two decades has provided an example of how science-based management can be implemented to effectively decrease extinction risk for species of conservation concern.
4:00PM Climate Niches and High-Latitude Amphibian and Reptile Risk: Multi-Taxa Climate Sensitivity Modeling Informs Adaptation Management Priorities
  Deanna H. Olson; Meryl C. Mims; Carmen C. Harjoe; Gisselle Y. Xie; Andrew R. Blaustein; David S. Pilliod; Jason B. Dunham
Climate-smart management for species persistence includes consideration of species’ climate sensitivity, exposure to changing conditions, and adaptive capacity. With all species potentially exposed to changing conditions, rapid multi-species systematic assessments are needed. Northern latitudes are particularly important for ectotherms relative to climate change because many species reach their northward extents here, and climate affects habitat suitability and aspects of physiological ecology. Two case studies illustrate different aspects of multi-taxa vulnerabilities to climate change. First, we evaluated the intrinsic risk to climate change for 114 amphibians, reptiles, and freshwater fishes in the US Pacific Northwest by combining geographic rarity and traits-based approaches. We found: 1) 23% of amphibians and 17% of reptiles had very high climate sensitivity using an index that combined rarity (area of occupancy) and climate niche breadth metrics; and 2) only one life history trait (age at maturity) was correlated with climate sensitivity. Results help focus management attention on at-risk taxa identified by both rarity and traits-based approaches. Second, in addition to examining climate futures for herpetofauna, climate niches of species posing potential threats to amphibians and reptiles are important considerations, including disease-causing pathogens. Using world data of amphibian chytrid fungal pathogen (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, Bd) infections, we projected the future Bd distribution with climate change scenarios. An expanded high-latitude range is expected. Initial sampling has detected Bd and a second pathogen, Ranavirus, in coastal Alaskan wetland ecosystems where a monitoring plan is under development to assess amphibians subject to changes in both climate and pathogen exposure.
4:20PM Not Everything That Counts Can Be Counted – Lessons Learned in the Recovery of the Lake Erie Watersnake
  Kristin Stanford; Richard B. King
Although qualitative goals can present challenges when measuring success, they are often just as important as quantitative goals when it comes to ensuring the long term conservation of species. Listed as threatened in 1999 and recovered in 2011, the Lake Erie watersnake (Nerodia sipedon insularum) represents one of the most rapid species recovery stories of the Endangered Species Act. But what can the recovery of a small population of endemic watersnakes teach us about conservation on a larger scale? The federal recovery plan, implemented in 2003, had three largely quantitative recovery criterion including assessing and securing overall and island specific population sizes and habitats as well as reducing intentional human persecution. However, several qualitative strategies were utilized to achieve these quantitative goals. Here we present these strategies from the success story of the LEWS that can be applied in other conservation programs. These include: (1) being proactive in initial recovery efforts; (2) utilizing pre-established partnerships to tackle multiple recovery tasks; (3) staying positive, but prudent in the face of tackling ophiophobia; (4) being persistent with the conservation message; (5) having patience with the overall process; and (6) bringing passion whenever possible. The continued partnering of both quantitative and qualitative conservation efforts is vitally important for ensuring the long term recovery success for this species.
4:40PM A Recipe for Success: Lessons Learned from Conservation of the Columbia Spotted Frog in the Intermountain West
  David S. Pilliod
The Columbia spotted frog is a widespread amphibian in the western US and yet it has been considered an at-risk species because of threats to habitats and populations. Populations in southern Idaho, Nevada, and Utah, were petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1993, mostly stemming from issues associated with isolation across the vast arid and semi-arid region. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) determined the species was warranted but precluded from listing because of other higher priority species. Conservation actions were then implemented by several state and federal agencies to reduce threats to populations. Livestock fencing was installed to reduce disturbance at some breeding ponds. Habitat was increased by digging new ponds, restoring stream channels, and translocating beavers to streams where beavers were absent. Populations that were at the brink of extinction were supplemented through translocation of egg masses and individuals from larger populations nearby. New partnerships were formed among diverse stakeholders, such as ranchers, wildlife biologists, and NGOs, to implement actions across private and public lands. In August 2015, the USFWS ruled that the Great Basin Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of the Columbia spotted frog was not warranted for listing under the ESA. Although species conservation was successful, agencies continue to monitor populations to ensure that the species does not succumb to persistent drought, disease, or unforeseen stressors. This forward-thinking, long-view of species conservation is rare and reflects the efforts by students, citizens, resource managers, and biologists. This is an example of how stakeholder collaboration, long-term monitoring, practical actions, and adaptive management can lead to successful outcomes in species conservation.

Organizers: Susan Walls, U.S. Geological Survey, Gainesville, FL; Katie O’Donnell, U.S. Geological Survey, Gainesville, FL

Location: Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland Date: October 10, 2018 Time: 8:10 am - 5:00 pm