Herps and Inverts


Potential for Broad Biodiversity of Vertebrate Species Detection Using iDNA Analysis of Carrion Beetle Diets
Katherine Schneider, Kristin Brzeski, Tara Bal

Invertebrate DNA (iDNA) has become a popular and fast-growing field to survey mammalian biodiversity through analysis of invertebrate diets. Well-known groups for this method include biting flies, leaches, ticks, and mosquitoes, but Carrion beetles, or Silphid beetles, have not yet been established as a viable iDNA source insect in scientific literature. Silphids have two major subfamilies, burying beetles (Nicrophorinae) and carrion beetles (Silphinae), with carrion beetles feeding on any available carcass and burying beetles focusing on small mammal carcasses that they bury. Thus, these beetles could serve as an effective, noninvasive source to survey mammalian communities. To validate the use of iDNA methods in Silphids, fieldwork was conducted in Alberta, Michigan on Michigan Technological University’s Ford Forest in the Northern Hardwood-Silviculture Experiment for Enhancing Diversity. Pitfall trapping of beetles was conducted with a mesh barrier between the bait and the beetle to prevent contamination of beetles in the field, and two different DNA samples were collected to test their viability: external swabs with feces collected in the field, and gut dissections in the lab. We extracted DNA from both sample types and performed PCR with the vertebrate primer 12S-V5F/R, which targets the mitochondrial 12S rRNA gene in vertebrates. Samples were then sent to GeneWiz for Sanger sequencing. We successfully amplified and identified multiple vertebrate species including small mammal species, local carnivores, and potential bait consumption, demonstrating the applicability of Silphids as iDNA sources. The potential for this method is significant, where we now have the ability to examine a broad biodiversity of species through Silphid beetle diets and identify ubiquitous, rare, and difficult to handle small mammal species.

Conservation Agreement and Strategy for Springsnails in Nevada and Utah
Jeff Jenness, Chris Crookshanks, Jon Sjöberg, Eric Miskow, Kristin Szabo, Kate Holcomb, Kevin Wheeler, Larry Stevens, Cassie Mellon, Chad Mellison, Michael Schwemm, Laurel Saito, Rachel Van Horne, Matthew Phillippi, John Wullschleger

There is an increasing concern and need for the conservation of springsnails and the unique spring and springbrook habitats on which they depend. Nationwide, several of these species have been listed as endangered or threatened under provisions of the Endangered Species Act; others are undergoing review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for possible future listing actions. These species can be particularly susceptible to localized threats such as water diversion, invasive species, development, or trampling by ungulates. In 2017, multiple agencies, stakeholders, and other interested parties in Nevada and Utah completed a Conservation Agreement for springsnails. The corresponding conservation Strategy was completed in 2020. The conservation actions described in the Strategy are expected to lead to the protection and enhancement of 103 springsnail species and their associated habitats in Nevada and Utah. Conservation Agreements and Strategies have been an important conservation tool for Nevada and Utah for more than 20 years and, in many cases, have resulted in precluding the need to list at-risk species.

Current Detectability and Occurrence of Rio Grande Cooter on the Pecos River – SRIP
Laramie Mahan, Lawrence Bassett, Adam Duarte, Daniel Foley, Michael Forstner, Ivana Mali
The Rio Grande Cooter (Pseudemys gorzugi) is a freshwater turtle of growing conservation concern, listed as threatened in New Mexico and Mexico and a species of greatest conservation need in Texas. Threats to the species include habitat degradation, climate change, recreational shooting, and overexploitation. Pseudemys gorzugi inhabits the lower Rio Grande River basin and its tributaries. The Pecos River, which connects many of the northern occupied tributaries to the Rio Grande River, has not been surveyed for the species in over a decade, yet it represents a large segment of the species’ assumed range. The Pecos River is arguably one of the most anthropogenically altered rivers in the U.S.A. through channelization, agriculture, oil extraction, and dam construction. Our objective is to conduct freshwater turtle surveys across 32 sites on the Pecos River between 2020 and 2021 and use a single-season, single-species modeling framework to estimate the relationship between environmental conditions and the occurrence and detectability of P. gorzugi in this highly degraded river system. We capture turtles by setting 45 hoopnet traps for two days per site. We also record water quality parameters and river characteristics in which are hypothesized to affect the detection and presence of the species. Assessing the occupancy and detection probabilities of P. gorzugi will aid in understanding habitat preferences of the species on the Pecos River while accounting for the sampling process. Furthermore, the project will shed light on the current distribution of the species in the Pecos River, as well as aid in the species status assessment process currently underway by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
Detecting the Disease-Causing Agent of Toxoplasmosis in the Giant African Snail in O’Ahu, Hawai’I – SRIP
Olivia Stogner, Christopher A. Lepczyk, Kenneth A. Hayes, Sarah Zohdy
Toxoplasmosis is a globally distributed disease which has severe negative impacts on humans and many wildlife species. The disease spreads when felids shed infectious Toxoplasma gondii oocysts, the disease-causing agent, through their feces. Most warm-blooded animals contract toxoplasmosis after ingesting these infectious oocysts from the contaminated environment. Recent research shows that marine snails can ingest and carry these oocysts, but detection of oocysts in land snails has not been explored. This lack of knowledge is critical to many ecosystems that are invaded by feral cats and non-native land snails, such as the Hawaiian Islands. Hawaii has several wildlife species fatally impacted by toxoplasmosis, such as the nene goose (Branta sandvicensis) and the Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus schauinslandi). If land snails carry T. gondii oocysts, it is possible they could increase the chance of toxoplasmosis infection among these wildlife species. Our objective is to see if T. gondii DNA can be detected in land snail feces. To accomplish this objective, we collected fecal samples from 160 Lissachatina fulica from feral cat congregation sites in Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi. We extracted DNA from a portion of each fecal sample and used nested PCR to detect presence/absence of T. gondii DNA. We will use genetic sequencing to confirm that positive PCR samples are amplifying T. gondii DNA. We will also use light microscopy on the remaining feces of confirmed samples to observe any full T. gondii oocysts that could be present in the positive fecal samples. We completed the nested PCR process for half of the fecal samples and are processing the remaining samples. We are preparing genomic sequencing and light microscopy for positive samples. Confirmation of T. gondii in land snail feces would indicate a possible understudied pathway for toxoplasmosis and leads to further questions about the role of land snails in toxoplasmosis transmission.
Testing the Sensitivity of Rusty Crayfish Detection Using Edna Sampling – SRIP
Catherine Unger, Stephanie Coster, George Merovich
Although it has been found that eDNA is highly sensitive at detecting the presence of a target species in standing water, studies have shown that the environmental factors in fluvial systems can cause eDNA detection to vary. This could be because stream dynamics such as water flow influence the way in which eDNA dispersal occurs. This study aims to test the range of sensitivity of rusty crayfish eDNA detection and evaluate how detection probability is impacted by environmental conditions in streams. To test the sensitivity of the eDNA assay, we will place cages containing 2-5 live rusty crayfish in eight streams with similar stream conditions within the Juniata River watershed where the rusty crayfish are absent. We will leave the cages in situ for 12 hours before sampling begins. We will then use Sterivex filters to collect filtered water samples 20 m, 40 m, and 60 m downstream from the cage, which will allow us to test the range of distance at which rusty crayfish eDNA can be detected. The results of this project will aid in the development of techniques to monitor the spread of rusty crayfish invasions in freshwater ecosystems. 
Link between Spatial Proximity and Relatedness in Red-Backed Salamanders – SRIP
Sydney Price, Stephanie Coster
The red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus) is a terrestrial species found across the Northeastern United States that favors cool, moist, forested environments. This species exists in high densities throughout their range and have been described as territorial. We are interested in whether there is a correlation between relatedness and spatial proximity in the Hanover County region, which is at the southern edge of their range and therefore may offer a unique perspective.The objective of this study is to curate a microsatellite primer set that can identify red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus) individuals. We will use these primers to genotype individuals and explore the relationship between relatedness and spatial population structure. Understanding spatial population structure is important because it can help us understand behavioral and dispersal patterns that are relevant to conservation
Population Dynamics and Movement Patterns of Semi-Aquatic Turtles – SRIP
Doreen Mata, Cameron Martin, Devin Erxleben, Heather A. Mathewson
Turtles make up a large component of vertebrate fauna in the world, but with a steady decline in numbers, it is important to preserve the aquatic communities. In north-central Texas, USA turtles are distributed among isolated water sources (e.g., ponds and streams). Many of these sources will dry up during periods of low rainfall. Persistence of turtle populations depends upon the ability of individual animals to move to more suitable locations during dry periods. This shifting of the population has consequences for survival and recruitment into the populations. The goal of this study is to assess populations of semi-aquatic turtles; to confirm their presence, estimate abundance, and evaluate movement and connectivity among isolated water sources. In the present study, we are using mark-recapture techniques on a Texas Park and Wildlife Department Wildlife Management Area and an adjacent private property in Brown county, Texas, USA. We will use AIC model selection analyses to determine what environmental variables influence species occupancy and abundance in water sources. We also will document movement among water sources and identify potential barriers. This information will provide knowledge of the semi-aquatic turtle community, population dynamics, and it will assist with management and conservation of the species.  
Elucidating Stand-Level Characteristics Critical for Maintaining Native Bee Pollinators in Working Forests – SRIP
Christine Favorito, James Martin, Angela Larsen-Gray, Daniel Greene, Christine Cairns Fortuin, Brittany Barnes, Elizabeth McCarty, Kamal J.K. Gandhi
Insect pollinators provide essential services to people and forest ecosystems through crop and native plant pollination. Of the many insect pollinators present in forests, most important are bees (Hymenoptera: Anthophila) because they are the most effective and efficient pollinators due to their specialized pollen-carrying morphology and reliance on floral resources for their entire life cycle. Unfortunately, bees are globally declining due to many factors including habitat loss and climate change. It is therefore important to recognize aspects of forest structure and composition that best support these crucial pollinators. Previous bee research has primarily focused on the European honeybee (Apis mellifera) and not on the thousands of bee species native to North America. Additionally, few studies have focused on pollinators in forests, and even less have focused on private forests, which make up 86% of forests in the southeastern U.S. We aim to compare populations and communities of wild bee pollinators in various working forest stand stages, and to test the effects of stand-level structure and composition on bee populations and communities. We are sampling for bees in 32 loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) stands belonging to four stages (early establishment, pre-thinned with a closing canopy, pre-thinned and closed canopy, and post-thinned) in the Upper Coastal Plain region of Georgia using pan and blue vane traps in a randomized complete block design. We are measuring aspects of forest structure and composition (e.g., understory plants and coarse-woody debris) critical for these pollinators. Preliminary results show bees to be significantly more abundant in stands that have not yet reached canopy closure. We are currently identifying collected specimens to species. Results from this study will improve our understanding of how working forests contribute to supporting pollinator communities. 

Location: Virtual Date: November 3, 2021 Time: 11:00 am - 12:00 pm