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Conference helps mark 100 years of KU amphibian, reptile research

Friday, July 17, 2015

LAWRENCE — The KU Biodiversity Institute will celebrate 100 years of amphibian and reptile research this month with an international herpetology conference, exhibitions and a variety of educational public events.

KU will host more than 425 scientists and students for the 58th annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles from July 30–Aug. 2. Single-day and full-conference registration and program information are available on the Biodiversity Institute’s SSAR 2015 meeting website.

Conference highlights include talks by world-famous biologists, including KU alumnus and National Academy of Sciences member David Hillis of the University of Texas at Austin, renowned snake expert Harry Greene of Cornell University, Madagascar explorer Miguel Vences of Technical University of Braunschweig in Germany, and amphibian conservation advocate Tyrone Hayes of the University of California, Berkeley. There are academic sessions and symposia, a reception honoring distinguished senior herpetologists, a live auction of historical herpetological memorabilia, and tours of the Fitch Reservation at the KU Biological Field Station and herpetological collections of the Natural History Museum.

The conference also offers two events for the community to explore herpetology. One is a live animal exhibition at the Oread Hotel that includes the majority of Kansas’ non-venomous reptile and amphibian species. The exhibit is a Sternberg and Kansas Herpetological Society event presented in conjunction with the SSAR meeting. It will be open to the public from 4-8 p.m. daily in Gathering Room 1 during the conference.

Another event consists of two multimedia presentations featuring spectacular wildlife photography and music. The presentations will be offered 9:30-11 p.m. July 31 and 8-9:30 p.m. Aug. 2 at the Woodruff Auditorium in the Kansas Union. Both presentations will feature the renowned herpetological imagery of David Dennis and Eric Juterbock. In one show, viewers will explore the “Amphibians of the Appalachians” through stunning photographs of the region’s spectacular frogs and salamanders. The second show, “Herpetologists Past and Present,” will take readers on a colorful and informative journey through the lives of herpetologists. Both shows are free and open to the public.


Beyond the conference, the Biodiversity Institute will encourage local residents to learn more about and celebrate the ecological role of amphibians and reptiles in Kansas. In that spirit, the Lawrence City Commission’s agenda for July 28 includes a proclamation declaring the week of July 27–Aug. 2 International Amphibian and Reptile Week.

This month the Society for the Study of Reptiles and Amphibians will publish “Herpetology at Kansas: A Centennial History,” by William Duellman, professor emeritus and a former curator of herpetology at KU.

Two new herpetology-focused exhibitions are now on view at the KU Natural History Museum. One is a new live animal display of lizards focused on anole lizards and their ecology. Another recently completed exhibition features student wildlife photography, field journals and maps describing a 2014 Kansas herpetology field course.

Scientists at KU have been studying amphibians and reptiles for more than 100 years. Alumnus Edward Taylor, who first published his research in 1915, helped begin what is now the fifth-largest amphibian and reptile collection in the world at KU. Today the collection includes 340,000 specimens representing 5,000 species from 156 countries, and it includes the largest collection of Kansas specimens in the state. KU herpetology curators and graduate students conduct collections-based research throughout the world, from across Southeast Asia to Africa to Latin America to Kansas.