The Unpredictable and Unexpected Impacts of Invasive Species

You may have noticed that, at ARC, we spend a lot of time on invasive species management. From removing invasive bullfrogs in southwestern wetlands to controlling fire ants and a multitude of plants in southeastern ecosystems, it seems like our invasives work is never-ending. In fact, it may seem pointless, and some have argued that we just need to get used to the idea that invasive species are now part of our ecosystems.

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Reflections of Place: The Importance of Habitat for Amphibians and Reptiles

People are deeply connected to places. We tend to attach a great deal of meaning to them; they can spark feelings of comfort, inspiration, belonging, excitement, awe. Despite the significance a location may hold for us, we are not tied to these places and can always choose to live or go elsewhere. In other words, no matter how strong our feelings, our survival isn’t directly linked to the elements that make a place special.

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ARC Executive Director Receives US Fish and Wildlife Prize for Turtle Genetics Project

ARC Executive Director JJ Apodaca was recently awarded a highly competitive US Fish and Wildlife Service Theodore Roosevelt Genius Prize (TRGP) in the Preventing Wildlife Poaching and Trafficking category. The TRGP program, established by Congress in 2019, aims to foster creative, cutting-edge solutions for today’s conservation challenges. Only five applicants from across the US were selected for TRGPs this year for their technology-driven wildlife and habitat protection innovations.

“It’s our honor and duty to conserve biodiversity, and genetic tools are an incredibly powerful way for us to do so,” said JJ. The work for which he was awarded the prize embodies both of these convictions. He uses innovative genetic sequencing techniques to return imperiled turtles that have been illegally poached to their home ranges in the wild.

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Amphibians and reptiles give us so much. Let’s give back to them on Giving Tuesday.

Have you ever enjoyed watching a turtle amble by? How about being amazed by the frenzy of fast-moving legs as a lizard scurried across your path or being soothed by a chorus of calling frogs?

For many of us, these kinds of encounters with reptiles and amphibians are synonymous with our love of the outdoors. The beautiful and fascinating species that share the world with us provide accessible ways to connect with nature. They spark our curiosity, inspire us to feel awe, and tap into our sense of wonder.

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Recovering the Chiricahua Leopard Frog for Generations to Come

If you think you hear snoring near a forest stream or wetland in Arizona or New Mexico in the spring or early summer, chances are you’re actually hearing the call of a Chiricahua leopard frog. These olive to dark green frogs—with their charcoal-colored spots, stocky bodies, and distinctive calls—are an iconic species of our Gila PARCA (Priority Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Area) and Cochise PARCAs.

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Hope in the Face of the Latest Research on Amphibian Declines

A study released on October 4 (Luedtke et al., 2023) contains some bad news for amphibians; they are still the most threatened group of vertebrates on Earth. It’s easy to feel less than hopeful when reading Luedtke et al.’s (2023) study, which provides a global assessment of the conservation status of amphibians.

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Government Shutdown Could Hamper Vital Work for Imperiled Wildlife Species

The government shutdown could be a big setback for vulnerable wildlife species in the US. Not only will the critical activities of federal natural resource agencies come to a halt, but much of the work of ARC and other partner organizations also won’t be possible. Unfortunately, some of our critically imperiled focal species can’t afford for us to miss the window to implement the efforts they need, which are often seasonal and time-sensitive.

“When National Forests, Wildlife Refuges, Parks, and other public lands are forced to close, and their employees are furloughed, it hampers our ability to carry out targeted conservation efforts for species that are already running out of time,” ARC Executive Director JJ Apodaca explained. “And timing is key for many of these efforts, such as the protection of the seasonal breeding and egg-laying sites of a federally-listed salamander.”

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Cochise PARCAs: Conserving the Southwest’s Biological Richness

Although southern Arizona is often associated with harsh heat and dry deserts, the area’s biodiversity stands as a testament to a beautifully rich landscape. With flashes of bright orange and yellow, western tanagers fly among mountaintop trees. Cottonwood and desert willow trees grow along lush wetlands. Apache trout swim in cold, high-elevation streams. Montezuma quail roam the pine-oak woodlands. Desert cottontails and Sonoran Desert tortoises traverse the sands and brush of the desert vistas dotted with iconic saguaro cacti. Jaguars even inhabit Cochise County.

In terms of herpetofauna or “herps” (reptiles and amphibians), this area–encompassing the Chihuahuan Desert to the east and the Sonoran Desert to the west and all the habitat in between–is unparalleled. In most US states, we’re focused on protecting between twenty and forty herp species. In Arizona, our two Cochise PARCAs (Priority Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Areas), Cochise East and West, each boast more than forty herp species.

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Get Stuck on Amphibians and Reptiles with Free Stickers

Let’s stick together for amphibians and reptiles! Sign up for our e-newsletter, The ARC’ives, between September 15 – October 3, 2023, and in appreciation, we’ll send you six awesome stickers featuring salamanders, frogs, lizards, snakes, and turtles. Use them to show your support for the conservation of these often misunderstood and overlooked species.

Stick your nose in our business and subscribe to The ARC’ives e-newsletter to receive the latest amphibian and reptile news straight to your inbox and six free stickers to your mailbox. When you sign up, you’ll connect with us and learn about beautiful and fascinating amphibians and reptiles in the US that, although are often small in size, have oversized impacts on their ecosystems. Plus, the ARC’ives will bring a regular dose of hope to your email as we tell you about the many ways we’re helping keep these incredible species around for generations to come.

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Gopher Frog Recovery: At the Edge of a Precipice

On a hot summer afternoon in the Francis Marion Priority Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Area (PARCA), Coastal Plains Program Coordinator Ben Morrison and Assistant Field Project Manager Sydney Sheedy drive down a bumpy dirt road surrounded by longleaf pine trees. They’re heading to Sunset Pond, a not-even-on-the-map ephemeral wetland that represents one of the last healthy few of its kind in the forest, unchoked by invasive species and still reliably filling with water for part of the year.

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Heeding the Call: Conservation of the Houston Toad

If we could step back in time to the end of the 19th century on a warm spring evening in eastern Texas, we’d be transported to a picturesque landscape. The countryside was dominated by grasses and short plants, dotted with clumps of trees. This unique and beautiful ecosystem, which has largely been lost, is called Post Oak Savannah. It’s a transition zone between the longleaf systems of the southeast and the grasslands of central Texas.

A spring night in the past would’ve also likely been punctuated by a chorus of the peaceful trills of the Houston toad. Today, the toad’s calls are becoming harder and harder to hear as its populations dwindle. This small toad species (about two or three inches long) with a perpetual frown and warty skin splattered with orange and brown splotches is holding out in the pockets of habitat that remain.

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Matthew Rothstein Annual Bioblitz: Community Members Survey Biodiversity & Remember Young Naturalist

The Matthew Rothstein Annual Bioblitz is an opportunity for people to join other members of the community to learn more about the wildlife and plants in their local ecosystem, exchange knowledge, and contribute to a scientific survey. The event began in 2022 and is held annually in or near one of our PARCAs, or Priority Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Areas, across the US.

The Bioblitz honors the memory of Matthew Rothstein (3/10/00 – 12/23/20), a lover of wildlife and a cherished member of our naturalist community. “This event was designed to connect participants with the natural world, which brought Matthew such great joy, in order to remember him in a way that he would have loved,” said ARC Executive Director JJ Apodaca.

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Restoring a Desert Oasis to Bolster Narrow-Headed Garter Snake Populations

Have you slept in a tent alone—a tent
Out under the desert sky—
Where a thousand thousand desert miles
All silent round you lie?—
The dust of the aeons of ages dead,
And the peoples that trampled by?
Have you looked in the desert’s painted cup,
Have you smelled at dawn the wild sage musk,
Have you seen the lightning flashing up
From the ground in the desert dusk?

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Recovering the Frosted Flatwoods Salamander

Longleaf pine ecosystems once blanketed the Southeast, covering over ninety million acres from Texas to Virginia. Many varied species, from red-cockaded woodpeckers and quail to eastern diamondback rattlesnakes and dusky gopher frogs, evolved to live among the frequently burning, grassy, sun-soaked savannas.

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Conserving Amphibians and Reptiles on Private Lands: The 2023 Farm Bill

The Farm Bill is one of the most important pieces of federal legislation affecting the conservation of amphibian and reptile species and their habitats. This far-reaching legislation sets important national food and agricultural policy through wide-ranging provisions related to everything from risk management to nutrition and rural development programs.

It is also by far the largest source of US investment in the conservation of soil, water, land, and wildlife on private lands. The 2018 Farm Bill authorized about $30 billion for conservation programs over five years. Through its voluntary, incentive-based programs, the bill enables farmers, ranchers, and foresters to protect wildlife and habitats. These programs incentivize landowners to conserve sensitive ecosystems like wetlands and grasslands, improve water and soil quality, mitigate climate change impacts, and restore habitat for imperiled species, all while improving the sustainability and economic viability of their operations.

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50 Years: What the Endangered Species Act Has Meant for Amphibians and Reptiles

In December of this year, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) turns 50 years old. As this important anniversary approaches, I’m sure you will see waves of news coverage. If it’s anything like past coverage of the ESA, it will be as varied as the species the act protects. No environmental act has been more lambasted or more praised than the ESA.

In this post and beyond, I will dig into the ESA and discuss what it means for amphibian and reptile conservation. This overview will be followed by a series of posts leading up to the anniversary featuring amphibians and reptiles that have been listed as Threatened or Endangered, some that have thrived and some that continue to struggle. It is my hope that increased understanding of this vital law and the effects it has on our native biodiversity will help us better appreciate it and continue in our work together to improve it.

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Crown Jewel of Louisiana’s Biodiversity: Conservation of the Pearl River Basin PARCA

Just east of New Orleans, there’s a diversity of reptiles and amphibians that are as wild and colorful as Mardi Gras. The animal that comes to mind for most people when they think of Louisiana is the American alligator—and while there are certainly alligators, there are also some 140 species of other amazing amphibians and reptiles that call the state home, from diamondback terrapins to Gulf Coast waterdogs to pine snakes and gopher tortoises. Unfortunately, 51 of those are listed as species of greatest conservation need.

The Pearl River Basin PARCA, or Priority Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Area, is the crown jewel of Louisiana; it holds 109 amphibian and reptile species and 98% of the species of greatest conservation need in the state. That makes our work here—from the dark and primordial bottomland hardwoods swamps to the open pineland savannahs—vital.

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Combating Invasives to Give Native Species Back Their Competitive Edge

When you visit a new country, chances are you don’t want to eat at the same burger chain you have near your house, buy your souvenirs at a big box store from the US, and go to an American movie. You want to experience the cuisine, hear the language, and see the art that that particular country offers because those things reveal the fabric of a place’s history and culture.

We can use this concept to understand native ecosystems and invasive species. Just like you can find American burger chains around the world, there aren’t many ecosystems left that haven’t been impacted by invasive species. As humans have spread across the globe, we’ve taken all sorts of species with us—from house cats to flowers to reptiles—and put them where they didn’t historically occur. That has caused problems for our native species (the locals, if you will), and we are at risk of homogenizing our ecosystems and losing the icons of our natural diversity.

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Protecting Our Natural Heritage in the Southern Appalachians

Author Barbara Kingsolver best captured the spirit of the Southern Appalachians when she said, “the flag of Appalachia should be a salamander.” For many, these mountains are embodied by a cool mountain creek, where every rock flip reveals a salamander. In fact, the Southern Appalachian Mountains—including parts of West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia—contain some of the most important places for amphibian and reptile conservation in the world. Within the ridges, valleys, and streams are dozens of habitat types supporting a vast number of imperiled species that need our help, from our smallest turtle to the heaviest salamander in North America.

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Increasing the Odds for Amphibians in the Face of a Long-Term Pandemic

When global challenges arise, the solutions most often involve people coming together. It’s no different for the worldwide amphibian pandemic, chytridiomycosis (pronounced kit-rid-ee-oh-my-coe-sis), which has led to dramatic amphibian declines over the last several decades. This terrible disease is caused by a chytrid (pronounced kit-rid) fungus called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, pronounced… Nevermind, we just call it Bd for short. Bd has led to declines in frogs and salamanders worldwide, and now we face the threat of a new pathogen (called Bsal) that has caused salamander die-offs in Europe. However, together, we have the opportunity to help ensure that these vitally important and beautiful species are protected for current and future generations.

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Protecting Imperiled Wildlife Requires the Right Tools: What’s in ARC’s Toolbox?

Conserving rare species—ones that, in many cases, we don’t know much about—is a constant challenge. Luckily, technology is on our side. All the time, new methods and tools emerge that help us in our work at ARC. Some seem like sci-fi. We can figure out where a species was by taking water samples. Some, like species distribution modeling, translate ecological theory into action using machine learning. Others are surprising. Sometimes, we track individual animals by waving a pole over our heads connected to a beeping electronic box. But all of them help us in our mission to protect and restore amphibian and reptile populations all over the country. Below, we’ll walk through a few of our methods from our toolbox to give a sense of how the work at ARC really gets done.

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Conserving Imperiled Amphibians and Reptiles in a Changing Climate

As the climate changes, our resolve to protect vitally important wildlife remains steadfast. Climate change affects everything in the natural world, and modern conservation efforts must account for its impacts. For amphibians and reptiles, in particular, even small environmental changes can have big effects. Their internal body temperatures fluctuate with the temperature of their surroundings (called ectothermic), and therefore, their behavior and health are also affected. Most amphibians have permeable skin, making them hypersensitive to moisture changes. Many reptiles, like alligator snapping turtles, have temperature-dependent sex determination, so shifts can throw off male-female population balances. And already, these critical species are in steep decline—recent news indicates that one in five reptiles are imperiled, along with a third of amphibian species.

Let’s be clear: climatic shifts have occurred for as long as the earth has been around. But what we are seeing today is quite different than what were typically more gradual shifts in the past. The world has warmed by roughly two degrees Fahrenheit over the last century alone.

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Conservation in the Land of Enchantment’s Gila PARCA

Deep in the heart of the New Mexico desert, something unexpected arises from the drylands–mountain ranges teeming with life. These sky islands are home to some of the most biodiverse habitats in the world. That’s why ARC has designated one such area in the western part of the state dubbed the Land of Enchantment as a Priority Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Area, or PARCA. It’s known as the Gila (pronounced hee-luh) PARCA. It is located in the area surrounding and including Silver City, New Mexico on the ancestral lands of the Chiricahua (pronounced chr-uh-kaa-wuh) Apache Nation.

The formation of sky islands is a story rooted in the geologic history of our world. Around 20,000 years ago, what’s now the deserts of the southwest flourished with greenery and water. As the climate began to warm, creating the deserts we know today, plant and wildlife species became stranded and isolated in these high-elevation mountain ranges where they continued to evolve in an array of habitats.

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Thinking Bigger: Coordinated Place-Based Conservation in PARCAs

To conserve wildlife and wild places across the U.S., together, we must answer the call to act collectively and consider the big picture. At ARC, we think beyond individual animals and individual species. Even as we recognize and celebrate the unique importance of each flattened musk turtle in Alabama and each Chiricahua leopard frog in New Mexico, we never stop thinking about the broader ecosystem context in which these creatures exist because that holds the key to their future. Amphibians and reptiles face an incredibly diverse set of threats across the country, from habitat loss and fragmentation to disease and persecution. If we want to slow their declines, we have to prioritize the most important areas where they are found and build healthy ecosystems and populations in those places.

That’s why our conservation strategy is place-based. It rests on identifying and working in what we call Priority Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Areas, or PARCAs. We have identified hundreds of such places all over the country that stretch from the Southern Appalachians to the Southeastern coastal plains, across the heartland prairies to the deserts of the Southwest, and up to the Pacific Northwest.

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Species Conservation: Opportunity, Ingenuity, and Cooperation

“I am a man in love with nature…I am a wildling, born of forests and fields and more comfortable on unpaved back roads and winding woodland paths than in any place where concrete, asphalt, and crowds prevail.”

– J. Drew Lanham, The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature

Whether you prefer nature’s solitude or are more at home in a crowd, you likely feel reassured knowing that there are places teeming with eye-catching and intriguing wildlife, like turtles, frogs, and lizards. Together, we have the opportunity to ensure that these places and species are protected for current and future generations. Have you ever wondered about the best ways to go about conserving species and how you can help? Although the answers are not always straightforward, we can harness our ingenuity and passion to implement the conservation solutions that the other species that share this planet need from us.

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Black Warrior Waterdog and Flattened Musk Turtle

Meet two of Alabama’s strangest, most specialized reptiles and amphibians.

In the Black Warrior River watershed of Alabama, two rare, mysterious, and little-known species swim the waters. One, the Black Warrior waterdog, is an amphibian, and the other, the flattened musk turtle, is a reptile. Both are highly endangered, and both are tailor-made for the habitat that they share, making our work in the Bankhead Priority Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Area (PARCA) west of Birmingham a two-for-one conservation opportunity. This PARCA is positively teeming with life; Alabama is a global hotspot of aquatic biodiversity. By restoring these imperiled and highly biodiverse waterways, we can recover these two amazing species, protect countless other species, and create healthier water for the people who depend on these rivers for consumption and recreation.

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Small Turtles, Big Future: Southern Population of the Bog Turtle

When we think about the future for the bog turtle, Glyptemys muhlenbergii, we should first consider the past. If we could hit rewind, and look back in time—millions of years back in time—there would be a vast stretch of land full of muddy bogs and fens, from upstate New York down to Georgia. Within those grassy, flooded meadows fed by springs would have hidden thousands upon thousands of one of our favorite reptiles in the world: the bog turtle.

When they are born, bog turtles are the size of a quarter. As adults, they’re only four inches. They are mysterious and secretive, spending most of their time buried in mud. Everything about them encapsulates a slow and steady approach to life; they reach sexual maturity late, lay only a few eggs a year, and can live for at least sixty years. Some of the older individuals have shells as smooth as glass, worn down from years of burrowing in the habitat for which evolution shaped them over the course of fifteen million years.

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