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I spent the first week driving to and from in Washington, DC to attend a pre-departure meeting for the National Science Foundation East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes Fellowship that I received. This is a highly competitive fellowship to go to one of seven different locations in the Pacific and Oceania (Japan, South Korea, China, Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, or New Zealand). The goal of this fellowship is to foster collaborations between U.S. graduate students and international researchers.

For years, I have been trying to get to Australia to work on a new group of frogs. Frogs in the genus Pseudophryne are small, brightly colored, and toxic. It is a great system to compare to Poison Dart Frogs. What makes them really fascinating is that they produce the same kind of toxins as the Poison Dart Frogs, but they make them on their own, rather than by diet like the Dart Frogs. They're the only frogs that can do this.

There were 215 recipients of the award that attended this meeting in DC that ranged from fellow evolutionary biologists to sociologists to nuclear physcists. There was a lot of brain power in a small room and a ton of enthusiasm. It was inspiring to see all of the different people there all being excited about their own particular projects. Being a biologist, I tend to only surround myself by biologists, so it was an interesting experience to interact with non-biologists. I felt a bit intimidated talking to those grad students, but I like to think that they were intimidated by my project.

There were 30 recipients of the award for Australia. And they are going to be stationed all over the country. The way the award works is that we have to develop a project with a host researcher who will mentor us while we are in the country. I will be working with Dr. Michael Mahony of the University of Newcastle and Dr. Stephen Donnellan of the University of Adelaide (with Newcastle being my home base). I'll be the only person in Newcastle, but there are people who will be nearby, so I imagine we will occasionally meet up with our cohort to explore the country. We will be in Canberra around June 20 for an official welcome by the Australian Academy of Sciences, and then be sent off to our host locations.

With the visa, I only have a maximum of 90 days in country, even though I only officially have to be in the country June 23 through August 19 (8 weeks). I think I'm going to go a few weeks earlier to work on my project and to ensure I have plenty of time to rub elbows with Australian researchers and explore eastern Australia.

This is an amazing opportunity not only to get to a new country, but to establish contacts in an area that has been of interest to me for much of my life. As a result of this, I have decided that I am going to go all gung-ho with the trip and blog about it on regular basis. I have also joined Twitter (@JPLawrencePhoto) to keep social media involved. This is going to be a productive summer, and I can't wait for it to start and bring you all along! And just so I can have a photo with this post, I managed to stay in the Smokies and Shenandoah National Park when going to/from DC. The photo is of Trillium cuneatum, a spring wildflower found throughout the woodlands in the Appalachians.

I had the opportunity to visit the Pacific Northwest a couple of weeks ago to visit a friend and one of my main goals was to find as many of the salamanders in the area as possible in the short time that I was there. We ended up finding seven different species, including this Rough-Skinned Newt (Taricha granulosa) and I've come to the realization that what started out as a year-long project has turned into a personal passion that will go beyond the year.

I had originally targeted a group of animals that I was interested in, but didn't have a great passion for. I wanted a photography project that would last a year, get me out to new areas in the country and document some of our more obscure animals. In particular, I wanted to continue with the Meet Your Neighbours project for salamanders. I had high hopes of perhaps getting 50 species of salamanders for the MYN biodiversity project. As there are approximately 190 species of salamanders in the U.S., this was no small undertaking. After this last trip, I am sitting below my goal, but still a respectable 34 species, largely from Appalachia and the Pacific Northwest. With the weather declining through much of the country, it does not look like I will add any more species to that list this year.


When faced with this realization, I understood that this was not a year-long project anymore.

This was a multi-year project. The Year of the Salamander is a fantastic awareness campaign for these secretive animals, but at the end of the year, it will be over, and it will be the year of something else next year. But salamanders need all of the awareness they can get. A recent study has found that a new species of chytrid fungus is devastating European salamanders, and threatens to jump the pond and come to the U.S. This threat makes documenting and raising awareness of American salamanders all the greater. So this project will be ongoing. It is an extremely tall order to document all 190 species of American salamander, but I'm going to try. Stay tuned.

#projects #salamander #yearofthesalamander

Long overdue update to projects!

The Year of the Salamander is well under way and I'm planning another trip to Appalachia in hopes to find a number of salamander species. I went to the lower stretch of the Appalachians in Tennessee and North Carolina in mid March in hopes to find a number of salamander species. I did find quite a few species, but not as many as I would have hoped. I did find some very neat species such as this Spring Salamander (Gyrinophilus porphyriticus) pictured here, however. Consequently, I decided to make another trip to lower Appalachia to try to get more salamander species now that it is warmer.

You may ask why Appalachia? Well, the southeastern U.S. is home to the greatest salamander diversity in the world. No where else on the planet can I find so many different species so closely packed together. A number of species such as the Pigeon Mountain Salamander (Plethodon petraeus), Cheoah Bald Salamander (Plethodon cheoah), and Peaks of Otter Salamander (Plethodon hubrichti) are confined to single mountain peaks. In this trip, I hope to find some of these endemics. It's something that cannot easily be done anywhere else.

It would not surprise me if I visited at least once more this year. I also plan on hitting the Ozarks and Ouachitas when are another center of salamander diversity in the U.S. The Year of the Salamander is moving along!

#salamander #update #projects #yearofthesalamander

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