I really like academic herpetology meetings, and I (mostly) really like herpetologists, so it was with a skip in my step and a smile on my face that I made my way to Bournemouth, Dorset (UK) for the 2017 Amphibian and Reptile Biology and Conservation meeting. Because the meeting jointly involves two bodies – Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC) and the British Herpetological Society (BHS) – it’s termed the Joint Scientific Meeting.

Back room at the BNSS. A great venue for a zoology meeting. Credit: Darren Naish

The overall theme was certainly UK-based, but there was at least some material on non-British species. The venue itself – the Bournemouth Natural Science Society (BNSS) building – is great for zoological meetings, the great many taxiderm mounts and other specimens giving it an appropriate museumy feel. Stalls selling books and merchandise, and a raffle, meant that I headed back home with more additions for my library. What went down? Let’s find out…

Some of the many interesting specimens at the BNSS. At left, a Great auk. At right, a Galapagos tortoise. That Great auk is not included in Erroll Fuller’s inventory of known museum specimens... and I’m told that there's a good reason for that. It's seemingly a model, not an actual taxiderm specimen. Credit: Darren Naish

Darryn Nash – yup, not Darren Naish – gave an enlightening (albeit somewhat depressing) talk on translocation efforts pertaining to British reptile populations (this being the removal of animals from a site under development or destruction – a ‘donor site’ – to a supposedly suitable alternative ‘receptor site’ nearby). Long-term studies indicate that translocations are generally not successful, though a complication is that the animals at some donor sites may have been in decline even prior to translocation.

In related news, Stuart Graham discussed work on determining the suitability of habitat for Sand lizard Lacerta agilis reintroduction. The captive Sand lizard population needs to be managed in order to prevent inbreeding: already, the wild lizards in some parts of the UK (we’re not talking about many colonies here) are already low in genetic diversity and appear to have undergone a population bottleneck.

Inga Zeisset on northern clade Pool frogs.Credit: Darren Naish

Inga Zeisset discussed work on the Pool frogs Pelophylax lessonae recently discovered in Finland. The distribution, phylogeny and biogeography of Northern clade Pool frogs has become an area of special interest over the past few decades, not just because it has become clear that England was once home to this species (it was ‘allowed’ to go extinct before it became realised that it was native: Snell 1994, Buckley & Foster 2005) but also because there has been increasing interest in its presence across Scandinavia and around the fringes of the Baltic. Northern clade Pool frogs (Zeisset & Beebee 2007) in Finland are presently of unexplained origins – are they relicts, recent natural colonisers or the products of human introduction? Natural colonisation would require that the frogs have made some short over-water dispersals – an idea that is not ridiculous given the (relative) tolerance this species has for low-salinity seawater.

Steve Allain on the midwife toad population of Cambridge. Credit: Darren Naish

Steve Allain presented work done on the midwife toad colony recently discovered in Cambridge. These animals live in suburban gardens and one area of investigation concerns their origins. Checking for Bd has, thus far, produced negative results, and breeding ponds have recently been discovered. The tadpoles sometimes overwinter and become freakishly large (compared to native anurans). Palmate newts have recently been discovered in Cambridge too and the question of their origins also requires investigation.

Steve has developed a technique of swabbing from tadpole mouthparts. Note the large size of the tadpole. Credit: Darren Naish

My own talk focused on the species thought, or suspected, to have occurred here in prehistory, and in particular on those various anecdotes and stories invoked to explain the occurrence of various species that are probably not native. Are any of the English treefrog colonies actually relict, native populations (as determined – all too late – for our native Pool frogs) (Snell 2006), have the Bournemouth Western green lizards actually been here for many decades longer than generally thought, and should we expect to find native British populations of Moor frog or Agile frog? The timing was good, since a paper has just appeared on the British frog fauna prior to industrial times (Raye 2017).

Cover slide of my talk. The photos show (left to right) Agile frog, Wall lizard and Western green lizard. The last two animals were encountered at Boscombe, Bournemouth, UK. Credit: Darren Naish

In a truly data-packed talk, Chris Reading presented work on the changing fortunes of Smooth snake Coronella austriaca in heathland and conifer plantations. Declines in the conditions of individuals over time, their migrations into and out of the habitats concerned, changing male-female ratios, density of individuals overall and much else was reported. The general take-home message seemed to be that plantations – even though they might look like good Smooth snake habitat – are really not, that the animals become trapped in these environments and cannot leave them, and that density alone is not a good measure of the health of a population.

Another ‘big data’ project was presented by Danni Thompson and discussed changing breeding phenology in British newts, in particular Great crested newts Triturus cristatus. Changes are very obviously afoot, as revealed (not least) by a male in full breeding regalia photographed in early December 2017!

Danni Thompson discusses GCN breeding phenology, and shows photos of a male newt observed in December. Credit: Darren Naish

The day ended with Stephen Price’s talk ‘One host or two: what makes a generalist parasite?’ (on the complex world of host-parasite interactions and how it all depends on so many other things), and Stephen Green’s discussion of amphibians of the Honduran cloud forests. Cusuco National Park in Honduras is ranked 68th in global significance as goes amphibian diversity, and 25th in terms of ‘most irreplaceable protected areas’. Among its several endemics is Nototriton brodiei (Campbell & Smith 1998), a plethodontid I wrote about here back in August 2015.

And that, essentially, is that. My thanks to John Wilkinson and others for organising a brilliant event and for inviting me as a speaker, to Steve, Alice and others for great company and enabling the pursuit of merriment, and to everyone else who attended for making it what it was.

A giant model of a Sand lizard Lacerta agilis I photographed once... I think at Testwood Lakes, Hampshire. Credit: Darren Naish

For previous articles on issues related to those discussed here, see…

Refs - -

Buckley, J. & Foster, J. 2005. Reintroduction strategy for the pool frog Rana lessonae in England. English Nature Research Reports 642, 1-53.

Campbell, J. A. & Smith, E. N. 1998. New species of Nototriton (Caudata: Plethodontidae) from eastern Guatemala. Scientific Papers of the Natural History Museum of the University of Guatemala, 1-8.

Raye, L. 2017. Frogs in pre-industrial Britain. Herpetological Journal 27, 368-378.

Snell, C. 1994. The pool frog: a neglected native? British Wildlife 5 (1), 1-4.

Snell, C. 2006. Status of the Common tree frog in Britain. British Wildlife 17 (3), 153-160.

Zeisset, I. & Beebee, T. J. C. 2007. Two clades of north European pool frogs Rana lessonae identified by cytochrome b sequence analysis. Herpetological Journal 17, 255-260.