Like most animal biologists, I love to be in the field - getting my hands dirty and collecting valuable data whilst observing and photographing the animals that fuel my passion. I've completed fieldwork in a number of different countries such as Germany, Tanzania and Malaysia. The majority of the fieldwork I have completed has been in the UK, where I've surveyed extensively for both amphibians and reptiles. Fieldwork is an integral part of ecology with a number of specific methods needed when surveying for reptiles and amphibians.
Ponds such as the one photographed above are used by amphibians to breed, where they lay their eggs and then disperse into the surrounding environment leaving the tadpoles to fend for themselves. Surveys for amphibians are usually conducted at night with the use of powerful torches. Daytime surveys can be conducted using nets and also searching aquatic vegetation for newt eggs. I currently hold a Class 2 great crested newt licence for the mentioned techniques as well as bottle trapping.
Reptile surveys are completed slightly differently to amphibians surveys, they reply on the use of artificial refugia (also known as artificial cover objects) such as corrugated sheets of steel often referred to as 'tins'. Other potential refugia materials are roofing felt, Onduline and carpet tiles. Reptiles seek these out due to the favourable microhabitat conditions they provide, at which point they can be searched. Whilst on a survey, two juvenile slow worms (Anguis fragilis) were found residing under the tin photographed above.
Disease is a major threat to both amphibians and reptiles, learning more about how disease spreads and impacts populations is vital if we want to mitigate them. The amphibian chytrid fungi (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis & Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans) and ophidiomycosis (Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola) are three fungal pathogens which currently threaten species globally. I have extensive experience in collecting samples from wild amphibians, such as this midwife toad (Alytes obstetricans) and reptiles such as the barred grass snake (Natrix helvetica) for the detection of pathogens. Due to my research, I also have experience in the lab with the extraction and analysis of such samples.
Biometric data is an important variable to collect when measuring wildlife populations, some of the methods are slightly more intrusive than others. Photographed above is a slow worm in a squash box, using the software ImageJ it is possible establish the length of the individual. This data can then be used to help determine the body condition index (BCI) of individuals within a population for comparative purposes. I am a huge advocate for citizen science and the need to record species, even if they are seen to be "common". How can we detect declines in common species unless we have the data to back this up? I'm currently the Record Pool verifier for Cambridgeshire and the amphibian and reptile verifier for iRecord for Cambridgeshire too. Most of the records that come through digitally are correct although some are of mistaken identity - highlighting the need for herpetologists like myself to engage with as many people as possible to ensure everybody can identify the most mundane of species let alone the rarer and more exciting stuff. All of the records then make their way to the local environmental records centre (CPERC) before being made available on the NBN Atlas to inform development and conservation planning. If you're not based in the UK, you may still be able to use these portals. If not then I would recommend HerpMapper, a global citizen science-based herpetological recording scheme. It's important that if you've seen a species that it's recorded as you never know when that information is going to be useful to a researcher, conservationist or ecologist.