The Department of Biological Sciences is part of the University of Memphis - an urban university. You might think that limits our ability to give students the opportunity to study plants and animals in their native habitats, but that's not the case. We have a number of classes with a field study component and in this blog entry, we're going to talk about a class that takes students into the field to observe frogs, salamanders, and snakes in the wild.
Dr. Matthew Parris teaches BIOL 4744 Herpetology (the study of amphibians like frogs, toads, and salamanders, as well as reptiles such as snakes, lizards, and turtles) which introduces students to the classification, distribution, life histories, techniques of collection and preservation, and natural habitats of North American reptiles and amphibians. According to Dr. Parris, herpetology is one of the most rapidly expanding branches of zoological study. There are number of reasons for the increased interest, including the importance of amphibians and reptiles in many ecological communities, and because they have been experiencing extraordinary population declines over the last few decades. These declines herald a global deterioration of ecosystem quality, which negatively affects both wildlife and human populations. Dr. Parris’ class provides a contemporary assessment of amphibian and reptile conservation, ecology, and evolution and he emphasizes three fundamental biological components: evolutionary history, form and function, and ecology and conservation.
Dr. Parris’ class reflects the kind of research he conducts in primarily two settings: a temperature-controlled laboratory with access to a wet lab, and an outdoor array of pond mesocosms (any outdoor experimental system that examines the natural environment under controlled conditions) located at the Meeman Biological Field Station. Access to both the lab and a more natural outdoor experimental system allows him to conduct experiments with individual animals and at the population or community level. His primary focus is determining how natural and human influence impact amphibian life history and fitness. These pressures include predation, pesticide exposure, and infection by the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. The work in his lab seeks to describe the effects of these pressures, both independently and interactively, on amphibians and aquatic communities. Read more about Dr. Parris’ research.