View Full Version : CT Press: Biologist’s book on amphibians seen as major contribution to field

30th November 2007, 16:09
THE ADVANCE (U of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut) 26 November 07 Biologist’s book on amphibians seen as major contribution to field (Cindy Weiss)
Kentwood Wells keeps a collecting net close at hand, near the door to his office. It is the indispensable tool of his lifelong quest to capture knowledge about amphibians.
When he was 12 years old, he began chasing after frogs near his northern Virginia home. As a teenager, he published his first article about toads in the Virginia Herpetological Society newsletter.
Now a professor and the department head of ecology and evolutionary biology, he admits that he “never outgrew it.”
In fact, he just published what others are calling the definitive book on amphibians. After 20 years in various states – from field notes to chapters to proofs – The Ecology and Behavior of Amphibians (University of Chicago Press) has metamorphosed into a five-pound book with 1,150 pages, including 250 pages of references and a 64-page index he prepared himself.
“There has never been another book like it,” says Kurt Schwenk, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and a fellow herpetologist, although he mostly studies reptiles rather than amphibians.
“It will be the standard reference work on amphibians for several generations of vertebrate biologists,” Schwenk says, “and the Rosetta stone for anyone even remotely interested in the group.”
When Wells started the project, he wrote chapters on a portable electric typewriter, and the biological illustrator at UConn at that time, Mary Jane Spring, used a Leroy mechanical lettering set in producing the figures.
Wells graduated to an IBM Selectric, then to a green-screen mainframe terminal, and wore out three PCs before he was done.
The second biological illustrator, Virge Kask (Spring retired before the book was finished), converted the early figures to a digital format and prepared many new ones for later chapters.
These weren’t the only changes during the long-running project, however. Over the years, “the amount of research about amphibians has gone up exponentially,” says Wells.
Several amphibian species have become extinct since he started working on the book.
Along the way, he has contributed to journals and specialized books about amphibian biology in his areas of expertise – social and territorial behavior and communications, parental care, vocalization, and mating systems.
He covers all that and more in his new comprehensive work.
The last chapter is on conservation, an area that has drawn increasing attention from the media in recent years because of concerns about declines in amphibian populations around the world.
There are four or five major causes for declining populations, including habitat destruction, disease, and introduced exotic predators, Wells says.
Declines in areas where there is otherwise pristine habitat, such as Yosemite National Park and protected areas of Central America, are of real concern, he adds.
Some of that is due to a fungal disease, the origin of which is not yet clear.
There also have been frequent news stories about frogs with deformed limbs. The deformities often have gotten confounded in the popular press with the decline, says Wells.
Some frog deformities are due to a parasite that attacks tadpoles, he says, adding that the problem tends to be localized and is not a widespread cause of amphibian declines.
One of the most interesting amphibian behaviors he has studied is now being investigated in more detail by one of his doctoral students, Kristina Hurme, in Panama, the site of Wells’ early field work.
It involves a mother frog who communicates to her dense tadpole school by bobbing up and down and creating waves to communicate the need to move, perhaps to get more food or to avoid predators.
This is very sophisticated parental behavior for a frog whose brain is the size of a pencil eraser, he says.
Wells began his work in Panama after he earned his Ph.D. at Cornell, with a postdoctoral fellowship with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
For several years his research in Panama was funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society.
Locally, Wells finds dense aggregations of American toads to study around the Fenton River, and bullfrogs and green frogs at a farm pond in Lebanon, where he has worked with another of his graduate students, Susan Herrick.
Wells, who came to UConn in 1977 and began writing the book in the 1980s, admits that writing such a comprehensive volume “sort of takes over your whole life.”
Working on it cut down on the number of journal articles he could write, he says, but it is likely to be a more long-lasting contribution to the field.
Reviewer Marty Crump, adjunct professor of biological sciences at Northern Arizona University and a leading amphibian researcher, comments, “the book is truly a masterpiece. Every topic that Wells addresses is a stunning synthesis of the state of our knowledge.”

30th November 2007, 16:27
This book is $59 on Amazon...and to order the french Jean Raffaëlli book is $90 (which I didn't do yet...) tough choice.

30th November 2007, 18:52
Wes, you are my hero. I will own the hardback edition of this book by the end of January (and hopefully the Duellman and Trueb book also!) No one will by the crazy amphibian books I put on my wish list so we'll see what I can scrounge up for these guys.

Your article mentions Marty Crump and the makes me wonder if anyone else here has read the memoir/diary of her time in the tropics as a amphibian field biologist, In Search of the Golden Frog. I thought it was quite good and a great picture of field research.

30th November 2007, 19:41
I'll be purchasing that.

30th November 2007, 19:55
Merry Giftmas to Kaysie. Love, Kaysie!

As if I need more books... Can you ever have too many?

30th November 2007, 20:36
Amazon have a paperback version listed as not yet published, and it's about half the price of the hardback. Any how, I ordered the hardback and I also splurged on this: "Amphibians and Reptiles of Texas: With Keys, Taxonomic Synopses, Bibliography, and Distribution Maps (W.L. Moody, Jr., Natural History Series, No. 8.)"

1st December 2007, 18:14
I wish I'd known a paperback was on its way as I've just forked out for the hardback.
Nevertheless, it's an easier read than I imagined and I've learned a lot already.
The mind boggles at the sheer amount of work he put in to write it, even over that extended period.

I'm afraid I cheated by reading the final section on the global threat to/and conservation of amphibians first. Excellent stuff.

5th December 2007, 23:35
Well my copy of Wells' book arrived yesterday, along with that other title I had ordered. Wells' book is mammoth. It is a hefty/heavy hardback book that makes Petranka's book seem like "light" reading (light as in light as a paperback in comparison). It would make an ideal companion to Duellman and Trueb, although Wells' book is written in a much more readable style than the other (which is really a textbook imo). I'm somewhat disappointed that there are no colour photographs in this otherwise beautiful book.

Is it worth $60? To someone interested in general amphibian characteristics/aspects with specific examples, yes, but don't buy it because you like mudpuppies or something - it's more for the understanding of the trends and contrasts across the Class as a whole. It also has the added benefit of building muscle mass (I'm only half kidding).

6th December 2007, 14:01
Sorry to be ignorant, but is the Petranka book you talk about this one?

by Petranka Jw (Author)
Hardcover: 587 pages
Publisher: Smithsonian; 1 edition (July 17, 1998)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1560988282
ISBN-13: 978-1560988281

and the other is this one?

Biology of Amphibians by William E. Duellman (Author), Linda Trueb (Author)
Paperback: 696 pages
Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press (February 1, 1994)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 080184780X
ISBN-13: 978-0801847806

My Amazon wish list grows and grows...I also have 4 ~$50 books I need for a professional certification. My plan for the forseeable future, one expensive book per pay period...

Although no color pictures....I'm a picture person, so that's a serious matter!

Also, just to be clear, the paperback platinum mentions, is of the Wells book? thanks.

ALSO one last thing: don't only look on amazon. I'm pricing some of these books, and one I'm looking at now is $10 cheaper on alibris. So be sure and shop around!!

6th December 2007, 15:52
Those would be the books spoken of. Petranka's book is excellent in that it gives plenty of scientific information on every United States ad Canadian caudate. I unfortunately don't own the Duellman and Trueb book yet.

Another excellent book is A Natural History of Amphibians written by Robert Stebbins and Nathan Cohen.

Paperback: 332 pages
Publisher: Princeton University Press (January 6, 1997)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0691102511
ISBN-13: 978-0691102511

I can't say for certain but I judge that it is probably more general than Biology of Amphibians or The Ecology and Behavior of Amphibians. It is wonderfully accessible and contains a great deal of information on amphibians including how they recognize food, their senses, mating behavior and more. I really recommend it to those who don't want something too complex.

6th December 2007, 18:22
That one's only $13 (used)...What's another book?
(and these are only the ones you can see in the picture!)

6th December 2007, 19:42
I've been tempted to buy the Stebbins book for a long time but I never got around to it. Plus these babies aren't exactly cheap...

7th December 2007, 17:20
Opinions on this one? It looks interesting. Does anyone know if it has nice, and color or B/W pics?

A Key to Amphibians & Reptiles of the Continental United States and Canada (paperback)
Robert Powell (Author), Joseph T. Collins (Author), Errol D. Hooper (Author)

List Price: $17.95

7th December 2007, 18:27
I don't know that book but be careful of keys - make sure you get a look at that book first because keys might just be tables of text with line drawings for identification purposes and nothing more. If you don't have Petranka, get that. I think it's what you'll enjoy most.

Opinions on this one? It looks interesting. Does anyone know if it has nice, and color or B/W pics?

A Key to Amphibians & Reptiles of the Continental United States and Canada (paperback)
Robert Powell (Author), Joseph T. Collins (Author), Errol D. Hooper (Author)

List Price: $17.95

8th December 2007, 04:41
I ordered Petranka AND Raffaele today. Somehow the eggbeater in my brain started whirring "Yodel if you love urodeles" and it won't stop. Anyway, the description of the Key said it was very useful for teaching about the principles of taxonomy with DNA, which is something I never studied and sounds really interesting. But I'm glad you explained what a "key" was, which I didn't recognize as scientific jargon for something specific, thanks.

8th December 2007, 04:45
Jean's book is en Francais, malheureusement. C'est un problème?

21st October 2009, 13:39
Bringing the topic back to Wells' book, I received it in the mail a couple days ago. I thought $59.59 was a lot to pay for a book, but I realized once I received it, what a bargain it was. This book is huge. It is a textbook. I flipped through it, and it has a lot of great drawings and b/w photos. I've already started making notes for a book review, though it will be a couple months before I get through it. Just smuggling its immenseness into work to read will be a feat, and I'm not even sure it'll fit in my locker. I can say already: I moved it from "intermediate" to "advanced," and I suspect it will be another gold standard read.
Abrahm, did you ever get it?
John, did you finish reading it?

21st October 2009, 15:09
I never read it cover to cover - I'd probably have killed myself by about page 200 (no offence to Professor Wells). I pull it out when I want to know some interesting tidbit about a species, genus or whatever of amphibians.

21st October 2009, 15:24
Yup! I've had it for a little over a year. Dropped the big cash for hardcover, as well. I've read some 100-200 pages of this book straight through. I skipped most of the chapter on the fossils and history of the lineages. Then I mostly picked around for some information I was most interested in at the time.

Without a doubt, an advanced level text. Well worth every penny in regard to the amount of information it contains.