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On salamanders, species formation, and biodiversity
Zoologist David Wake’s Faculty Research Lecture to address evolution and conservation

| 08 April 2004

 



David Wake’s research into tropical salamanders has led him far afield from Berkeley, including on an expedition to Veracruz, Mexico, last year to study species that spend their lives in bromeliads (as above) and other arboreal plants.
Photo courtesy David Wake

Studies that integrate morphology, ecology, genetics, and biochemistry have revolutionized our understanding of the evolutionary and genealogical relationships of animals and plants that populate our planet. One of the scientists at the forefront of this revolution is Professor Emeritus David Wake, a world expert on amphibians. Through more than four decades of research, Wake has substantially altered scientists’ understanding of salamander diversity — using DNA sequence analysis, for example, to identify salamanders that appear to be the same species but are as genetically distinct as a goat and a cow. At the same time, he has brought the widespread worldwide decline of amphibian populations to the attention of fellow scientists, policymakers, and the public.

Next week, Wake will deliver the second and last of this year’s Faculty Research Lectures. In his talk, “How Animal Lineages Diversify: Implications for Evolutionary and Conservation Biology,” the renowned zoologist will use examples from his work on salamanders to discuss how animal species come to be and how scientists determine when a distinct species exists.

The latter question has important implications for conservation efforts. Worldwide, hundreds of species of amphibians have undergone precipitous declines in recent years, and more than 30 species are believed to have gone extinct. Wake is currently involved in several web-based collaborations to provide researchers and the public with information on the diversity and status of amphibians; one of them is a five-year collaborative project to develop an annotated tree of life for all amphibians in the world.

Wake will present his lecture at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, April 13, at the Berkeley Art Museum Theater.