We are Tropics: Alexander Shepack

Alex Shepack

Catching frogs and walking in the rain is more than just a hobby for FIU Tropics PhD student, Alexander Shepack. Working mostly in Costa Rica and Peru, Shepack monitors amphibians to assess their continued response to an infectious disease caused by the amphibian chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd).

Believed to be originally from southern Asia, Bd has been associated with amphibian decline globally. Possibly exacerbated by trade and climate change, Bd is responsible for the extirpation of amphibians throughout the Americas and Australia.

“It’s extremely crucial to find out more about this fungus because even if there are no or very few frogs left, the disease can still stick around.”Alexander Shepack

To monitor these amphibians for presence of Bd, Shepack focuses on visiting different sites in either Costa Rica or Peru searching for frogs, marking them with a small implantable tag and testing them for the fungus by collecting skin swabs.

While much work has been done to document amphibian population loss, little has been done to document the long-term effects on communities. Shepack, who has always been interested in frogs, joined FIU and the Catenazzi Lab in 2014 and contributes to long-term monitoring of populations in the Kosñipata Valley in southern Peru. 

Long-term monitoring of the effects of Bd is increasingly important, particularly because several species are on the road to recovery, and without consistent data, it is difficult to understand how others may follow. Documenting genetic structure of rebounding populations and community changes since the population decline is at the epicenter of Shepack’s PhD research in the Department of Biological Sciences. His work can help forest managers plan and coordinate effective conservation efforts.

“If we begin to learn and understand more about amphibians, we can move forward in a lot of different areas.”

Alexander Shepack

Shepack found a way to combine his passion for tropical amphibians by giving back to his native state, Connecticut. Since 2008, he has been working with the Forman School Rainforest Project, a non-profit organization that aims to train high school students in forest management in Costa Rica, where Shepack also maintains surveys of Bd affected populations.

To learn more about Shepack’s and other research at the Catenazzi Lab, please visit their website.  

This project was funded and supported by FIU Tropics.