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Retired professor Scott publishes update to landmark guide of Land Between the Lakes reptile, amphibian life

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. — In the mid-1960s, Austin Peay State University professor of biology Dr. David Snyder began work on a monumental task. Commissioned by the Tennessee Valley Authority to conduct an inventory of the herpetofauna, or reptiles and amphibians, of the newly established Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, Snyder and a small team of researchers and students set about cataloguing the various species contained within the 170,000-acre plot of land crossing the Tennessee and Kentucky border.

Years of research culminated in the 1972 publishing of “Amphibians and Reptiles of Land Between the Lakes.” Until the book went out of print, Snyder’s work served as the main source of information on the diverse reptile and amphibian life contained within the LBL region.

Retired Austin Peay professor Dr. Floyd Scott knows all too well the work that went into Snyder’s landmark publication. As an undergraduate student, he served as a member of Snyder’s survey team as they attempted to define the previously unexplored land.

“When I was an undergraduate, we would go out and spend all day and all night working in the LBL region,” Scott said. “Along with Dr. Snyder and several other students, we went up and down the roads of that area, working in the woods and around the streams, just trying to catalog all of the reptiles and amphibians we came across.”

Snyder died in 2004, having served the Austin Peay community for over 40 years as an educator, researcher and community member. Before his death, however, Scott said his mentor and research partner had planned to finish one more monumental task — an update to his seminal guide to the reptiles and amphibians of the LBL region.

“A couple of years before Dr. Snyder died, we had made a verbal pact to update that book,” Scott said. “When he died unexpectedly, progress on the book slowed, but I was determined to fulfill that promise I made to him one way or another.”

Enlisting the aid of Murray State University emeritus professor of biological sciences Dr. Edmund J. Zimmerer and David Frymire, a field researcher for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, Scott found a way to fulfill that promise. Using Snyder’s original work as a base, the team set about updating information, snapping full-color photographs and more significantly, cataloguing new species found in the region that were not detected during Snyder’s original survey.

Bearing the same name as its original publication, “Amphibians and Reptiles of Land Between the Lakes” was published in early September through University Press of Kentucky. As a tribute to his original effort four decades earlier, the book counts Snyder as a co-author and bears his name on both its cover and spine.

Of the 75 varieties of reptiles and amphibians catalogued in the guide, Scott said he and his team were able to discover four not previously found during the original survey. But as for major differences found some 40 years between surveys, Scott said the biggest chances can be seen in the LBL region itself.

“I think the landscape has been the bigger difference between surveys, because so much has changed since conversion from private to public land,” Scott said. “The reptile and amphibian life hasn’t changed too much, but there has been a lot of logging done in that region. We also observed areas that were open during the first survey that have since grown into forests over the last 40 years.”

Scott and his collaborators’ update to the guide is, first and foremost, an offering to anyone, whether a professional or backyard naturalist, interested in the animal life of the LBL region. Written without the footnotes and citations of academic guides, the reference manual was designed to give people of all knowledge levels a resource for understanding the region’s creatures.

But personally, Scott’s update to his friend and mentor’s original work represents the fulfillment of a promise. Owing much of his own academic and research careers to Snyder’s guidance, Scott said there was no choice but to complete what has now come to represent several lifetimes’ worth of research.

“Dr. Dave Snyder was here at Austin Peay for a long time and he served as a mentor to a lot of students during his time, myself included” Scott said. “I felt like it was important that I, with the help of Zimmerer and Frymire, see this to fruition as a tribute to the pioneering work he conducted in that area in the 1960s.”

“Amphibians and Reptiles of Land Between the Lakes,” was partially funded by the Austin Peay Center of Excellence for Field Biology, and is available on Amazon.com, as well as many other online retailers.

For more information on the Austin Peay Department of Biology, visit http://www.apsu.edu/biology. To learn more about the Austin Peay Center of Excellence for Field Biology, visit http://www.apsu.edu/field-biology.  

- Former Austin Peay professor of biology Dr. David Snyder (Submitted)