Sternberg Museum receives grant to study 'herps' of Kansas

Fort Hays State University's Sternberg Museum of Natural History has been awarded a $281,224 subgrant from the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks to conduct a statewide inventory of amphibians, reptiles and turtles, known as herpetofauna (HERpe-toe-fauna) or, informally, as "herps."

Matching funds from the Sternberg Museum of Natural History bring the total value of the project to $391,290.

"Herps are an important part of the ecosystem, and their distributions and habitat needs are poorly understood," said Travis Taggart, associate curator of herpetology at the Sternberg Museum and principal investigator on the project.

"Our goal is to investigate the distribution and conservation needs of these animals so that we can better protect them and their habitat in the future," Taggart said.

The herpetofauna can be sensitive indicators of environmental health. By learning about the ecological needs of the herpetofauna, future environmental damage can be monitored, minimized, and, it is hoped, eliminated.

In addition to Taggart, several other museum staff members worked on the proposal, including Joseph T. Collins, adjunct curator of herpetology; Curtis Schmidt, research associate in herpetology; Dr. Jerry Choate, museum director; and Greg Liggett, assistant director. The grant will fund a paid museum position for Taggart and Schmidt.

"This grant is significant to the Sternberg Museum, and to the study of modern wildlife in general," said Choate. "Basic research into the state's biodiversity is extraordinarily important. Basic questions, like how many species we have and what are their distributions, must be answered before more in-depth studies can be undertaken. And often money for those types of basic studies is not available."

This project is funded in part by a State Wildlife Grant from the Fish and Wildlife Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.

"The Sternberg Museum is excited to enter into this partnership with Wildlife and Parks and the Fish and Wildlife Service. Those organizations recognize the importance of learning all we can about the biodiversity of Kansas," Choate said.

"Curtis and I are ready to get out in the field and see what is out there," said Taggart.

"It is amazing to think that even right here in Kansas there are many things that are unknown about the state's amphibians, reptiles, and turtles. I think we can go a long way toward filling in gaps in that knowledge," he said.

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