Studying Reptiles and Amphibians Worldwide

Dr. Nancy Karraker

When you consider the fact that Nancy Karraker, Ph.D, was raised in Grand Canyon and Yosemite National Parks, and that her parents were park rangers, it is no wonder that Karraker turned out to be a naturalist. The first clue her parents had that Karraker was destined to study animals was when she proudly brought home a jar full of frogs at age six. 

Today, Karraker is an Assistant Professor at the University of Rhode Island’s (URI) College of the Environment and Life Sciences (CELS) where she teaches herpetology (study of reptiles and amphibians) and wetland ecology while conducting research in Southeast Asia and the United States.  

Her current research focuses on wetland ecology and conservation biology of reptile and amphibian populations.  In Southeast Asia, Karraker and her graduate student studied the Giant Spiny Frog, which has been on the decline due to their value in food markets.  Her research showed that the Giant Spiny Frog population might be wiped out in 50 years if the current collection rate continues.

 For the past five years, Karraker has led an ongoing effort at Fire Island National Seashore, New York that dates back to the early 1900’s to recapture, mark, and study the Eastern box turtle, an animal that can live to be 100 years old. Every summer, Karraker and her students gather population data about box turtles to examine population trends and help the park manage maintenance activities such as mowing of fields.  The survey results will help Karraker create a management plan for the National Park Service to reduce turtle mortality. 

 Most recently, Karraker and a former URI undergraduate student published an article, “Citizen Science Reveals Widespread Negative Effects of Roads on Amphibian Distributions,” in Biological Conservation.  The paper was based on a 10-university collaborative project to analyze amphibian data collected by trained citizen observers from around the country. This past December, the editors of Biological Conservation selected the article as “their must read choice” and showcased it as the cover article for the journal.

 Karraker’s enthusiasm for all things outdoors encourages the people around her to appreciate all aspects of nature.

 “I am a naturalist to the bone,” says Karraker.  “I want to see these same plants and animals that I love in 20 years”. 

 BigThinker_Nancy2Karraker’s three years at URI has been marked by her strong dedication and support for her students. Karraker’s goal is for her students to learn practical skills, and gain knowledge that will help them succeed in their future.

 “Dr. Karraker is a fantastic professor and her dedication to her students goes above and beyond,” said Alyssa Peterson, Karraker’s student.  “She’s not just interested in what you are doing in her class; she likes hearing about your other interests as well.  The knowledge and skills I have gained from just one of her classes makes me far more qualified for positions I am seeking in the future.”

 Karraker’s future plans include continued research in Southeast Asia and the tropics to study and help to manage the impacts of harvesting on reptiles and amphibians. 

 “I want to work with scientists in those regions to make resources available to them, and to provide opportunities for young female scientists.”