Salamander expert David Wake dies at the age of 84

E.The evolutionary biologist and famous herpetologist David Wake died on April 29th at his home in Oakland, California at the age of 84. His 52-year-old wife reports on The New York Times that he died of organ failure after cancer recurrence. Wake was highly respected in his field, naming 144 species of salamander during his career.

David Wake in 2015


Wake was born in South Dakota on June 8, 1936, and taught a love of the outdoors by his mother, a high school biology teacher. He attended Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, and wanted to become an entomologist. However, when he started looking for certain beetles under tree trunks, he encountered salamanders and knew what he really wanted to study. Berkeley News Reports. After graduating in 1958, he attended the University of Southern California for his thesis and received his PhD in 1964.

Wake met Marvalee Hendricks, an evolutionary biologist who retired from the University of California at Berkeley when she was a student in a class he taught while he was completing his graduate degree. After graduation, she entered the same laboratory as David for her studies. The two were married in 1962, had a son, and continued to work side by side to conduct supplemental research.

Wake’s first position as a lecturer in biology was from 1964 at the University of Chicago. Five years later, he accepted a position as a lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley and curated the school’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, where he stayed until he retired in 2003.

Much of his research has focused on the lungless salamanders of the Plethodontidae family. He wanted to understand the intricacies of the development of their characteristics and the driving forces behind their development.

“It was molecules to morphology to ecology to behavior to development, overlaid by taxonomy – his conviction was that you have to focus on a certain group and get to know them very well in order to really understand the evolution of organisms.” James Hanken, director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University and a former student of Wake, tells us Berkeley News. “He’s not the only one who has chosen this strategy. What is unique, however, is how successful Dave was with it. He took it to a level and sophistication that few other people have done. “

In the 1980s, Wake was one of the first to recognize that amphibians were suffering from global decline and tried to understand all of the factors involved, including habitat destruction, climate change, and deadly fungi. In 2000, he created AmphibiaWeb to aggregate research and allow scientists to identify not only where different species were, but what dangers they were exposed to. To date, more than 8,000 species are described on the website.

David Wake examines a jar of preserved salamanders in the 1970s.


“Tackling the complex problems of amphibian extinction is a daunting task for conservation biologists, but there are solutions,” Wake wrote in an opinion piece for The scientist 2013. “Habitat protection, captive breeding programs, and attempts to mitigate the effects of infectious diseases could all have positive effects [on] Amphibian populations. “

He became a professor emeritus in 2003 but was still working and continuing to publish 160 other articles. He retired fully in 2016 Berkeley News reports that he was still doing fieldwork and paperwork until a week before his death.

Wake (or Commander Salamander as he was called in the laboratory) was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1998 and has been a member of many other academic organizations. In 2006 he received the Leidy Award for his outstanding achievements in “publications, explorations, discoveries or scientific research”. As a lasting homage, a tiny species of salamander was named after him (Cryptotriton Wakei) as well as a genus of skink (Davewakeum). A genus of frogs (Wakea) and a gecko species (Cyrtodactylus wakeorum) were also named to honor Wake and his wife.

Since his death[h]undreds of news [are] Coming from all over the world who say pretty much the same thing and talk about his high level of integrity, his ethical nature, his warmth and friendliness, his intellectual curiosity and his intellectual leeway, ”says his wife The daily Californian.

He is survived by Marvalee and her son Thomas along with a brother, sister and granddaughter.

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