Edited by Julio A. Lemos-Espinal
Texas A&M University Press: College Station; Bilingual ed. (2015)
Hardcover. 1056 pp. Publisher's List: $90.00, Amazon: $89.79,
ISBN 978-1623493066. 8.8 X 1.8 X 11.0 inches. 4.8 pounds.
Kindle Ebook: $85.30 (ASIN: B01AN22VA6)
Review by Tom Lott
This is another symposium-style book composed of thirteen chapters written by fifteen different authors. It is bilingual, with the first 205 content pages in English and the second 218 repeated in Spanish. Separating the two sections is a collection of 620 photos of most of the taxa discussed within. The photos are all reproduced in a 3.5 X 2.0 inch (8.8 X 5.1 cm) format, eight to a page, from many different photographers, and are of generally excellent quality. Besides editing the volume, Dr. Lemos-Espinal has also contributed to seven of the content chapters, and all of the account authors are considered to be authorities on the herpetofaunas of the states about which they are writing. Especially poignant is the fact that this book contains some of the final written works of three legendary herpetologists who have since passed away: James R. Dixon on Texas, Charles W. Painter on New Mexico, and Hobart M. Smith on Coahuila and Chihuahua.
The ten state accounts are arranged with the Mexican states first, sequenced from west to east, followed by the U.S. states in the same west-east arrangement. The state accounts average 16.2 pages in length, with the California account the longest at 20 pages, while the Chihuahua chapter is the shortest at 12 pages.
The stated goals of this publication are to summarize our knowledge of the distribution of the amphibians and reptiles found in each of the ten states along both sides of the United States-Mexico border; to provide a current list of the herps found in each of those states; and to analyze which of those species are found exclusively south of the border, shared between states along the border, and those restricted to states north of the border.
The second chapter provides an overview of the systematic and common names adopted in this book with a discussion and justification of those selected. This principally involves recent taxonomic changes based largely, but not entirely, upon revisions suggested by phylogeneticists, usually involving elevating subspecies to full species status. The results are a mixed bag, with some proposed changes accepted and others rejected. For example, Masticophis is retained as the generic name for the whipsnakes, rather than lumping them in with the racers (Coluber) as proposed by Utiger et al.(2005), a study that has been criticized for having failed to sample a larger number of species within each of these polytypic genera (Wilson and Johnson 2010, Myers et al. 2017). The controversial splitting of the Common Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula, sensu lato) into multiple species level taxa (Pyron and Burbrink 2009) is also tentatively rejected, while the equally tenuous splitting of the Arizona Mountain Kingsnake (Lampropeltis pyromelana) (Burbrink et al. 2011) into two species is accepted, apparently because the two groups are separated by inhospitable low-elevation terrain, rendering them effectively allopatric.
The common names for species that occur only in the U.S. as well as those that are shared between both nations are from Crother (2008). The Spanish names used for species found only in Mexico and those shared with the U. S. are generally from Liner and Casas-Andreu (2008), with a few exceptions that are detailed in Chapter 2.
Beginning with the third chapter, the ten state entries share a common format. Each begins with a short introduction summarizing the general features of the state and the richness of its herpetological fauna. Next is a synopsis of previous herpetological work done in that state, typically harkening back to the original nineteenth-century exploratory expeditions and proceeding chronologically up to present day research and inventories. Included here also is a list of citations for amphibians and reptiles originally described from that particular state. Each state account concludes with descriptions of the physiographic and biotic communities found within its boundaries along with discussions of the effects upon the distributions and affiliations of the present herpetofauna. All state chapters include a current list of the amphibian and reptile species occurring within the state, which are again listed in Chapter 13 of the text along with discussions of state surface area, environmental diversity, and relative species richness.
The state accounts break down their respective herpetofaunas with reference to established biotic provinces or ecological zones. Unfortunately, this amounts to somewhat tedious sequential text listings of the various characteristic species within these zones. It seems that this could have been more effectively communicated by means of tables, but perhaps space limitations would not permit such as the book was approaching its already formidable bulk.
The ecological zone accounts are usually followed by a summary of species that may eventually be discovered in each political entity due to their proximity in adjacent states, along with species that have been introduced and established. Each account is concluded with a summary of the major conservation challenges perceived by the authors to be facing species within their area.
A 32-page appendix consists of a table that reviews the presence/absence, endemic, and threatened/endangered status of the species known from the ten-state area. The 58-page references section is listed by chapter, which this reviewer finds helpful, although others have criticized this practice in similar works. And finally, a highly detailed index occupies the final 98 pages of this massive volume
Ultimately, after overcoming a slight initial disappointment that this rather expensive volume contains little information that is not available elsewhere or well known to workers with experience in the any of these particular states, I have come to recognize its value as a synoptic reference. No doubt much of the expense of this book is due to the repetition of its contents in a second language, which is a worthy consideration, especially with the growing number of Mexican herpetologists, provided, of course, that it does not result in the book being out of financial reach of struggling students.
Will this volume eliminate the needs of serious herpetological investigators to consult previous works specifically dedicated to these individual states? Obviously not, but synoptic works such as this one provide such researchers with substantial background and baseline knowledge that would otherwise have to be accumulated at considerable expense and investments of time.
Burbrink, F.T., H.Yao, M. Ingrasci, R.W., Bryson, Jr., T.J. Guiher, and S. Ruane. 2011. “Speciation at the Mogollon Rim in the Arizona Mountain Kingsnake (Lampropeltis pyromelana).” Mol. Phylogen. Evol. 60: 445-454.
Crother, B. I., ed. 2008. Scientific and standard English names of amphibians and reptiles of North America north of Mexico, with comments regarding confidence in our understanding. 6th ed. SSAR Herpetol. Circ. 37: 1-84.
Liner, E. A. and G. Casas-Andreu. 2008. Standard Spanish, English and scientific names of the amphibians and reptiles of Mexico. 2nd ed. SSAR Herpetol. Circ. 38: 1-162.
Myers, E. A., J. L. Burgoon, J. M. Ray, J. E. Martınez-Gomez, N. Matıas-Ferrer, D. G. Mulcahy, and F. T. Burbrink. 2017. “Coalescent Species Tree Inference of Coluber and Masticophis.” Copeia 105, 2017 (4): 642–650.
Pyron, R. A. and F. T. Burbrink. 2009. “Systematics of the Common Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula; Serpentes: Colubridae) and the burden of heritage in taxonomy.” Zootaxa 2241:22-32.
Utiger U., B. Schätti & N. Helfenberger. 2005. “The oriental colubrine genus Coelognathus Fitzinger, 1843 and classification of Old and New World racers and rat snakes (Reptilia, Squamata, Colubridae, Colubrinae).” Russ. J. Herpetol. 12 (1): 39–60.
Wilson, L. D. and J. D. Johnson. 2010. “Distributional patterns of the herpetofauna of Mesoamerica, a biodiversity hotspot.” In Conservation of Mesoamerican Amphibians and Reptiles, ed. L. D. Wilson, J. H. Townsend, and J. D. Johnson, 31-235. Eagle Mountain, UT: Eagle Mountain Publishing.