The Doctors Trio

We left behind quite an exciting couple weeks. PopEcol fledged its first cohort of PhDs. Tina, Sam and Koen successfully defended their four years of research and received their doctoral degrees.

They are not only our first PhD fledglings, but also among the founding members of PopEcol. It was difficult to say bye to the trio, who has been with us since the beginning of our group. We can only hope that this separation anxiety gets easier with future fledglings.

We wish them all the best for their future (and very much hope to be a part of that future)! 🙂

Here are the proud carriers of the amazing PhD hats:

Tina Cornioley

Thesis title: “Trait-mediated effects of climate on the population dynamics of the wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans)”








Sam Cruickshank

Thesis title: “Dealing with uncertainty in amphibian and reptile population monitoring for conservation”








Koen van Benthem

Thesis title: “Trait-based mechanistic and phenomenological approaches for predicting population dynamics”


Amphibian Conservation Research Symposium

Last week, I headed off to the University of Canterbury in the UK to present at the Amphibian Conservation Research Symposium. This is the fourth year that I’ve attended this meeting ,which aims to bring together researchers from all around the world working on all facets of amphibian conservation.




The attendees in Canterbury
Photo credit: @AmphibianCon


For me, the meeting is always one of the major highlights of the year; an opportunity to get out of the office and network with a crowd of incredibly diverse people united with an infectious passion for amphibian conservation. As I’m in the final months of my PhD (and am therefore chained to my computer frantically writing up my thesis) this year was particularly rejuvenating- giving me a chance to live vicariously through the experiences shared by my fellow attendees. I may not have the time to do any fieldwork this year, but hearing about people scuba diving to discover the breeding ecology of critically endangered frogs, or using drones to survey bromeliads for cryptic amphibian species, cannot fail to inspire.



Undoubtedly a new life-goal for me: Arturo Muñoz Saravia surveying breeding behaviour of the Titicaca Water Frog through high-altitude scuba diving
Photo credit: @TetZoo


ACRS always aims for a very broad mixture of talks, and this year was no exception. Topics spanned research into animal husbandry, infectious diseases (always necessarily a major topic in amphibian research, sadly), monitoring for cryptic species, and species’ reintroductions, to name just a few. These were complemented by a great set of keynote speakers. This year the key message I took from these talks is just how large and co-ordinated the amphibian conservation community is. Keynote talks from Anne Baker and Phil Bishop reminded me that although applied conservation often seems like working in a small-scale bubble, there is a whole alphabet soup of organisations (ASA, AArc, IUCN SSC ASG….the list is as endless as it is bewildering) co-ordinating across the globe to improve the fate of amphibians.




Penultimate talk of the conference: when can we rely on analysis of amphibian count data?
Photo credit: @AmphibianCon

One great aspect of ACRS is their Future Leaders programme: each year, the committee funds the attendance costs of several early-career researchers who have made substantial achievements in amphibian conservation in their host country. This years’ leaders hailed from Nepal, Brazil, India and South Africa, and each gave great presentations and insight into working in countries where things operate very differently to Europe! Particularly notable was Sethu Parvathy’s impressive and hilarious one-woman theatre performance of the persecution of frogs in cardamom farms in India (simultaneously from the perspective of farmers, frogs and rats), and the inspirational work of Luis Marin da Fonte. His involvement in discovering the only known population of a species new to science (the aptly named Admirable Red-belly toad) and securing protection of this site by successfully campaigning against the building of a hydroelectric plant upstream from the population, drew a spontaneous round of applause from the audience.




ACRS Future Leaders; Biraj Shretha, Luis Marin da Fonte, Sethu Parvathy and Fortunate Phaka
Photo credit: @AmphibianCon


My contribution to the meeting was a talk warning of the pitfalls of analysing count data; as the penultimate speaker on the last day of the conference, giving a talk on population modelling to a tired audience seemed like an uphill battle. However, I was happy to be approached by several people after the talk who were interested in my solution to the issues of non-closure in count data, and I hope that some fruitful collaborations will result from the meeting.


The inspirational story of the Admirable Red-belly toad
Photo credit: @AgentAmphibian



Thanks to the organisers at the University of Canterbury for organising another great conference! And also to Darren Naish of Tetrapod Zoology for writing up this great summary of the conference.


Sam Cruickshank | PhD Student

I am an ecologist with a strong focus on amphibians and their conservation. Amphibians are the most threatened group of vertebrates globally, with over 30% threatened with extinction.

My recent research has focused on the amphibian parasite Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, where I examined aspects of frog morphology and environmental conditions and how these interact to determine an individual’s susceptibility to infection. In the past I’ve worked with amphibians both back in the UK, as well as in the more exotic habitats of Ecuador and Canada.

For my PhD (supervised by Benedikt Schmidt and funded by BAFU), I will investigate a wide range of topics relating to amphibian conservation. My research broadly falls under 3 themes:

  1. Assessing trends in amphibian populations
  2. Identifying causes of decline and assessing the importance of habitat connectivity
  3. Evaluating the effectiveness of conservation interventions

Some of the questions that I will address include:

  • Assessing the importance of accounting for imperfect detection when calculating population trends and examining the degree to which failing to do so biases the magnitude of declines.
  • Examining the quality of a citizen science dataset to establish the frequency of false positives and negatives in survey data. Accounting for these will then allow accurate assessment of population trends through space and time.
  • Testing for the presence of extinction debts for amphibian populations in the Canton of Zürich by testing whether historic wetland extent better predicts patterns of occupancy than contemporary land use.
  • Examining metapopulation dynamics of the European Tree Frog (Hyla arborea) in Canton Vaud to test the importance of connectivity in patch persistence.
  • Evaluating the success of a habitat connectivity project for Yellow-bellied toads (Bombina veriegata) using a Mark-recapture study in combination with microsatellite analysis of genetic data collected before and after pond creation in Canton Schwyz.
  • Assessing determinants of success in conservation translocations of Midwife Toad (Alytes obstetricans) in relation to factors including the genetic diversity of source populations, numbers of individuals released, and the impact of the fungal pathogen Batrachocytrium dendrobatidis on population persistence.

Much of my research will involve working with existing datasets in the office and working on genetic data in the lab. However I greatly enjoy spending time outside and thankfully a number of my projects allow me to spend time in the field collecting data on the species that I find fascinating.



  • 2014- present, PhD candidate, Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies,
    University of Zurich, Switzerland.
  • 2012-2013, MSc (Distinction) Ecology, Evolution and Conservation, Imperial College London (Silwood Park), UK, in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London.
  • 2011-2012, Ecologist, AECOM and Aspect Ecology, UK
  • 2009-2010, Research Assistant, Farmland Ecology Unit, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, UK
  • 2007-2011, BSc (First class, honours)  Natural Sciences, University of Bath, UK



  • Cruickshank S.S & Schmidt B.R. (2017) Error rates and variation between observers are reduced with the use of photographic matching software for capture-recapture studies. Amphibia-Reptilia 38:3 315-325
  • Grant E, Miller D, Schmidt B.R, Adams M, Amburgey S, Chambert T, Cruickshank S.S, Fisher R, Green D, Hossack B, Johnson P, Joseph M, Rittenhouse T, Ryan M, Waddle J.H, Walls S, Bailey L, Fellers G, Gorman T, Ray A, Pilliod D, Price S, Saenz D, Muths E (2016) Quantitative evidence for the effects of multiple drivers on continental-scale amphibian declines. Scientific Reports 6: 25625a
  • Cruickshank S.S, Ozgul A, Zumbach S, Schmidt B.R. (2016) Quantifying population declines based on presence-only records for Red List assessments. Conservation Biology 30: 1112–1121a




Attendance ‘Bayesian population analyis using WinBUGS’-course

‘Don’t feign to be stupid.’ This well-chosen phrase of Marc Kéry introduced some of our group members to the world of Bayesian Statistics (where the use of your previous knowledge on the parameter you’re interested in, the prior distribution, plays a role). Together with Michael Schaub, Marc taught the inspiring course entitled ‘Bayesian population analysis using WinBUGS’ based on the book of the same name.

I was impressed by how they managed to cover almost the whole book within 5 days: starting with a gentle introduction to the analysis of distribution, abundance and population dynamics using a Bayesian framework, followed by an introduction to the software WinBUGS and implementation of mixed models in it, and finishing with some examples of the implementation of Integrated Population Models in WinBUGS. Lectures were alternated with useful exercises.

I think all the participants are after this course better trained in making a balanced decision whether they want to make use of the full knowledge they have, or use the veil of stupidity to make big discoveries (Schwartz, 2008).