Herpetologist Highlight

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Herpetologist Highlight

Amanda J. Zellmer


Website / Twitter Handle / Instagram:
compbio.oxycreates.org / @ajzellmer / @ajzellmer

Where do you work?
Occidental College

Assistant Professor

How did you get there?

As long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with wildlife and the outdoors, but it wasn’t until graduate school when I bought my first pair of hip waders and dipped my toes into one of the many ponds scattered across the University of Michigan’s Edwin S. George Reserve that I developed an interest in studying amphibians. I had read about research on amphibian declines, but there in southeastern Michigan the frogs seemed plentiful. Why was it that some places seemed little affected by the declines while others went unimpacted. That question sparked my passion in understanding how urbanization and land development impact amphibian populations – a question I’m still trying to answer today.

After my PhD, I packed away my waders and made my way across the country as I tried to figure out where my future was headed. My first postdoc took me to Baton Rouge to study carnivorous pitcher plants at Louisiana State University where I learned about long-leaf pine savannahs and Mardi Gras parades. I then took a year off to spend time with my two-year-old daughter when our family moved to California. During that year, I contemplated alternative career options – perhaps I could work for a non-profit, or I could be a barista (I do love coffee after all). But the frogs were calling and I needed to find my way back. I spent the next three years as a combined postdoc/adjunct at Occidental College studying marine ecosystems and teaching biostatistics. At 8-months pregnant with my second child, I interviewed and then landed an Assistant Professor position.

As soon as I was back from maternity leave, I brushed the dust off my waders and hopped back in. Metaphorically I mean, because I now study terrestrial salamanders that live under rocks and logs across Los Angeles. Plus, I’m pretty certain people would look at me funny if I wandered down Sunset Blvd in my hip waders.

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