David Wake, Expert on Salamanders and Evolution, Dies at 84


He added: “Frogs are telling us about the environment’s overall health. They are the medium and the message.”

In 1998, a chytrid fungus was found to have caused a lot of the deaths, especially of frogs, in the rain forests of Central America and Australia. But Dr. Wake and others pointed to other factors as well, including climate change, pollution and habitat loss.

Dr. Wake’s Berkeley seminar on declining amphibian populations led him in 2000 to help start AmphibiaWeb, an online compendium of information about the conservation status of thousands of species of amphibians as well as their biology, natural history and distribution.

“He considered AmphibiaWeb part of his legacy,” said his wife, who studies the limbless amphibians called caecilians and collaborated on a few papers with him. “He also thought the naming of so many species would be a lasting contribution.”

David Burton Wake was born on June 8, 1936, in Webster, S.D. and grew up in nearby Pierpont. His mother, Ina (Solem) Wake, was a schoolteacher, and his father, Thomas, sold hardware and farm implements. His family moved to Tacoma in 1953.

His maternal grandfather, a self-taught botanist, exerted a strong early influence on him.

“He had ‘Gray’s Manual of Botany,’ and we keyed up plants together,” Dr. Wake said in an interview with the UC Berkeley Emeriti Association in 2019. “So I early on developed an interest in the natural world.”

When he attended what is now Pacific Lutheran University, in Tacoma, his focus shifted from botany to zoology; his path narrowed when he took a course in entomology. While in the field collecting beetles, he recalled, “I would stumble onto salamanders and I was charmed by them.”

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