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

In 1992, he told the New York Times Magazine, “I wish there were a death star to explain it.” A single toxin or virus doesn’t appear to me. There’s a general degradation of the environment that I believe is to blame. What a dreadful situation.

“Frogs are telling us about the overall health of the environment,” he continued. They’re both the medium and the message,” they say.

Chytrid fungus was discovered in Central American and Australian rain forests in 1998 and was found to be responsible for the deaths of many frogs. Dr. Wake and others, however, also cited climate change, pollution, and habitat loss as possible causes.

Professor Wake’s Berkeley seminar on declining amphibian populations inspired him to help found AmphibiaWeb, an online database of information on the conservation status and biology, natural history, and distribution for thousands upon thousands of amphibian species..

His wife, who studies the limbless amphibians known as caecilians and collaborated on a few papers with him, said that he considered AmphibiaWeb to be part of his legacy. In addition, “he believed that naming such a large number of species would be a lasting legacy.”

On June 8, 1936, in Webster, South Dakota, David Burton Wake was born and raised in the town of Pierpont. They both worked in the hardware industry: his mother was a schoolteacher and his father was a hardware dealer and farm equipment dealer. In 1953, he and his family relocated to Tacoma.

Early in his life, his maternal grandfather, a self-taught botanist, had a significant impact on his development as a person.

It was “Gray’s Manual of Botany” that “keyed up plants together,” according to Dr. Wake, who spoke with the UC Berkeley Emeriti Association in 2019. It was because of this that I became fascinated with the natural world as a child.