Welcome to Austin!
On behalf of the local committee, it is my pleasure to invite you to the 2017 Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists in Austin, Texas. The meeting will take place at the Renaissance Austin Hotel from July 12-16. The 2017 JMIH includes the 33rd annual meeting of the American Elasmobranch Society, the 60th annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, the 75th annual meeting of the Herpetologists’ League, and the 97th annual meeting of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists.
Austin is famous for great music, diverse and delightful food, high biodiversity, world-class research and graduate programs, excellent outdoor entertainment opportunities, wonderful weather from fall through spring, and blisteringly hot, dry summers. Only a group of societies as insane as JMIH would pick the middle of July (indeed, the hottest week of the year) to hold a meeting in Austin, however. In truth, the weather is actually quite variable in July in Austin: there is a 90% chance that it will be extremely hot, a 9% chance of heat stroke, and a 1% chance of a hurricane. Austinites actually root for tropical storm systems in July, since they are the only way we have a chance for cooler, wet weather that time of year. That’s why the last time we held an ASIH meeting in Austin (before the days of JMIH, when the local committee picked the dates for the meeting), we scheduled it in May. May is a lovely month in Austin, so perhaps we should remember that for next time. But this year, we are stuck with July, so we might as well figure out how to make the best of it.
Longtime residents of Austin enjoy the summers by choosing one or more of the following strategies: (1) They go to meetings or on vacations someplace cooler; (2) they spend a lot of time indoors, where virtually everything is air-conditioned; (3) they spend most daylight hours in and around the many local lakes, rivers, streams, and springs, wearing as little clothing as possible; (4) they explore the cool (literally) caves of the Edwards Plateau; or (5) they only go outside at night. Fortunately, there are excellent opportunities for each of these options.
Hopefully, since you are a dedicated scientist intent on learning (or know someone who is), you will spend most of your days at the meeting. The meeting will be largely indoors, in over-air-conditioned meeting rooms, where you will probably be cold. The differential between outdoor and indoor temperatures is so great that you will need some clothes to stay warm while inside. Outside, other than a hat, you’ll just want enough light, loose clothing to keep from getting sunburned. A hat is essential if you plan to spend any amount of time outdoors during daylight hours. If you are very lucky (see 1% probability above), you may need raingear, but most Austin residents just go outside and dance in puddles in the event of a summer rain.
If you plan to see some local sights, they should involve lots of water. Barton Springs, for example, is a favorite Austin swimming hole (https://austintexas.gov/department/barton-springs-pool). The water is 70 F (21 C) year round. In the winter, 70 F feels warm, but in the summer, it feels icy. There are many interesting species of fishes that can be seen in the clear waters of the springs and the creek that flows from them. Barton Springs is also the type locality and home for two endemic species of salamanders: the Barton Springs salamander (Eurycea sosorum) and the Austin Blind salamander (Eurycea waterlooensis). On the north side of Austin, near the Renaissance Austin Hotel and meeting venue, there are numerous small springs that are the home to yet another locally endemic salamander, the Jollyville Plateau salamander (Eurycea tonkawae). These salamanders have lived through millions of Austin summers by not leaving these cool springs. You can learn a lot from a salamander. (By the way, if you want to learn about How a Salamander Saved Austin, see http://www.esi.utexas.edu/talk/salamander-saved-city/).
Other local favorite places to get wet, cool off, and see local fishes and herps in July include Hamilton Pool Preserve (a large natural sinkhole/cavern/tinaja with a waterfall; https://parks.traviscountytx.gov/find-a-park/hamilton-pool), the Pedernales River, the Colorado River, Lake Austin, Lake Travis, and the San Marcos River (and springs). The latter is the home of several other locally endemic amphibians and fishes, including the Fountain Darter (Etheostoma fonticola), one of the smallest species of darters. Be aware that some of the local swimming holes around Austin (for example, Hippie Hollow Park on Lake Travis; https://parks.traviscountytx.gov/find-a-park/hippie-hollow) are officially clothing-optional.
Austin is well known for its live music scene, and bills itself as “The Live Music Capital of the World.” There are venues for virtually any musical tastes. If you are a fan of the blues, then you should certainly check out Antone’s Nightclub on 5th Street (http://www.antonesnightclub.com/). If you aren’t a fan of the blues, then you should still check out Antone’s Nightclub, and see what you are missing. There are also many places to dance to live music in Austin. If you would like to see or dance real Texas Two-Step and Western Swing, then I’d suggest The Broken Spoke on South Lamar (https://www.brokenspokeaustintx.net/), where Willie Nelson often drops in to play a few songs with whatever band is playing.
Speaking of music, we have booked The Austin Lounge Lizards for the JMIH Opening Reception (http://austinlizards.com/). This event will take place at The Oasis on Lake Travis, which is a restaurant/bar that is perched on numerous decks overlooking the lake (http://oasis-austin.com/). Patrons typically drink beer and margaritas and watch the sun go down over the lake, at which point everyone applauds. The Lounge Lizards are a hilarious, irreverent band that pokes fun at politics, Texas, and life in general. Their songs include such favorites as Gingrich the Newt, Shallow End of the Gene Pool, and Stupid Texas Song. Listen, laugh, dance, and be amazed.
At night, you may want to visit downtown Austin, where there is an active social scene and excellent, diverse restaurants, especially in and around the 6th Street entertainment district. In addition to live music, bars, and places to eat, there are various shows, theaters, and comedy acts. I recommend Esther’s Follies (https://www.esthersfollies.com/), a comedy review and magic act that lampoons current events and politics. You may also enjoy going to the Congress Avenue Bridge and watching the largest urban colony of bats (a couple of million Mexican Free-tailed bats) fly out over Lady Bird Lake at dusk. You can watch from the bridge, or book a spot on one of several bat-watching cruises on the lake (e.g., http://www.capitalcruises.com/bat-watching/).
The Renaissance Austin Hotel is not close to downtown, so you will need transportation if you plan to enjoy the Austin night-life. We have arranged bus service for the meeting between the hotel and downtown on weekend nights for those who wish to use it. Austin had a disagreement with Uber and Lyft (they did not agree to the City’s regulations to ensure driver’s and rider’s safety and fair treatment), but there are numerous other ride-share companies operating in Austin (see http://www.bizjournals.com/austin/news/2016/06/07/the-complete-field-guide-to-austins-ridesharing.html). There are also traditional taxis, of course. Austin also has a light rail system, but the city decided to place this along a route that minimizes its usefulness, to avoid crowding.
Finally, Austin is home to the University of Texas at Austin, the local host institution for the JMIH meetings (see information about UT-Austin’s Biodiversity Center at https://integrativebio.utexas.edu/about/biodiversitycenter). UT-Austin has a long tradition in both ichthyology and herpetology, and fourteen of its current faculty study various aspects of these fields: Chris Bell (Pleistocene herps), Dan Bolnick (fish ecology and evolution), Jim Bull (sex determination of reptiles), David Cannatella (amphibian systematics and evolution), David Crews (reptile physiology), Molly Cummings (fish behavior), Dean Hendrickson (fish systematics and ecology; Ichthyology collection), David Hillis (fish and herp systematics and evolution), Hans Hoffmann (fish behavior and genomics), Mark Kirkpatrick (theoretical herpetology), Travis Laduc (herp systematics and ecology; Herpetology collection), Eric Pianka (reptile ecology), Mike Ryan (fish and amphibian behavior), and Harold Zakon (fish neurobiology and behavior). There are also active graduate programs in ichthyology and herpetology less than an hour’s drive south of Austin at Texas State University in San Marcos, as well a few hours east of Austin at Texas A&M University in College Station.
We hope that you enjoy the 2017 JMIH meetings in Austin!
Help Keep Austin Weird,
David Hillis, Chair