The key to saving the nation’s beleaguered remaining frog species may just be in all of our pockets.
Nearly 100,000 Australians have leapt at the chance to help our amphibians by downloading a smartphone app to record and upload geo-tagged frog calls from their backyards, neighbourhoods, farms, dams, rivers and swamps.
The app – FrogID - is the brainchild of Australian Museum’s Curator of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Biology Dr Jodi Rowley and Museum CEO Kim McKay who, along with a team of experts, identify the frogs by their ribbits or mating calls.
Image Credit: Stephen Mahony
“About 20 per cent of Australia’s roughly 240 species of frog are threatened with extinction, and at least three species have already been lost (including the amazing Gastric Brooding Frogs Rheobatrachus),” says Rowley, who also happens to be a National Geographic Explorer.
“The main causes of amphibian population declines and extinctions in Australia are the disease chytridiomycosis, habitat loss and modification, introduced species and climate change.
“In order to halt the decline of frog populations, it’s necessary to understand which species are most in need of conservation action, and what we can do to reduce the threats facing them. However, we still have a lot to learn about Australia’s frogs.
“Frogs are most easily distinguished by their calls, not their colour or looks and only male frogs make mating calls – they are basically saying ‘here I am’ to lady frogs.”
Sadly, after the first 18 months of use by the army of citizen scientists, the app found that the Australian Green Tree Frog has all but disappeared from Sydney backyards.
“Of the 7000 frog call records received from the Greater Sydney area, only 52 of these were of the Green Tree Frog and none were from any of the inner Sydney suburbs which have historical records of the species.
“The information we have gained, and continue to gain, will now help us understand the reasons for this loss and prevent the species declining even further.”
Rowley says the disappearance of our frogs is a big wakeup call for Australia about the dangers of increasing pollution of our waterways, wildlife and ecosystems.
“Frogs drink and breathe through their skin - they have no control about what chemicals they are taking in.”
One of the most surprising results from the first year of the project has been the number of records of native frog species detected calling from well outside their known range, including the Eastern Dwarf Tree Frog (Litoria fallax) found up to 400km from the known edge of the native range near the NSW-Victorian border.
“These ‘stowaway’ species are likely inadvertently hitchhiking to locations outside their range via produce and potted plants where they are establishing breeding populations, creating a likely ongoing issue, with these invasive frog populations having the potential to impact native frog populations.”
The data collected in the first year of FrogID has also provided information on the breeding populations of 28 globally threatened and 13 nationally threatened frog species including the Black Mountain Boulder Frog (Cophixalus saxatilis) in Queensland and the Southern Bell Frog (Litoria raniformis) in SA, Tasmania, Victoria and NSW.
“The FrogID data on species that are poorly known, threatened or rarely documented has been a real success of the project, increasing our ability to make data-driven decisions for these rare species.”
Frog ID has already engaged close to 100,000 registered volunteers and continues to attract hundreds of new frog call recordings each month, with the community of citizen scientists – or ‘froggers’ – across Australia growing daily, Australian Museum Director and CEO Kim McKay said.
“In a short time, FrogID has dramatically increased our understanding of the distribution, breeding seasons and habitats of this incredibly significant animal group, and we would like to thank the many thousands of people who have picked up their phones and literally helped put frogs on the map,” she says.
The findings from the first year of FrogID are available in Herpetological Conservation & Biology.
More information on FrogID and how you can help save our frogs at www.frogid.net.au.
Lead Image supplied by the Australian Museum.