10th anniversary of project shows why frogs are vanishing from Watagan National Park
25 November 2010
When Professor Michael Mahonybegan the Earthwatch Australia’s anishing Frogs project in Watagan National 10 years ago,he and his Earthwatch volunteers regularly came across 9 more species than they do today.
It seems that even in protected areas such as the Park, frogs are in decline, but on the 10th anniversary of the project, the research may be pointing a way forward.
“With over 250 species, Australia has one of the most diverse frog assemblages in the world, so our task is to monitor the healthof several species that are considered critically endangered and to keep a watch on others that may be susceptible to sudden declines,” says Michael Mahony, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Science and Information Technology at the University of Newcastle.
The chytrid fungus, which has spread around the world in the past 30 years, is a factor in the decline of frogs globally, and it is estimated that at least another 30 Australian species are now threatened by the fungus. However, Mahony’s research is showing the different ways in which frogs may be gaining immunity to the fungus.
“We have found numerous cases where the populations of frogs declined dramatically, but over time the numbers of gradually returned. To explain these observations, we hypothesise that either the frogs have evolved a resistance to the disease, that disease has become less virulent, or there is a change in the frog community structure which reduces the prevalence of the disease organism”
Given that climate change may be ‘loading the dice’ towards more chytrid outbreaks, Mahony’s focus is on preserving the populations he has studied, and he believes that spreading the message about frog decline is one key elementin achieving that.
“Frog conservation is a message that needs to be disseminated widely around the world, and our Earthwatch volunteers help us do that,” says Mahony.
“They will tell their friends about their experience of walking around streams looking at frogs – and some of the people they tell will go back and perhaps start to lookat their own environment with a different pair of eyes.
“Our volunteers are also important because the work we do is labour intensive. We have to walk distances along streams, identify frogs, collect them, weigh them, measure them, check them for disease – so having a team helps you get a great deal more done.”
Volunteer Michelle Kline and her son have been on the projecttwice, andboth havefound it alife‐changing experience.
“I learnt a huge amount from the experience – it was very empowering and now when I hear a frog I think, ‘oh, I might have saved him!”says Michelle.
The Vanishing Frogs research project celebrates its 10th anniversary in November 2010. The project aims to monitor selected species and populations and assist in determining why the frogs are declining. It also aims to determine the distribution of oneof the chytrid fungi, which has been implicated in the decline of amphibians in eastern Australia and around the world.
o Since Vanishing Frogs began, data on 22 species frogs has been collected
o In the 10 years of the project, 293 volunteers have assisted Prof. Mahony’s research
o The Vanishing Frogs project has identified three new species of frog
o Along the east coast of Australia, about 5% of Australian frog species have disappeared in the past two decades and are now presumed extinct.
o 20 frog species have declined alarmingly and 27 species are listed as threatened by the national Action Plan for Australian Amphibians
Join the next Vanishing Frogs expedition on 3¬9 January 2011 by calling Earthwatch at
(03)96826828 or visit earthwatch.org.au