Saving frogs with citizen science

By Steven Allain

Photo by: Jeshoots-com | Pixabay

The conservation of any species depends heavily on knowing where it lives in the wild. This allows measures to be taken to preserve the appropriate habitats and helps to fine-tune monitoring efforts. This data is readily available for larger species but can be lacking in smaller, more cryptic species.

Australia, for example, has over 240 frog species and currently data is lacking for many of them. Like many countries, Australia’s records of animals is more a reflection of where human dwellings and cities occur, rather than the species themselves. We have a similar issue here in the UK, whereby species groups such as insects and arachnid records almost perfectly match up with a map of housing. Back in Australia, things are slightly more complex. Due to the combined effects of geographical isolation and inhospitality of the interior, a number of frog species found in Australia are found nowhere else.

With such a diverse range of amphibians, how do you go about counting and monitoring them? Traditionally you would go out to a site, count individuals you encounter and submit those records to a dedicated recording scheme. Now thanks to the powers of technology, anyone can get involved with the recording of frogs in Australia. An app recently released by the Australian Museum allows members of the public to record the calls of frogs in their back gardens, local parks and other areas. Frog ID is now a national citizen science project helping amphibian conservationists in Australia understand more about the distribution of rare species, and to track the range expansion of the invasive cane toad.

Photo by: Matthew T Rader | Unsplash

When a call is submitted, it’s matched to a database in order to validate the species, which is all carried out using some clever technology and a well-trained herpetologist’s ear. All frogs have different calls and by recording and submitting them through the app, citizen scientists are playing an important role in saving Australia’s frogs.

To date, 182 frog species have been recorded; 53,000 calls have been submitted and a whole army of citizen scientists have contributed to the project. There is still a long way to go, but hopefully one day all of Australia’s frog species will be recorded, with the data collected filling in gaps helping to inform conservation. Perhaps a similar initiative could be trialled elsewhere, where there are a large number of amphibian species. Thanks to the power of ever advancing technology and the interest of the public, whole species groups might escape extinction.