Posted 3rd February 2020
THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY OF FROG CONSERVATION
Dr. David Hunter
Frogs Victoria June 2019 event
Posted 11th June 2019, 12 min read
The June 2019 Frogs Victoria event saw some 40 people crowded around the projector at the Elgin Inn to watch the committee struggle with technology. Having given the long-suffering tech support the night off, for the first twenty minutes the livestream worked and the slides worked, but not both at the same time!
But as entertaining as it was, the audience had actually come to see what promised to be an excellent talk by well-known and accomplished herpetologist Dr. David Hunter. And we were not disappointed. Dave has spent a good 25 years herping about South-Eastern Australia and is currently employed by the New South Wales government as a Threatened Species Officer. He travelled from his office in Albury to entertain and inform us about “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Frog Conservation”. Conservation, as Dave told us (as he was told himself by a mentor) is 10 % about the threatened species and 90 % about people. The species featured in his presentation all have outcomes greatly determined by people. As Dave told us, “Achieving good outcomes for threatened species is all about people and people’s values and perceptions”.
Dave showed us a picture of Frogs Vic Vice President Nick Clemann, with the question: “Good, bad or ugly?” Just when we all thought it had gone horribly wrong, we realised that Dave was right, perception is everything! We also realised that there is something quite special between Dave and Nick…
Dave also used the feral horses of the Alpine region as an example. Horses live throughout Australia and throughout the world, but because of the value placed on them, they continue to threaten the exclusive biodiversity of the high country. The sentimentality for horses is being put before the vital and threatened habitat of animals and plants that live in the Australian Alps.
Dave says that the Southern Corrobboree Frogs would likely be extinct in the wild without Gerry Marantelli and the ARC (Amphibian Research Centre), Zoos Victoria and Taronga Zoo. The species only just persists in the wild and is really only robust in captivity. This seems to be mostly because of Chytridiomycosis, which is responsible for many amphibian deaths worldwide. Chytrid is particularly problematic amongst amphibian diseases because it can be carried by most frogs, but only a few species become ill and die. This makes reservoir hosts a big issue. Southern Corrobboree Frogs share habitat with the Common Eastern Froglet, of which, most, if not all, individuals in the high country are infected with chytrid. Research from Ben Scheele’s PhD showed that the Corrobboree Frogs were only doing well where habitat is not suitable for Common Eastern Froglets. Dave says that current thinking is about how we can keep the two species separate to protect the Southern Corrobboree Frog.
To this end, several techniques are being tested. They include keeping Southern Corrobboree Frogs in containers and enclosures that Common Eastern Froglets can’t access. Dave says that there has been some success, but that further development is required. The good news is though, that the Southern Corrobboree Frogs are staying alive and staying chytrid free. Other trials include artificial wetlands where the Common Eastern Froglets don’t occur. These studies have involved lots of people including Phil Byrne (University of Wollongong) and Ben Scheele (Australian National University) as well as teams from Zoos Victoria, the ARC and Gerry Marantellli. Dave was keen to emphasise that the teamwork required to carry out such research is vital. Again, “the human dimension is everything”.
The work to save the Corrobboree Frogs has not been all that easy, froggy-difficulties notwithstanding. Dave says that it was difficult to secure funding for the projects for years. The negative effects of Hugh Possingham and friend’s proposed “conservation triage” that many of us will likely feel for years to come had hit the Corrobboree Frog conservation projects hard. If you are not familiar with the conservation triage idea, it is basically a suggestion that species such as the Orange Bellied Parrot, the Christmas Island Blue-tailed Skink and the Southern Corrobboree Frog should be allowed to go extinct in order to reallocate resources to other species. However, there were some critical details missing from the blithe and careless proposal. Dave argued that conservation triage is a false premise that did a lot of damage to the value, resources and effort placed on threatened species. An assessment with which this author wholeheartedly agrees.
Zoos Victoria came to Dave’s rescue with their “Fighting Extinction” campaign. Zoos Victoria and Dave refused to turn their backs on such special animals as the Southern Corrobboree Frog. As Dave says, the letting go of one species, erodes the value placed on all threatened species. Dave would like to see some more work done on whether the money saved by not having done so would have been more effective elsewhere. Wouldn’t we all.
After pretending that he is little responsible for the great work done on Southern Corrobboree Frog conservation, Dave then claimed that he hasn’t had much to do with the great impacts on Spotted Tree Frog conservation. The Spotted Tree Frog is now found predominantly in Victoria where Matt West is studying the species. Dave humbly suggested he was a sideshow when it comes to the Spotted Tree Frog, but he was on the front line when we saw the New South Wales population of the species disappear. Dave and his team managed to save one individual which was married (Dave’s word, not mine but I kept it because there’s something romantic about it) up with some individuals from the closest Victorian site. They successfully bred under Gerry Marantelli’s careful watch. Some of them were released in a few places where Spotted Tree Frogs were known historically and they did fairly well and even bred. Sadly, the cold, wet, La Niña years of 2010-2012 brought some higher rates in chytrid fungus and a fast decline in their number. A rethink resulted in some assisted colonisation. Dave then attempted a spoiler for Geoff’s talk next month – he told us about habitat refuges where chytrid doesn’t have the upper hand over the frogs. Warmer microclimate spots might keep chytrid at bay. Dave found a site with no other frog species and dataloggers were put in basking sites (Spotties love to lie in the sun!) to monitor temperatures. And there is good news – the frogs are breeding and the next generation wild-bred individuals are also breeding. It bodes well for the future with other sites lined up as potential release locations that have similar thermal patterns. Dave is cautiously optimistic though – chytrid will get there eventually and may wipe out the population at that point. The frogs might also be victims of their own success – they have spread downstream as far as an area with Booroolong frogs that have chytrid.
The Booroolong Frog, is not immune to the challenges of chytrid – it has suffered massive range reductions. Booroolong Frogs are, like many other species, threatened by multiple factors such as invasive fish and habitat degradation. But of these, habitat degradation is actually possible to manipulate. The Booroolong Frog breeds in water-filled rock crevices. Fussy, I thought. Until Dave told us that actually, that’s ALL they need. The waterways that house the water-filled rock crevices in which the frogs breed are often grazed and trampled by stock which changes the habitat dramatically and reduces the number of shallow water-filled rock crevices for the Booroolongs. Invasive willow trees also cause problems but these are easily managed and Booroolong Frogs do an excellent job of recolonising streams once the problems are removed. Dave says that Booroolong work is very rewarding and working with the farmers to exact positive change is something he really enjoys.
Dave stifled a bow and acknowledged the room full of Sloane’s royalty. Sloane’s froglet was named after Ian Sloane (Frogs Vic Secretary Teisha’s grandfather), by Frogs Vic Patron Murray Littlejohn, who described it. Dave talked about the first Australian Sloane, William, who learnt the local language and worked with the first peoples of his local area to protect their land, culture and artefacts as well as protecting the natural heritage of the land that he farmed.
There seemed to be little known about Sloane’s Froglet in NSW so Dave went to look for them. Historically the species was thought to have gone all the way up to the Queensland border, but on further investigation, Dave thinks that they were largely misidentified, as were a lot of the southern records! When Dave surveyed for them, he actually only found the species in a few areas, including around Albury and along the Murray. The habitat in which Sloane’s Froglet lives is disappearing really fast. The wetlands on which Sloane’s Froglet rely are being drained or developed in much the same way as the Growling Grass Frog habitat is around Victoria. Dave is working hard with the landowners and managers to encourage empathy towards the frogs, which thankfully seem a little more open to artificial wetlands than the likes of the Growling Grass Frogs. The right vegetation structure and the right water depth seems to be all it takes to keep them happy, which is great news and the urban councils and developers are willing and able to accommodate them. The programme is therefore mostly about community engagement, including the Sloane’s Froglet citizen science “Sloane’s Champions” project. Dave started the project amid nightmare data collection that has since been made infinitely better by the FrogID app.
And so concluded Dr. Dave Hunter’s presentation. A whirlwind trip around the very different and very important habitats of three threatened frog species. Whether any of them were good, bad or ugly lies in the perception and values of the audience, but thanks to some of Dave’s work, they are all still here.
For the frogs,
Chair, Frogs Victoria.
Next month, Dr. Geoff Heard, senior research scientist at Arthur Rylah Institute will talk about frogs and Chytrid in Australia. Details are on our Events page. Hope to see you there!
FROG BIOACOUSTICS DOUBLE BILL
Adam Woods and Brendan Casey
Frogs Victoria April 2019 event
Posted 18th April 2019, 10 min read
Two speakers, one subject: Adam Woods and Brendan Casey spoke about the dulcet tones of our favourite animals. Wall to wall frog calls for the entire evening!
We met at 6 in Captain Melville – a first for us to grab a pub meal in an establishment different from the presentation venue. As such we hadn’t anticipated many would join us for dinner, but our large table was soon full and chairs were hastily added until we had all but blocked the path from kitchen to dining room.
After dinner, the wind blew us across the unfamiliar habitat of Melbourne CBD to the RMIT Swanston Academic Building. How many guests couldn’t find the room I suppose we will never know, but more than 30 people took their seats, many remarking on the new-fangled technology of a modern classroom. Or maybe that was just me.
Frog ID Project
Our first speaker was Adam Woods, who had travelled all the way from the Australian Museum in Sydney to tell us about the FrogID project. Well I don’t think he came just for us, but nonetheless we were very honoured.
We heard about the background to the Frog ID project and many people in the room were familiar with the FrogID app and use it regularly. But Adam had some really interesting insights – apparently, Victorians are big fans of recording frogs when they travel, but are less inclined to record frogs in their home state. Which means that there are gaps through Victoria – even in places where there are people who have the app.
Adam shared with us some beautiful photographs taken by Stephen Mahony, who was also in the room, despite the best efforts of the technological demons that frequently haunt the modern technology of lecture rooms. Whether you were there or not, I encourage you to look for him and his beautiful work on Instagram (@svmahony) and see what you missed.
The FrogID project has really (literally) put frogs on the map for many Australians. Not just frog-loving types, but also people who didn’t even know they cared. It is a great story of science and outreach for all involved and we look forward to seeing what the project’s future holds.
Bioacoustic Monitoring of Frogs, progress and results so far
Brendan Casey is a research student at RMIT and told us all about his project – the bioacoustic monitoring of frogs. Brendan is about half way through his Ph.D. and began his presentation by thanking his supervisors, volunteers, RMIT, the Ecological Society of Australia and Parks Victoria, all of whom have provided support for the project one way or another and many of which are familiar to researchers as integral to the conduct of research in Australia.
Brendan began his first season searching for locations and candidate species for his research. He had no equipment or plan, which I suppose is how most research starts. He began by choosing a local storm water pond that seemed like a good place to start and put his first recorder there, recording 10 minutes of every hour. Brendan put a second recorder at a pool in the Merri Creek flood plain, a place where he had heard Growling Grass Frogs (GGFs) in the past and as he confessed to being partial to wanting to study the species, he thought it might be fun to see if the GGFS are still there. A third recorder gave Brendan the opportunity to make recordings at an old tip site, where pools are always kept wet in case the water is needed for fire-fighting.
In the first year, Brendan met many challenges that will be familiar to people trying to study frog calls: background noises, frogs calling at the other end of the pond from the recorder, information posing more questions… Brendan also had a problem that a lucky few suffer from in their first season – too many data! Brendan said that he hadn’t expected to record anything initially, but he has over 17,000 frog call files!
The GGFs in the recordings were good at calling at seemingly random times. No one could have predicted the lack of pattern in their call activity. Brendan thinks that the patterns seem to be local to each site – different at all three sites. Mostly, the frogs favoured calling between midnight and 4am at one site. At the other two sites, there was no convincing pattern in the time of day they called. But at all three sites the frogs went quiet mid to late afternoon. Much like myself.
Brendan played us some calls through a “Kaleidoscope” viewer which gave us a visual representation of what we could hear. We were transported to a sunny day by a pool listening to a little grassbird singing away, accompanied by many Growling Grass Frogs. The GGFs complied with everyone’s expectations – they growl, in an unmistakably frog like way. Some call files demonstrated a few, sparsely calling frogs and some files were constant calls from many animals, more than anyone could hazard a guess as to how many there could be!
Unfortunately, one of Brendan’s sites was renovated and he ceased surveys there. One recorder was stolen and the seal broke on the third recorder which was subsequently taken over by termites! There ended his first season.
Brendan’s second season was to be more refined, as most people’s second field seasons are! Brendan decided to concentrate on one site, have a longer recording period, log air and water temperatures, measure water parameters, record all the frog species and use a hydrophone. He also replaced the stolen recorder and put a security case around it!
The hydrophone was used to see if the GGFs calls could be heard under water. Their vocal sacs sit just under the water’s surface when they call and Brendan tested the hypothesis that they communicated through the water. Brendan couldn’t find any evidence for it though, somewhat to the disappointment of the audience! Brendan did manage to record Eastern Froglets, Southern Brown Tree Frogs, Spotted Marsh Frogs Pobblebonks and Peron’s Tree Frogs in addition to GGFs though. He considered that the data for the species other than GGFs seem to be of good quality – as they call less frequently, recording the entirety of their calling season is a lot easier.
Brendan is also interested in the calls themselves – the calls, notes, pulse, frequency and bandwidth. We listened to recordings of the frogs and saw diagrammatic breakdowns of the call types. Everyone loves a visual aid! We heard and saw all kinds of GGF vocabulary – grunt calls, fast calls, growls and even a combination! We also saw a video of a “squeeze call” (not filmed by Brendan), showing the endearing and somewhat heart-wrenching agonistic call of a GGF.
Frog calls are incredibly complex – not just at the population scale, but Brendan says that each call itself may mean something. Frogs might have conversations just as we do, although as Brendan says, they can likely be classified as either “come here” or “go away”! Maybe we’re not so different after all.
Brendan is also trying to record the calls of the Giant Burrowing Frog (Heleioporus australiacus) but the areas he has been studying have been extremely dry and without any substantial rain, the frogs will likely remain quiet. We of course wish for the sake of both the frogs and Brendan that we have more rain.
Brendan finished by requesting suggestions for his research and answers to many of the questions that his research has posed. The more you know, the more you know you don’t know! But we all know a lot more about the calls of Growling Grass Frogs and the FrogID project than we did at the pub just an hour and a half earlier!
More information about the FrogID project can be found here: https://www.frogid.net.au/
To listen to some of Brendan’s recordings go to https://www.nfsa.gov.au/ and type Growling Grass Frog into the search box.
For the frogs,
Chair, Frogs Victoria.
Next month, Dr. Geoff Heard, senior research scientist at Arthur Rylah Institute will talk about frogs and Chytrid in Australia. Details are on our Events page. Hope to see you there!
NEROC TO NOW: HISTORIC AND CURRENT DISTRIBUTION OF FROGS IN THE MIDDLE YARRA CATCHMENT
David De Angelis
Frogs Victoria March 2019 event
Posted 20th March 2019, 10 min read
Warning: the text below contains spoilers. If you’re here looking for the video, please feel free to go straight to our YouTube channel. If you enjoy a laugh, I recommend watching it with YouTube’s subtitles, to see Eden Angeles Willis, a graduate of a True Beauty, talk about The Distribution of Frogs in the Middle Ear…
What’s better than knowing the current distribution of frog species in Victoria? Knowing the current distribution of frog species in Victoria and the historical distribution of frog species in Victoria! Well-known in herpy circles, David De Angelis pulled in more than 30 people to the Elgin Inn this month to listen to what he had to say about it.
David, Patron Murray Littlejohn and Angus Martin joined the committee for dinner in the dipping sunlight. With $15 parmas of various persuasions available for nourishment, a few attendees were keen to arrive at the Elgin Inn early, to socialise and make the most of the two-hour long happy hour… my favourite kind.
At 7:30, we moved into the function room. Very much unlike the last time we were there, there was even spare chairs! Only a few though, it wouldn’t do to upset the status quo too much.
David De Angelis graduated from La Trobe University with a degree in Biological Sciences with honours research on skinks. Despite his background in reptile research, David was welcomed by the audience with his talk “NEROC to now: historic and current distribution of frogs in the middle Yarra catchment”.
David began by thanking his mentors – Craig Cleland, who was present, Brian Malone, Geoff Heard and Graeme Gillespie, the latter of whom appeared in a photograph in the presentation! Matt Clancy, Marion Anstis, Murray Littlejohn, Angus Martin and Nick Clemann were also thanked for photographs and/or information they had provided.
David finally explained NEROC. I had thought that it must be an Australian name for a geological era that I should have known about, but not so (phew!) – it stands for the North East Regional Organisation of Councils. A paper was prepared for NEROC by Cam Beardsell in the 1990s and it was one of the most comprehensive reports on the frogs of the middle Yarra catchment that runs roughly from Yarra Glen (in the Yarra Valley) to Dights Falls (Yarra Bend Park). David noted that most of the frog distribution data for the area are incidental. Despite how many people live in the Yarra catchment, we know so little about its amphibian residents. Opportunistic records of frog encounters from the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas and the Atlas of Living Australia may not necessarily be reliable but are useful because often that is all we have.
The Common Froglet (Crinia signifera) has likely declined in the area relative to its historical abundance, like so many of our local species. This species is resistant to Chytrid fungus but may act as a vector, passing pathogens around endangered species like the Corroboree Frogs.
The Victorian Smooth Froglet (Geocrinia Victoriana) is hanging on in a few localities and often found along with the Southern Toadlet (Pseudophryne semimarmorata) which as Murray Littlejohn discovered often has its call suppressed by the former. This might go some way to explain why the Southern Toadlet is not detected as much and therefore appears sparse in the records. That and the fact that it spends a lot of its life hiding from people performing frog surveys. Climate change might also be playing a role as its breeding habits aren’t helping it. The Southern Toadlet tadpoles take six months to mature (some other species metamorphose within a matter of weeks). That means that enough water needs to stay in the breeding grounds for all that time and since I have trouble keeping my tomato plants alive because of the lack of rain, I can only imagine how the tadpoles are feeling. Some sites the species was known from in the past have been totally destroyed by development and no rain or groundwater could have saved them. In their favour though, is the length of time this species has to spend trying to replace itself – a lifespan of up to ten years (even up to 20 years in captivity!).
Bibron’s Toadlet (Pseudophryne bibroni) got a mention, but only a controversial one. It seems that it’s now quite unlikely that Bibron’s Toadlets are in the middle Yarra catchment. A combination of confusing morphology and hybridisation has led to a bit of misidentification in some places in the Melbourne area.
The Spotted Marsh Frog (Limnodynastes tasmaniensis) is still reasonably abundant in the area, but it’s an interesting case – it seems that the species has been victim to being moved around by people leading to a very difficult distribution to understand. When found in the northern part of its range, the species sounds slightly different than the southern race. But the species can sometimes be heard with the “wrong accent” suggesting that some individuals have been moved fair distances from their home sites. Further research may tell us, but we do know that it’s happened with other species in the area. Sometimes confused with them are the Striped Marsh Frogs (Limnodynastes peronii), which can also have a pale dorsal stripe (and both species sometimes do not have the stripe), but has stripes instead of spots (as their names might suggest) and is found in slightly deeper and/or more permanent water.
Familiar to many, the Eastern Banjo Frog, or Pobblebonk (Limnodynastes dumerilii dumerilii) is doing fairly well and regularly found throughout in the area. They sometimes seem to disappear, because they can burrow or hide in compost or soil. Funnily enough, I was having a conversation with a friend about accidentally digging up frogs the other day! Southern Banjo Frogs (Limnodynastes dumerilii insularis) (also called Pobblebonks, but a different subspecies) are also found in the region every so often, but are better known from the coastal south of the state.
The Common Spadefoot Toad (Neobatrachus sudellae) has a somewhat scattered distribution. It used to be known throughout the area and probably used to live on the Yarra floodplain. Perhaps more interestingly, similar, closely related species can aestivate for over a year and a half! Obviously, that makes them harder to spot, but what a spectacular adaptation to drought! Southern Toadlets could learn a thing or two from the spadefoots!
Southern Brown Treefrogs (Litoria ewingii) are known to many people as common garden frogs. The very closely related Whistling Tree Frog (Litoria verreauxi) looks very similar, VERY SIMILAR. Only really different by the marbling in the groin, width of the digits and the width of the snout. Good luck if you can tell the difference! David explains the differences at 33:10 in the video if you want a better explanation! They do have slightly different calls (video at 34:44), but the hybrid confuses things too – with a call that’s intermediate between the two species.
Lesueur’s Frog (Litoria lesueuri) turns up occasionally in the records. A report from Lilydale proved controversial – even on the night, as a Frogs Victoria event witnessed its first ever heckle! It was a respectful and friendly heckle though, just the way we like them. The species does seem to show up in rocky habitats – where you’d expect it to live – and has been seen in the upper Yarra catchment, so maybe they are still around.
Sadly, the Growling Grass Frog (Litoria raniformis) is not thought to be anywhere in the middle Yarra catchment any more. Development of known sites has sealed the fate of the species for good since about 2004 and David showed us a stark difference in the range over time.
A few species have been introduced to the Melbourne area – including Emerald Spotted Tree Frogs (Litoria peronii) and the Eastern Dwarf Tree Frogs (Litoria fallax). These species, unlike many of their native counterparts are expanding instead of contracting. We don’t really know how they got here and what their impact is, there’s still so much to learn!
David finished with more acknowledgements – we are all so lucky to be surrounded by so many passionate and accomplished herpetologists in Victoria! Everyone in the room had learnt something about the changes in distribution and abundance of frogs in our local area. David’s talk was very informative. I learnt much and find the continued moving of amphibians around the state and the replacement of frogs by human development both fascinating and worrisome. David handled the matters sincerely and comprehensively and despite the apparent broader picture of loss and reduction, most species are hanging on in gardens, parks and reserves and many are still familiar to us.
For the frogs,
Chair, Frogs Victoria.
April’s event will be about bioacoustics! Brendan Casey from RMIT will talk about his research on Growling Grass Frog monitoring through call surveys and Adam Woods from the FrogID project will pop in to talk about the app, the project and the frogs! Details are on our Events page. Hope to see you there!
FROGS I HAVE KNOWN
Dr. Dennis Black
Frogs Victoria February 2019 event
Posted 13th February 2019, 7 min read
Did you see Dennis Black’s talk last Thursday? It was a cracker! Thanks to all who came out to play. Unfortunately, due to operator error, there is no video this time, so with apologies to our regional members, please enjoy this little write up instead…
The evening began at a very sociable 5:30 pm, with a small group warming the seats of the room at The Great Northern Hotel in Carlton. Families, friends and strangers fringed our table and enjoyed dinner and conversation, mostly about frogs (the conversation, not the dinner). More people and more chairs arrived until at 7:30, the room was packed to capacity. Well we thought it was, but then we managed to squeeze in a few more keen-beans after time.
I welcomed guests, introduced myself and introduced our speaker for the evening, Dr. Dennis Black. Dennis had been Honours supervisor to Frogs Vic Secretary Teisha Sloane-Lay and last Thursday it was our honour to welcome him with his talk “Frogs I have known”.
I would describe Dennis as a research scientist, academic professional and general delight. Dennis described himself as a “Treehugger, australophile and ex-yank”. He’d probably know better than I, but in truth, he’s probably all of the above. What became clear throughout the talk though, was that Dennis is an engaging speaker, interesting natural historian and caring wildlife biologist.
Dennis grew up in the US of A and told of childhood memories of inspiring Life Magazine and National Geographic articles on Australian wildlife. His obsession with “exotic” wildlife was cemented when his family was posted to Taiwan for two years and Dennis’s new neighbours included flying foxes and elapid snakes.
Dennis told of his early experiences at school with salamanders and nuns and how the two didn’t mix particularly well, much to his eternal disappointment, but to our benefit as we were treated to a photo of a Slender Salamander. Terrestrial salamanders are very common in the US and they fill a very similar niche to the little brown skinks that skitter through the leaf litter here in Australia. Dennis told of more strange elongated amphibians with pictures of Cave Salamanders, Californian Newts and plethodontid salamanders – so familiar to herpetologists of the New World, so unusual looking to Australian froggers. Dennis had studied these along with tree frogs at University of California, Davis.
Opportunity knocked in 1971 when recruiters from the Victorian Education Department offered Dennis a job teaching high school science in the Melbourne suburbs. After a year and a half of general frustration, Dennis was offered an actual ticket to work with real Aussie wildlife – a job in the Zoology Department at Monash and the realisation of dreams. Monash University in the seventies, as Dennis explained, was a hotbed of vertebrate zoology and Dennis was in the thick of it.
Dennis studied lizard brain morphology at Monash, joined the Monash Biological Society and Australia Society of Herpetologists and took part in some exciting field work and networking. Dennis showed us photos of frogs he met from around Victoria and New South Wales, some in situ, some in a toilet…
In 1980 Dennis scored a job in Papua New Guinea and spent the next three years training field and museum techniques in Port Moresby. In his spare time he apparently photographed many amphibian locals – including a white-lipped housemate. Dennis saw many frogs in PNG, including Lace-lids, microhylids and an unfortunate tree frog with a leech under its skin.
From there, Dennis went back to the USA, studied for a second BSc and started a PhD in Systematic Entomology, on the proviso that it included work in Australia…
In 1990 La Trobe Uni snapped Dennis up to teach in the Zoology Department. He completed his PhD and went to teach at the Department of Environmental Management and Ecology at the LTU campus in Albury-Wodonga. There the Australian adventure really began with expeditions around the country and even throughout the world.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the Queensland deserts are not the best place to go looking for frogs, but Dennis was a participant in Royal Geographical Society of Queensland expeditions and did just that. As usual, Queensland didn’t disappoint and Dennis introduced us to the Desert Spadefoot Toad (Notaden nichollsi) with its super sticky skin secretions and superior burrowing ability facilitated by its modified feet. As research often does though, the expedition posed at least as many questions as it answered and we all look forward to finding out how these charismatic amphibians persist in such a seemingly unsuitable habitat.
Dennis was lucky enough to own a property in the Goldsborough Valley, just south of Cairns and not far from where the first Cane Toads were infamously released. The beautiful lowland rainforest was full of the wildlife that Dennis so clearly loves and even his home was filled with beautiful frogs, many of which featured in his entertaining and adventure-filled presentation.
Dennis concluded with thanking the sources of his inspiration and his parents who didn’t force him to study architecture. He also thanked Monash University and LTU for enabling his dreams and paid his respects to the First Australians who deeply know and appreciate the Australian landscape and life.
Dennis’s talk was an entertaining journey around the world and we all got to encounter some of the frogs he met along the way. As a salamander lover, it was a joy to see so many photographs of the diversity of herpetofauna and I enjoyed every amphibious tail tale.
For the frogs,
Chair, Frogs Victoria.
P.S. Next up is David De Angelis, who will present “NEROC to now: historic and current distribution of frogs in the middle Yarra catchment” on 7th March at The Elgin Inn Hawthorn. Hope to see you there!
Frogs Vic November 2018 event
Posted 6th November 2018, 5 min read
Words by Lynette Plenderleith; Photos by Teisha Sloane-Lay
Warning: the text below contains spoilers. If you’re keen only to watch the videos, please feel free to go straight to our YouTube channel.
On a warm night in Melbourne’s suburbs, many people of a froggy persuasion met in the upstairs room of Public House, Richmond. Due to successful RSVPing by attendees, all in the room took a seat for the November 2018 Frogs Victoria event. We promised a double bill of speakers engaged in the professional frog world, by which I mean the frog-related professions, not the world of gainfully employed frogs.
Melbourne Water Frog Census
First up was James Frazer, co-ordinator of Melbourne Water’s Frog census. James’s introduction was accompanied by some delightful background musical bangers accidentally provided by the venue, but soon after Mr. Frazer began, we were able to hear him a lot better as he treated us to froggy-data tales from the Melbourne area.
James explained to us why Melbourne Water is interested in frogs. Happily, the answer is at least in part because Melbournians are interested in frogs. Additionally, frogs are of course excellent indicators of waterway health, in which Melbourne Water is very interested. Frogs are, as we know excellent ambassadors for engagement and environmental custodianship, which James uses to spread the message that the future of amphibians is currently looking dire, but the people of Victoria can help.
The 2016 launch of the Frog Census app created, or at least measured, a spike in the interest of human residents in their amphibian neighbours. James used a convoluted flow chart to demonstrate with some impact, the previous methods of collecting Frog Census data – paper reports that required writing (sometimes with a pen!), scanning and emailing back to the office. Thankfully those methods are long gone and the replacement app is user-friendly and fun, with pictures, IDs and electronic buttons.
Every Frog Census report is used to influence management and strategy. I say all… apparently not every report is perfect and some of James’s work seems to be somewhat like that of a detective – finding out what the report is supposed to be. But once the reports are verified a good picture of Melbourne’s frogs is created. At least some of this goes towards “big data” and is available to people outside of Frog Census for others to use. The data can inform wetland monitoring, management and creation.
The Frog Census also provides curriculum tools, a frog pond guide, monitoring and ID guides. James works closely with other conservation groups in strategic partnerships to further the frog message and support like-minded individuals and groups. The Frog Census is a great way for anybody to get involved in frog science and conservation.
My Frog Story
Stephanie Versteegen is currently a senior keeper at Melbourne Museum, but she has spent her career looking after endangered and less endangered frogs and we were lucky enough to hear about the wonderful animals with which she has worked.
Steph’s frog story began as a child with an early memory of a frog she found in her grandparent’s garden. Like so many of us, she didn’t forget her first encounter with an amphibian and it shaped the person she is to this day, declaring as a child that a herpetologist seemed like an excellent job title! Fast forward to 2006 and Steph scores herself a work experience placement with the Amphibian Research Centre in Werribee. Steph distinctly remembers the “banana box frogs” – all manner of lost frogs accidentally shipped around via the fruit and vegetable trade. At this point, there was no looking back and Steph was full bore on the path to becoming a herpetologist and through her degree at Deakin, she constantly steered her coursework towards the frogs she loved.
At the end of her degree, Steph was back at ARC, this time at Pearcedale, the move obviously not far enough to escape Steph’s passion. There Steph learnt a lot about trophic levels. No crickets = no frogs. So Steph spent many hours intimately involved in the breeding and care of crickets. Some, she says, of her career’s most valuable lessons.
The highlight of Steph’s talk though, was her regaling her stories of breeding, raising and releasing endangered species. Spotted Tree Frogs (Litoria spenceri) was the species with which Steph was most involved. To begin with it sounded easy –like most tadpoles, even endangered species eat frozen lettuce. But releasing frogs into the wild where floods and chytrid posed real risks to the populations mean that not every release was rewarded with a happy ending. But often the results were positive and indeed the work continues with breeding Spotted Tree Frogs and Southern Corroboree Frogs (Pseudophryne corroboree) in large outdoor enclosures that exclude chytrid, in the hope that they can be released in the future. Steph also worked on the the Baw Baw frog (Philoria frosti) project that was then very much in its infancy. Zoos Victoria has just announced that they have successfully bred Baw Baw Frogs in captivity and Steph, along with the audience couldn’t contain her excitement. Steph hasn’t just worked with these endangered species. She told us that she has worked with some 50 species of Australian frogs. All of which I’d reckon were lucky to know her.
Both speakers protested their labels of frog experts, but we disagree – they gave us wonderful insights in their respective careers in frogs from the common to the critically endangered and the audience enjoyed both talks from our esteemed colleagues.
For the frogs,
Chair, Frogs Victoria.
P.S. If you’re hungry for more, check out:
Melbourne Water Frog Census: https://www.melbournewater.com.au/frogcensus
Visit the frogs at Melbourne Museum: https://museumsvictoria.com.au/discover/filter/science/frogs/
Frogs VIC Launch report
Posted 3rd September 2018, 3 min read
Words by Lynette Plenderleith; Photos by Teisha Sloane-Lay
Many thanks to all of you who came to our launch party last week. I hope you had as much fun as I did!
If you missed it, or if you want to reminisce, please read on…
Frogs Victoria is launched! Last Thursday, on what promised to be an excellent night for frogs both inside and out, amphibian aficionados of all morphs arrived at the Elgin Inn, Hawthorn. Some were there to learn about frogs, some where there to meet friends (old and new) and some were there to listen to their hero, the celebrated Murray Littlejohn.
The first few of the frog-inclined leapt through the door a little after 5:30 – straight from the stress of work to the warmth and comfort of an open fire, a well-stocked bar and local frog lovers. As darkness fell and rain rolled in, the committee welcomed scientists, conservationists and frog enthusiasts through the door and directed them to the bar where the diligent staff did their best to keep up with the ever-increasing crowd. After a moderate amount of responsible drinking and a bite to eat, more than sixty people fit any way they could in front of the projector screen.
After consuming more than my share of pumpkin pizza, I welcomed the crowd and introduced the inaugural committee – myself, Teisha Sloane-Lay and Nick Clemann. Nick took centre stage and spoke of the desperate situation of frogs in Victoria and highlighted decreasing numbers of the Baw Baw frog. One of the reasons we were all there. He then introduced another reason we were all there – Murray Littlejohn. Nick’s slides listed Murray’s career highlights, but he didn’t read them out. After all, we did all need to get home eventually. But Nick did mention a few personal things about Murray – he is to Nick as he is to many of us, a mentor and an inspiration.
Frogs Victoria Patron Murray Littlejohn came forward and took the microphone in the humble and warm way that he does. He says it’s been at least five years since he last did a talk, but you wouldn’t know it. Murray is the consummate professional. Erudite and articulate, entertaining and illuminating. The keynote address, “Zonal Hybridization between Geocrinia laevis and G. Victoriana (Smooth Froglets) in Western Victoria” began.
The audience were treated to photos of the species in question, including egg masses, the breeding site and an amplectant pair of G. victoriana. We also saw photographic evidence of Peter Rawlinson allegedly borrowing Murray’s favourite mug without prior permission. Decades of bioacoustics research have not dulled Murray’s sense of humour.
The data stretched as far back as 1961, at the beginning of Murray’s studies when he didn’t even have enough data to publish. Murray told of how their first missive declaring the discovery of the hybrid zone was buried at a secure location for future additions upon excavation and we saw a photograph of Murray doing as such in 1973.
One of the most exciting and memorable moments for the audience was listening to recordings of the two species and their hybrids calls. Geocrinia laevis and G. Victoriana have very different advertisement call signatures and the hybrids were a portmanteau more perfect than one would imagine. It was almost comical. Maps of the range of the species precisely delineated the hybrid zone and Murray presented supporting evidence from protein syntheses. The resulting hybrid delimitation fit exactly Murray’s earlier definition.
After a few questions from the audience, Murray was encircled by his fans eager to further discuss his work and life. More discussions were enjoyed by the attendees. Some serious, some not, some by friends and some by people who were meeting for the first time.
The massive number of people that turned out is testament to the dedication, passion and affection that we have for native Victoria fauna, particularly our marvellous frogs. We are excited to see what the future holds and hope you’ll join us for it. A million thanks for your support.
For the frogs,
Chair, Frogs Victoria.
P.S. We have plans afoot for remote access to future meetings for all of you who contacted us to let us know that you live too far away to attend events in Melbourne. Watch this space!
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