Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Saving endangered amphibian starts with counting them - via Herp Digest

Northern leopard frogs considered a threatened species in Alberta-Endangered species population ecologist Lea Randall says, “If you can’t detect frogs then you can’t protect them.”
By Annalise Klingbeil, Calgary Herald July 30, 2012

CALGARY — Sporting breathable chest waders and armed with a GPS device, endangered species population ecologist Lea Randall will spend the next six weeks crawling in and out of bogs, ponds and marshes across southern Alberta.
Her mission: to count every frog she can find.
The ecologist will carry tools including a stopwatch and oxygen meter as she seeks frog habitats, collects water samples and records the abundance of northern leopard frogs across a 90,000-square-kilometre area south of Drumheller.
Randall recently embarked on six weeks of summer field research as part of a study launched in 2009 by the Calgary Zoo’s Centre for Conservation Research.
Through intensive fieldwork and mathematical modelling, the six-year project aims to gain a better understanding of northern leopard frog population dynamics.
The handsome and charismatic spotted amphibian, which can grow to the size of a human fist, is considered a threatened species in Alberta and an endangered species in B.C., said Randall.
The study and accompanying field research comes at a time when frog and toad populations in Alberta and around the globe are decreasing.
“It’s a worldwide phenomenon . . . the decline of amphibians has been noted on all continents on which amphibians occur,” said Anthony Russell, a professor of zoology at the University of Calgary.
Over the past two decades in Alberta, the number of leopard frogs and Canadian toads have diminished drastically, he said. “It’s very, very noticeable”
While there are still three years left in the extensive northern leopard study, early research shows neither a decrease nor increase in the population of the species.
“So far our preliminary data suggests that the populations have at least stabilized,” said Randall. “So, we don’t see evidence of decline, but we also don’t really see any strong evidence that there’s been species recovery during the period of our study.”
Leopard frogs can be difficult to detect in some habitats. In addition to examining population dynamics, the study aims to improve monitoring techniques.
“If you can’t detect frogs then you can’t protect them,” Randall said.
She said researching the frogs is important because Alberta has so few amphibians. “If even one species goes extinct, we will have lost basically a 10th of our diversity in Alberta.”
Amphibians are a good indicator of ecosystem health, and as frogs and toad numbers decrease, fish and insect species may also be affected.
“People have advocated that amphibians act a bit like the canary in the coal mine. Whatever is affecting them now, as those changes become more drastic and abundant, they will affect other things,” Russell said.
Kris Kendell, a senior biologist with the Alberta Conservation Association, is the co-ordinator of the Alberta Volunteer Amphibian Monitoring Program, which encourages “an army of citizen scientists” to submit their observations.
Kendell said while some frog species in Alberta are stable, others appear sensitive to human impact.
“The decline for the species that have suffered losses in numbers and populations is mostly due to habitat — habitat loss and habitat degradation,” Kendell said.
As the population and development in the province increases, there will be increasing pressure on a species that is part of Alberta’s heritage, Kendell said.
“On the most intrinsic level, amphibians are a part of Alberta’s natural heritage,” Kendell said. “A lot of people’s first experiences with nature and wildlife involve catching frogs or toads at their local slough or wetland (and) hearing their voices in the springtime singing. They enrich our lives in ways that are difficult to measure.”

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