In the middle of April I spent three days in Kosciuszko National Park, assisting Dave Hunter and Ben Scheele in their Southern Corroboree Frog conservation work.
I was initially skeptical about the value of working with frogs, and unsure what the work would involve. But seeing the stunning black and yellow Corroboree Frog and working with Dave and Ben, has changed my perceptions on the value of working with individual species and the nature of field work in conservation.
The Corroboree Frog is threatened by Chytrid Fungus, a disease affecting amphibian populations worldwide. Frogs are an essential part of our waterways, feeding on algae which keeps them clean and providing food for higher order species. So Chytrid Fungus threatens not only frog populations throughout the world, but the quality of the ecosystems they live in.
Making the work of people like Dave and Ben vital not only to the continuation of individual frog species, but to the health of waterways.
Not all frogs have the same susceptibility to Chytrid Fungus, meaning some species can act as reservoir hosts. The Common Eastern Froglet is a reservoir host for the Corroboree Frog. When infected with Chytrid Fungus it can survive long enough to breed, giving it opportunity to pass the fungus onto the Corroboree Frog, which is more susceptible to the disease and more threatened by extinction.
Dave and Ben’s work aims to isolate healthy Corroboree Frog populations from the Common Eastern Froglet and unhealthy Corroboree populations.
This is achieved by the construction of two large and five small enclosures and by setting up ponds in areas the Common Eastern Froglet isn’t found. Only one of the large enclosures currently has residents, but soon the small enclosures will as well.
The work itself was far more labour intensive than I had anticipated. I assumed that conservation field work would mostly involve surveying frogs in the wild. However, we spent our time weeding the large enclosure and planting grasses to attract ants, the frogs main food source in the enclosures. As well as constructing ponds.
I wasn’t completely incorrect in my expectations, there was some surveying. To assess frog health and the success of the enclosure, we took size and weight measurements and swabbed for the presence of Chytrid Fungus. Data can be matched to each individual frog as the pattern on their bellies is unique. This ability to identify individuals is important for recapture data, enabling enclosure population estimates.
So far the large enclosure has been successful, but it will be a number of years before the true success of the enclosures and ponds will be revealed.
It is hoped that the small enclosures will prove to be as effective as the large enclosure. Easier to set up and more cost efficient, they have the potential to be extremely beneficial to the conservation of the Corroboree Frog.
The work of Dave and Ben is invaluable. Important not only for the conservation of this species, but for the survival of healthy amphibian populations throughout the world. As they are establishing techniques which can be used to protect the Corroboree Frog and other frog species threatened by Chytrid Fungus. This experience has taught me that conservation needs more focused work, driven by passionate people like Dave and Ben, to ensure the future of biodiversity.