Frogwatch keeps check on climate change in the ACT

Most of the local frog species, including the pobbelbonk – Limnodynastes dumerelii (pictured) breed in spring, triggered by a range of parameters, such as temperature and rainfall. Credit: Matthew Frawley

By Anke Maria Hoefer, ACT Frogwatch Coordinator

Phenological changes describe modifications to plant and animal life cycle events that are influenced by seasonal and habitat factors. And phenological responses to a warming climate have been described for many species, including frogs.

With a permeable skin, through which they ‘drink’ and breathe, frogs are highly sensitive to pollutants such as pesticides, detergents and other chemicals in their aquatic and terrestrial environment. Making them a perfect natural barometer for environmental health.

Based on this feature, frogs have been called an indicator species and any change in their behaviour will carry a series of implications for ecosystem performances.

The ACT and Region Frogwatch Program, run by the Ginninderra Catchment Group, has been monitoring frog populations across the Capital Region since 2002.

Every year, the Frogwatch Citizen Science project involves hundreds of volunteers of all ages making for the city’s ponds and urban wetlands after dark to collect data on distribution and abundance. Frogs can easily be identified by their species-specific mating call, which is only emitted by the male frogs.

Most of the local frog species breed in spring, triggered by a range of parameters, such as temperature and rainfall. To catch this flurry of breeding activities, the annual FrogCensus has always been run each October, with a focus on the National Water Week.

However, this all (climate)-changed in 2015. Years’ worth of data and observations strongly indicated a shift in the onset of the breeding activities to late winter rather than spring.

To closely monitor this phenological response, the Frogwatch Climate Change Project, funded by the ACT Government, was launched.

Run as an addition to the annual FrogCensus, the project has involved weekly monitoring at 15 survey sites across the ACT, starting in early June and finishing at the end of October.

While facing the prospect of freezing cold nights throughout winter and committing to a five month period could easily have proved a deterrent, Frogwatch volunteers have jumped at the chance to be involved in a climate change related project.

And after four years, the data has been handed over to scientists from the Australian National University
and the University of Canberra to identify trends between the years and a comparison of the 2015-2018 data with historical frog call data from the region will be scrutinized. Stay tuned for the publication of the findings….

For more information on Frogwatch and how to get involved, visit ginninderralandcare.org.au or get in touch at frogwatch@ginninderralandcare.org.au for more details.

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