Michael J. Tyler
with the assistance of the Editorial Advisory Committee
Wildlife Australia, April 1997
ISBN ISBN 0 642 21400 X
Dramatic declines in some Australian frog species have been reported since the 1980s, with concern increasing more recently with the disappearance of a number of species from apparently intact ecosystems.
The Action Plan for Australian Frogs was commissioned to gain an overview of the current conservation status of Australia's frog species, to investigate the possible causes of decline and to determine the actions needed to prevent further losses and to reverse current declines.
The Action Plan was developed in consultation with State and Territory conservation agencies, researchers and many other frog experts. A preliminary workshop was held to assess the national situation and to discuss possible common factors across the country. To access the knowledge held in the wider community, a questionnaire was circulated Australia-wide. Drafts of the Action Plan were circulated to the State and Territory agencies and other contributors for comment. The plan was revised in the light of the responses and additional information provided.
An 'editorial advisory committee' was established to incorporate comments, resolve disparate views and finalise the plan. This committee provided representation from all states having threatened frog species and consisted of H.G. Cogger, M.J. Mahony, K.R. McDonald, J.D. Roberts, P. Robertson, W.S. Osborne and representatives from Environment Australia.
Applying the 1984 IUCN criteria for conservation status, this Action Plan classifies 20 of Australia's 208 described species as Endangered and 7 as Vulnerable. Eight of the endangered species may have disappeared altogether. An additional 14 species are described as 'insufficiently known' but are probably of conservation concern. Thus 13% of known species are considered threatened with extinction and there are concerns for an additional 7%.
For most species, there is no clearly identifiable cause of decline, although several factors are implicated. Some declines can be associated with loss and degradation of habitat, land use practices, changes to hydrology, pollution and predation, but others are as yet inexplicable. Disease is being investigated as a possible cause for some declines in north Queensland, and this may have relevance elsewhere.
So far no factors of a global nature have been shown to be related to frog declines, but these are being investigated around the world. Possible factors include air pollution, climate change and the increase in ultra-violet radiation resulting from depletion of the ozone layer. This last has implications for basking species in particular.
The Action Plan describes and costs research and management actions considered necessary to counter the current declines. The total of the indicative costs identified in this plan for endangered and vulnerable species is $5.04 million.
The major recommendations of the Action Plan are:
- that high priority be given to research and management action to address frog declines;
- that research be continued into the toxicity of pollutants, particularly herbicides and their dispersants;
- that research and analysis be undertaken to clarify the contributing role of the various possible causal factors, including data already available from Australian and international studies;
- that attempts be made to determine if there are causal factors common to the declines in upland rainforest areas of Queensland and high altitude areas in south-eastern Australia;
- that high priority be given to survey and research necessary to clarify the distribution, abundance and conservation status of 'insufficiently known' species;
- that priority be given to improve expertise in captive breeding, in case of a sudden decline of a species in the wild;
- that public involvement, particularly through amateur associations, be encouraged and incorporated into conservation assessment and recovery planning;
- that an atlas of Australian frogs be developed and maintained, using existing and incoming data; and
- that a national working group on frog conservation be established, linking to the Declining Amphibian Populations Task Force of the Species Survival Commission (IUCN), to facilitate regular communication between frog experts.
This Action Plan was funded by the Endangered Species Program (ESP) of the Biodiversity Group, Environment Australia.
Of the many people who contributed information, three devoted considerable time and effort, and so ensured that the level of detail included was higher than would otherwise have been possible: Keith McDonald of the Queensland Department of Environment, Michael Mahony of the University of Newcastle, and Dale Roberts of the University of Western Australia.
Robert Baker and Lyall Klaffer provided considerable help with the FROGWATCH questionnaire and the workshop on declining amphibian populations held in Canberra, 27-28th July 1991.
For contributing information now embodied in this report and on commenting on drafts of the Action Plan, thanks go to the following: Ross Alford, Gary Backhouse, Chris Banks, Adrian Borsboom, Peter Brown, Andrew Burbidge, John Clarke, Hal Cogger, Chris Corben, Mike Cunningham, Greg Czechura, Margaret Davies, Steve Donellan, Don Driscoll, Harry Ehmann, Bill Freeland, Gordon Friend, Tony Friend, David Gibson, Graeme Gillespie, Ken Green, Gordon Grigg, Tim Harding, Jean-Marc Hero, Harry Hines, David Hunter, Glen Ingram, Ann Jelinek, Hank Jenkins, Frank Lemckert, Col Limpus, Murray Littlejohn, Leighton Llewellyn, Ray Nias, Will Osborne, Steve Richards, Peter Robertson, David Rounsevell, Karen Thumm, Grant Wardell-Johnson, Graeme Watson and Arthur White.
I am also indebted to the Directors of the Declining Amphibian Populations Task Force (DAPTF) of the Species Survival Commission, World Conservation Union (IUCN), for the opportunity to place the decline of Australian frogs in a global perspective. I am particularly indebted to the former Chairman of the DAPTF, David Wake, whose efforts focussed attention upon the global declines and who initiated the attempts to investigate the declines and their causes.
For editorial assistance I would like to thank the 'editorial advisory committee': Hal Cogger, Michael Mahony, Keith McDonald, Dale Roberts, Peter Robertson and Will Osborne plus Anne Duncan, Sally Stephens and Susan Wright of the Threatened Species and Communities Section of Environment Australia.
Finally, I thank Meg von der Borch, Lorna Lucas, Gail Edwards and Stephanie Bishop for collating and typing the Action Plan.