National recovery plan for Stream Frogs of South-east Queensland 2001-2005

Prepared by Harry Hines
Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service
and the South-east Queensland Threatened Frogs Recovery Team, 2002

Recovery Actions

The recovery actions are based on available knowledge and experience gained from implementing recovery plans for stream-dwelling frogs in eastern Australia. The South-east Queensland Threatened Frogs Recovery Team is responsible for the implementation and evaluation of this recovery plan. Progress in implementing the actions of the recovery plan will be reviewed each year. Where necessary, the recovery plan will be modified by the recovery team and/or relevant government agencies to incorporate new information. The recovery plan is to be reviewed by 2005.

Unless otherwise stated, the costs in this plan are estimates of the materials and consumables required to undertake tasks, and the salaries and associated costs of staff from the responsible agencies. They do not include in-kind contributions from volunteers and community groups. Proposed recovery actions and their component tasks are described below.

Action 1. Manage the recovery process

The aim of Action 1 is to provide the necessary framework for efficiently and effectively implementing the recovery plan.

1.1. Appoint a recovery co-ordinator

A full-time co-ordinator is needed to implement the recovery plan. The co-ordinator will liaise with appropriate government agencies, non-government organisations, land care groups, the public and other threatened frog recovery teams and researchers elsewhere in Australia. The co-ordinator will be a member of the recovery team and will report to QPWS. The co-ordinator will contribute to and integrate the outcomes of working groups, prepare the displays, web site and regular newsletters and co-ordinate the submission of grant applications and co-operative proposals to support the recovery process. Other duties will include organisation of recovery team and working group meetings and the circulation of agendas, minutes and discussion papers.

The co-ordinator will have access to all information arising from the implementation of actions in the plan. The co-ordinator will advise the recovery team on progress of actions and will facilitate the curating and analysis of data and its publication. The co-ordinator will help to implement those tasks of highest priority that are most directly associated with the core strategies, that is, research co-ordination, public education, development of media strategies and participation of volunteers. The position will help integrate the recovery program with programs for these frogs in New South Wales and Victoria where necessary.

1.2. Ensure effective recovery team functioning

The recovery team will meet twice yearly. Government agencies will meet the cost of attendance of their own representatives at recovery team meetings. Funds are required to support attendance of non-government organisation representatives attending meetings (travel, accommodation and meals), particularly when these are held outside Brisbane. Non-government organisation representatives currently contribute about 20 days per person per year in preparing for and attending recovery team meetings.

Cost of Action 1
Costs $’000s: 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 Total
Total
73
73
73
73
73
365

Action 2. Monitor populations

Survey and monitoring is required to determine population trends, re-establish species or populations and locate previously unknown populations. Monitoring also provides valuable information on the prevalence of disease (Task 3.1) and on aspects of a species' ecology that are required for development of captive husbandry techniques (Task 3.2).

Three types of monitoring will be undertaken - intensive monitoring, extensive monitoring and surveys.

  • Intensive monitoring of a small number of populations will be undertaken regularly during spring, summer and autumn. Frogs at these sites will be individually marked, sexed, weighed and measured, and habitat variables and environmental conditions will be recorded. Monitoring will be undertaken over several years and will provide detailed information on population dynamics and ecology.
  • Extensive monitoring will be undertaken at a subset of sites where threatened stream frogs are known currently or historically. Sites will be selected across the altitudinal and latitudinal range of the species and will encompass a range of other habitat characteristics. These sites will be visited a number of times during the duration of this plan to assess the status of species over a broad geographical area, particularly with regard to disappearance or re-establishment of populations. The species, sex, and number of frogs will be recorded along a 100m transect using a standard method.
  • Remote or previously unsurveyed areas, in which the distribution and/or abundance of populations is poorly known, will be targeted for surveys. The main aim of this type of monitoring is to locate new populations and to determine trends in distribution patterns of species over a greater geographical area. This task will be carried out opportunistically, often with the aid of large numbers of volunteers.

Community groups play an important role in this action. Programs and groups such as NatureSearch, Threatened Species Network and Queensland Frog Society provide training on frog identification and engage other community groups and private land holders. These groups provide a large pool of volunteers for monitoring tasks and also generate valuable distribution records of threatened frogs. Part of this action is to maintain and extend support to these groups and programs.

A considerable amount of monitoring has been undertaken in the last five years. A review of the data gathered so far is warranted, and if required monitoring programs will be revised.

Cost of Action 2
Costs $’000s: 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 Total
Total
64
65
64
64
64
321

Action 3. Gain information required for management

The aim of Action 3 is to gather information to underpin recovery actions, management and policy.

3.1. Investigate the role of disease in frog declines

The south to north decline and disappearance of a number of Queensland's rainforest frogs, together with the collection of dead and dying frogs from Big Tableland in north Queensland, lead to the development of an hypothesis that the causal agent may have been a virulent pathogen. The pathogen may have first caused mortality in southern Australia, affecting species in southern Queensland in the mid to late 1970s.

Since 1996, dead and dying frogs of at least 10 species have been collected from south-east Queensland, including Fleay's barred-frog and the cascade tree frog. Examination of these specimens and those collected during declines on the Big Tableland and from Central America determined that the cause of death was a chytrid fungus (Berger et al. 1998, Berger et al. 1999).

A major investigation into diseases of Australian frogs and their role in amphibian declines is currently being co-ordinated by Professor Rick Speare at James Cook University. Protocols, results and reporting are provided on the amphibian diseases web site: http://www.jcu.edu.au/school/phtm/PHTM/frogs.

The monitoring component of this plan (Action 2) will contribute to the disease investigations through the provision of ill and dead frogs. Toe clips and other samples collected from apparently healthy frogs during monitoring will be used to assess the prevalence of chytrid fungus. In addition, QPWS will continue to collect specimens presented by the general community and forward them to the disease research project. Costs are included for collection and preservation of samples, transport of specimens to disease researchers and histology.

3.2. Develop captive husbandry techniques

The primary aim of this task is to develop husbandry skills for stream breeding frogs. In addition, the establishment of populations in zoological institutions, outside of the natural range of the species, may place some breeding populations beyond the influence of the factors(s) that caused declines. These two outcomes will provide a precautionary measure against the extinction of these species if they suffer declines in the future.

In conjunction with Australasian Regional Association of Zoological Parks and Aquaria (ARAZPA) institutions, captive husbandry techniques will be developed for Fleay's barred-frog and the Kroombit tinkerfrog. Results of the work will form the basis of captive breeding plans for ex-situ management of these species, if such action is warranted. Information on the breeding biology of species in the wild (gathered during monitoring, Action 2), population dynamics and habitat usage (Tasks 3.5 and 3.6) will be provided to the institutions undertaking the projects. The husbandry projects will also generate considerable information on the ecology of the species.

Offspring from successful captive husbandry programs can be used for re-introductions to establish new populations, for translocation experiments to test hypotheses regarding threatening processes and their abatement (e.g. Tasks 3.1, 3.3), or for display at zoological institutions to inform the community about the species and the threats to them. Release of captive bred animals into the wild (other than for experimental purposes to assist with determining causes of decline and/or assessing the effectiveness of potential amelioration measures) is not envisaged until the cause of the population declines has been identified and its effects reduced. The use of offspring will be at the discretion of Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.

Interpretive displays will be developed and installed at each institution. The displays will provide information on the breeding biology of the species, the declining frogs problem, the role of captive husbandry in species recovery and the contributions of organisations to the project. This work will make a significant contribution to public information and education (Action 5).

3.3. Assess the need for translocation experiments

Translocation experiments may provide an insight into causes of the declines. A number of experiments could be considered. A translocation experiment is currently under way in the Wet Tropics, where declines have been most recent, using species that disappeared from higher elevations but persist in the lowlands (Northern Queensland Threatened Frogs Recovery Team 2001). Results of that experiment, together with information generated from monitoring and investigation under this plan, will be used to assess the need for, and type of, translocation experiments for threatened stream frogs in south-east Queensland. This assessment will be carried out in the third year. Costs in subsequent years will not be known until the assessment is completed, and if necessary, an experimental design is prepared.

3.4. Determine the genetic structure of populations

It is important that the systematics of the species is fully resolved and that the genetic diversity within taxa is known. This information will be used to prioritise populations for conservation in husbandry and translocation programs.

Barred-frogs
A study of allozyme variation in populations of barred-frogs revealed that the currently recognised species boundaries in south-east Australia are sound (Donnellan and Mahony, unpublished data). Studies of mitochondrial DNA diversity within each species will enable identification of evolutionary significant units. Ideally, at least 5 samples from each of the major populations of each species are required to carry out this work (e.g. for Fleay's barred-frog, samples would be required from Conondale Range, Bunya Mountains, Main Range, Mount Barney complex, McPherson Range, Lamington Plateau, Springbrook Plateau, Tamborine Mountain, Tooloom, Richmond and Nightcap Ranges and Mount Warning). Collection costs will be negligible as samples have already been obtained or can be gathered during monitoring (Action 2). Analyses will be performed in the fourth year of the plan to allow time to collect additional samples. Costs of analysis of mitochondrial DNA diversity assume that the work will be performed by a post-graduate student, using samples from up to twelve locations for each of the three species that occur in south-east Queensland.

Cascade tree frog
There has been considerable confusion over the systematics of the Litoria barringtonensis, L. pearsoniana, L. phyllochroa, and L. piperata complex. Studies of genetic variation in populations of this complex revealed that the currently recognised species boundaries are in need of major review (Donnellan et al. 1999). In other studies, species descriptions are being revised and diagnostic morphological and call characters are being studied so that specimen and non-specimen based records can be reviewed to determine the status of each species. No costs will be incurred as staff and students at the universities of Queensland and Newcastle, and the South Australian Museum are currently completing this work. If additional taxa are identified from this complex, they will be included in future revisions of the revisions of the recovery plan.

McGuigan et al. (1998) used mitochondrial DNA sequencing to determine that significant genetic divergence existed among populations of cascade tree frogs from different rainforest isolates. They concluded that populations to the north and south of the Brisbane River were sufficiently genetically distinct to be managed independently. However their study lacked specimens from important isolates: Blackall Range, the ranges to the west of Conondale Range and Girraween National Park. The cost of collecting samples from these populations will be negligible, as samples will be collected during monitoring (Action 2). Analyses will be performed in the fourth year of the plan to allow time to collect sufficient samples. Costs of analyses are based on the assumption that a post-graduate student, utilising samples from up to four locations, will perform the work.

3.5. Investigate population dynamics

Investigations of the population dynamics of declining frogs are necessary to assess the significance of changes in distribution and abundance determined during monitoring (Action 2). There is very little information on normal population fluctuations for stream-dwelling frogs of eastern Australia. Studies of population dynamics will also provide information on breeding success, age and sex structure, metapopulation processes and effect of disease outbreaks. These findings will help investigations into the cause of declines and assist in the development of husbandry techniques (Tasks 3.1 and 3.2) and have implications for translocations (Task 3.3). Costs included for this and the following task includes only the funds needed by the industry partner in two Ph.D. ARC LInkage scholarships, and the contribution made by a university researcher and a QPWS staff member to support such a project.

3.6. Determine habitat usage

The influence of habitat variables, including habitat disturbance and fragmentation, and the influence of native and exotic fish on the abundance and distribution of adult and larval stages and on breeding success, needs to be investigated. This information is critical for protecting and managing habitat (Action 4) and developing husbandry techniques (Task 3.2) This research will also assist in determining why some species of stream-dwelling frogs have declined and others have not.

Cost of Action 3
Costs $’000s: 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 Total
Total
30
59
69
60
52
270

Action 4. Protect populations and manage habitat

Action 4 is aimed at reducing stresses on populations or habitat pending the identification and abatement of the major threatening process(es).

4.1. Assess effectiveness of management prescriptions

The effectiveness of current forestry management prescriptions in ameliorating disturbance to the habitat of these frogs needs to be assessed. The current management prescriptions are largely based on establishing riparian buffer zones. Radio- and spool-tracking studies of barred-frogs (Task 3.6) will provide the necessary information on movement behaviour and habitat usage on which to make the assessment. The task involves reviewing existing management prescriptions as information from Task 3.6 becomes available.

4.2. Control feral pigs

Control of feral pigs is required in the Conondale and Main Ranges and at Kroombit Tops. The Conondale Range provides habitat for five of the seven species covered by this plan, as well as a number of other threatened animals and plants. Damage from feral pigs has increased greatly in recent years. Although there may be direct predation by pigs, the greatest effect is likely to be the impact of increased silt on embryos and tadpoles. Streams in the area now carry heavy silt loads. Silt reduces the availability of food for tadpoles and reduces their fitness at metamorphosis. It is likely to be more significant for barred-frogs as their tadpoles take at least six months, and possibly up to 18 months, to develop. Soil disturbance by pigs is also likely to greatly increase the spread of riparian weeds such as mistflower and crofton weed (Task 4.3).

At Kroombit Tops, feral pigs have only recently arrived but they have caused significant damage to at least two sites known to support the Kroombit tinkerfrog. A control program was established in late 2000. At an intensive monitoring site for Fleay's Barred-Frog at Cunningham's Gap in Main Range National Park, damage from feral pigs was first noticed in April 2001. There were also reports of feral pigs farther north near Mount Mistake at this time.

Monitoring of pig damage and implementation of control measures will be undertaken. If necessary, a strategy will be developed for incorporating adjoining land holders and local government authorities in pig control programs.

4.3. Assess impact of crofton weed and mistflower on habitat

Mistflower Ageratina riparia and crofton weed A. adenophora are highly invasive weeds along wet forest streams. The effect of these weeds is not known, but they may have negative impacts on habitat (e.g. a reduction in the area of sites suitable for egg laying sites by Fleay's barred-frog). An assessment of impact is required, and if potential or actual significant impacts are identified, a strategy will be developed and implemented for control or elimination of the weeds in areas of significant frog populations. The strategy will include dissemination of information to private land holders through Landcare programs. Costs are only provided for the assessment. However, if a need for control is identified, additional funds will be required.

4.4. Manage populations of the giant barred-frog on private land

The vast majority of known populations of the giant barred-frog in south-east Queensland occur along narrow remnant riparian vegetation on private lands. Long-term conservation of the giant barred-frog in Queensland is dependent upon the maintenance of water quality and flow regimes, and on the protection and enhancement of riparian vegetation on these lands. Threats to water quality and altered flow regimes arise from adjacent and upstream land uses (e.g. housing development, stock grazing, clearing, agriculture, forestry practices). Extraction of water is also a potential threat. Remnant vegetation is threatened by clearing, disturbance from stock and weed invasion.

A collaborative project with land care groups and local and State government agencies is currently under way in the Belli and Cedar Creek catchment to address these issues. An important component in this project has been the provision of public education and information (Action 5).

Funding is sought to expand this project to include sites elsewhere in the Mary catchment and also in the Stanley and Caboolture catchments. Estimated costs include only materials for restoration work, as community groups and landholders will undertake much of the work.

A second component of this task is for the recovery team to provide support for applications by community groups for funding (e.g. Natural Heritage Trust and Threatened Species Network Grants) and to provide advice on management and restoration of the habitat of threatened frogs.

4.5. Reduce the impact of introduced fish

In south-east Queensland, introduced fish can seriously affect populations of stream breeding frogs through predation on eggs and tadpoles (Gillespie and Hero 1999). In New South Wales, predation by plague minnow Gambusia holbrooki has been listed as a Key Threatening Process for some frog species. In south-east Queensland, introduced fish have not played a role in the declines of stream breeding frogs. This is a precautionary task to protect populations of stream-frogs from future introductions. It involves the provision of information to relevant government agencies and the general public on the potential effects of fish translocations and introductions.

4.6. Manage fire at Kroombit Tops

The habitat of the Kroombit tinkerfrog comprises small patches of rainforest, often occurring as narrow strips along drainage lines, surrounded by eucalypt forest. Protection of this habitat involves the development and implementation of a fire management strategy for Kroombit Tops. This strategy will include planned burns to reduce fuel with the aim of preventing catastrophic wild fires.

4.7. Remove stock from the habitat of Kroombit tinkerfrog

Domestic and feral cattle and horses have long been present at Kroombit Tops. Within the habitat of Kroombit tinkerfrog, stock have been observed to cause fouling and gross physical damage to creek banks and adjacent seepages known to support the tinkerfrog. The impact of stock increases during dry periods.

In April 1996, a stock exclusion fence was constructed around former Scientific Area 48 in Kroombit State Tops Forest (currently Kroombit Tops Forest Reserve), to protect biodiversity in the Scientific Area. At that time the fence enclosed the only three known populations of Kroombit tinkerfrog. Since then however it has not been possible to keep stock outside of the fenced area, largely due to trees falling onto and damaging the fence.

Over the next few years, Kroombit Tops Forest Reserve will be transferred to tenures administered under the Nature Conservation Act 1992, as part of the South-East Queensland Forest Agreement. The Recovery Team will provide advice on the management of threatened frogs at Kroombit, with the recommendation that stock be removed from a much larger area. This will provide for effective stock management in the habitat of the Kroombit tinkerfrog, and will permit the regeneration of other sites that are currently heavily affected by stock.

4.8. Provide advice to land managers

The threatened frogs in the recovery plan occur over a large area of south-east Queensland, on a range of land tenures with a diversity of land uses. The aim of this task is to ensure that adequate information and advice on the conservation needs of the frogs is available to land managers and decision makers. Through this task, members of the recovery team and staff of relevant government agencies will provide input into the various impact assessment and planning processes. These include Water Resource Plans, Park Management Plans and Environmental Impact Assessments. Land holders and community groups also need advice on habitat protection and restoration. The task will be strongly linked to Task 5.6 (provision of training workshops).

The second activity of the task is to develop a strategy for providing management information to land holders more efficiently. It will be undertaken by the recovery coordinator and the recovery team and will focus on the feasibility of producing and distributing a kit that includes information on each species, information on threats and management recommendations. The strategy is likely to result in the identification of additional tasks and costs.

Cost of Action 4
Costs $’000s: 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 Total
Total
61
55
54
54
56
280

Action 5. Provide education and information

Community education, awareness and support are important components of the recovery plan. Frogs are poorly known or understood elements of our fauna and lack the high profile of many endangered species. Recovery of threatened frogs will be facilitated by increased community awareness of their declines and increased support for the research necessary to identify the threatening processes. Much work essential to the recovery of these species, such as research (Action 3), monitoring (Action 2), habitat protection (Action 4) and other work can only be effectively carried out through the involvement of volunteers, community groups and land holders.

Several approaches will be used to inform and involve the general community and attract volunteers. These include circulation of a fact sheet on threatened frogs and the recovery process, development of portable interpretive displays and a web site, publication of an identification guide and regular newsletters, and holding of training workshops for land managers and volunteers.

5.1. Distribute fact sheet

A fact sheet on the declining stream-dependent frogs of mid-east Australia and the recovery process has been published (15,000 copies). These brochures will be distributed through conservation and land management agencies, community groups and at events where the portable displays are used (Task 5.2). Costs for the second year include provision for a third print run if required.

5.2. Develop and install displays

Portable public displays are needed to complement the fact sheet. These will be used to increase public awareness through installation at locations such as zoos, libraries, local government offices and schools and at special events (e.g. open days, World Environment Day). They will be available for use by conservation and land management agencies, local government, frog groups, land care groups, catchment management groups and other community groups. There has been considerable demand for such displays but none are currently available. Three colour displays will be prepared.

Cost includes use of images, design and production. The displays will be prepared by the co-ordinator (Task 1.1) in co-operation with members of the recovery team, community groups and conservation agencies.

5.3. Revise and expand web site

To complement the fact sheet and displays, a web site has been developed that provides detailed information on each of the declining frog species. The web site includes similar information to that provided in the species profiles in Appendix 1, as well as colour photographs. Links to other sites, such as the Amphibian Diseases web site and Environment Australia web site are also provided. Funding is needed in the second year of the project to review the content of the web site, to expand the number of species covered and to add in additional features such as recordings of calls. Publicising the web site, including development of links from related sites, will also be undertaken.

5.4. Publish identification guide

A colour identification guide to the wet forest frogs of south-east Queensland has been written. Funds have been provided by Griffith University to partially cover costs of layout and production. Further funds are required to publish and distribute the book. The aim of the book is to increase a) awareness of the declining frogs problem, b) knowledge of the declining stream frogs of south-east Queensland, c) interest in searching for these species and d) reliability of identification of sightings. The book will be an invaluable tool for training volunteers and land managers (Task 5.6). The guide will also provide information on reducing the risks of spreading frog disease.

5.5. Produce a regular newsletter

In order to improve communication between members of the recovery team, land managers, members of community groups and volunteers, the co-ordinator (Task 1.1) will produce a regular newsletter summarising progress of recovery activities. The newsletter will be circulated to the above groups and individuals for their information, and further distribution as they see fit, for example, through their newsletters. Costs include photocopying and postage.

5.6. Conduct training workshops

To ensure accuracy of identifications and consistency of methods, it is essential to train volunteers who participate in survey and monitoring activities (Action 2). To ensure effective habitat management, it will also be important to provide training to land managers (government agencies, community groups and private land holders) on the habitat requirements of frogs and threats to frogs, and on environmentally friendly land management techniques.

Training workshops for community groups and volunteers on stream frog identification and monitoring techniques will be held prior to conducting extensive monitoring (Action 2).

Cost of Action 5
Costs $’000s: 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 Total
Total
8
21
9
4
4
46