Declining frogs in Australia
Dramatic declines in some Australian frog species have been reported since the 1980’s. Of particular concern is the disappearance of frogs not only from disturbed sites but also from pristine habitats remote from human interference. Twenty seven species (13%) of Australia’s frog species are currently nationally threatened, and of these, eight species may have disappeared altogether. An additional 14 species are declining. For most of these species, the causes of decline are not known or are poorly understood.
Over the past few years, well over a million dollars have been allocated by the Endangered Species Program, mostly to State and Territory conservation agencies, to address frog conservation issues. The Commonwealth Minister for Environment, Senator Robert Hill, recently announced funding of nearly $375,000 for threatened frog projects in addition to $190,000 announced earlier in 1997. This represents a significant increase in funding to address a critical environmental problem.
The Commonwealth’s main focus in relation to declining frogs is to establish workable yet effective priorities, and to coordinate and facilitate national on ground conservation activities which focus on stabilising and reversing frog declines.
The Action Plan for Australian Frogs was released in April 1997. It provides a broad overview of the status of frogs and identifies high priority actions, including investigation of possible causal factors, survey and distribution, captive breeding and community involvement.
The National Threatened Frog Working Group was formed during 1997 as an initiative of the Endangered Species Advisory Committee. It includes representatives from research and herpetological groups as well as government natural resource management agencies. Its purpose is to assist with implementing The Action Plan for Australia Frogs and facilitate actions to reverse frog declines.
At its first meeting, the National Threatened Frog Working Group recognised the need to bring together specialists involved in research, management, policy-making and community participation on threatened frogs and proposed a national workshop. In particular, the group sought to overview existing knowledge and establish priorities for future actions based on the outcomes of a national workshop.
The national workshop was held on 12 and 13 November 1997 at the University of Canberra. It brought together some 80 people from throughout Australia who are involved in frog research, management and policy development. Representatives also came from Government agencies, educational institutions and non-government organisations.
The purpose of the workshop was to:
- provide an overview of the current status of knowledge about frog species which are declining;
- provide an overview of what is known about the declines and how the issue is being addressed;
- identify gaps in knowledge;
- recommend priorities for national efforts in relation to research, management and community involvement;
- help set the priorities for action by the National Threatened Frog Working Group;
- establish on-going communication links between all participants and the wider community.
Sessions included an international perspective, regional overviews, research summaries and technical tools for action. There were 23 papers, a number of posters and three workshop sessions.
For most species, there is no clearly identifiable cause of decline, although several factors are thought to contribute. Disease, fish predation, UV light, habitat disturbance, and herbicides are likely factors influencing frog declines either individually or in combination. The workshop identified the need to consider the effects of local and regional influences in addition to potential global influences.
The National Threatened Frog Working Group met after the workshop and made the following recommendations:
- Publish the workshop proceedings;
- Prepare a brochure on declining frogs
- Establish a web site to provide up to date information about declining frog issues.
- Establish a national but restricted internet discussion group on frogs. Frognet is now in progress with discussions on issues of national importance. Gene banking and the Atlas of Australian frogs are two initial topics.
Priorities include the need to maintain a broad perspective and to continue monitoring and research on a range of possible causal factors. The working group also recognised the need to support research into new areas. Disease is potentially a major factor influencing global declines. It was recommended to support strategic research and develop protocols to address this issue. Fluctuating asymmetry or the tendency for the size and shape of limbs on an animal to differ in response to stress, was also identified as a possible early warning tool for predicting declines. Support for research in this area was also identified as a priority.
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