February 18 - 24, 2024: Issue 614

 

FrogID reaches one million frog records

With a chorus of frogs sounding from many creeks and alongside roads at present after so many days of rain, Pittwater may be interested that on February 6 2024 FrogID, the Australian Museum’s (AM) trail-blazing national frog count and the largest global citizen science project about frogs, announced a new milestone had been reached; one million validated frog records. 

The one millionth frog record was of a Spalding’s Rocket Frog recorded about 50kms from Cloncurry, north-west Queensland by volunteer citizen scientist, Dr Elliot Leach.

Curator of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Biology at the AM and UNSW Sydney, and lead scientist behind FrogID, Dr Jodi Rowley, said she was thrilled and grateful to the tens of thousands of FrogID users across Australia who helped achieve this milestone.

“This is testament to the incredible contribution of citizen scientists right across the country. FrogID has changed attitudes towards frogs and created opportunities for communities, schools and families to learn, participate and contribute towards the research and conservation of Australia’s unique amphibians. It is inspiring and encouraging to see such interest in our precious frogs,” Rowley acknowledged.

Leading Amphibian scientists from across the USA, UK and Australia congratulated Dr Rowley and her team at the Australian Museum on this extraordinary achievement saying that a dataset of this size will help inform scientists and policy makers into the future.

Dr Rowley, who verified the millionth call, said Spalding’s Rocket Frog sounds a little like a chicken combined with a lawnmower!

“It’s an unmistakable sound! However, there are few recordings of this species in Queensland. It only calls during the wet season from Litchfield National Park in the northwest of the NT to far northwest Queensland near the Gulf of Carpentaria. Elliot Leach’s submission is also the first FrogID submission from the area, effectively increasing FrogID’s spatial coverage to 36.5% of continental Australia,” Rowley said.

Volunteer citizen scientist, Dr Elliot Leach, an ecologist who works for EMM Consulting, and a newcomer to the FrogID app, recorded the Spalding’s Rocket frog while working near Cloncurry, Queensland. “I heard the frog calling from over 100 metres away. It is such a distinctive sound - I knew immediately it was a new species for me!


FrogID's one millionth frog record, the Spalding’s Rocket Frog, Litoria spaldingi . Image: Elliot Leach © Elliot Leach

NSW Minister for the Arts, the Hon John Graham, said FrogID is an inspiring example of how the Australian public will support a community-led project for the good of the environment.

“I love this app. The work that has gone into making a million recordings is just remarkable. Australians are proud of their local environments and wildlife and their work is providing the Australian Museum with invaluable data to understand where and how our frogs are surviving, thriving and in need of help.

“This is an extraordinary citizen science project. The NSW Government is proud to back FrogID.”

Created and devised by AM Director & CEO, Kim McKay AO and Dr Rowley, the AM launched FrogID in 2017 with the purpose of creating a database of frog records and associated audio files to assist in the conservation of Australia’s distinctive amphibians.

McKay said this milestone was made possible by more than 45,000 interested and concerned volunteer citizen scientists across Australia.

“Emphasising science and technology, the free FrogID app is at the heart of our nation-wide program. Initially developed with the assistance of IBM and the Federal Government, the GPS technology used in the free FrogID app has allowed thousands of Australians of all ages to contribute to this vital national citizen science project,” McKay said.

“It’s easy to forget what an ambitious undertaking FrogID was, and still is. Dr Rowley and I brainstormed how we could use smartphone technology to record frog calls. It was uncharted territory, and in our first meeting, my prediction of one million calls was met with scepticism and a few raised eyebrows!”

“FrogID has become a flagship program for the AM and a core part of the AM’s Centre for Citizen Science. Led by Dr Rowley, the AM team has created an enormous dataset of frog records which is free, searchable and available to all agencies and researchers. This has set a new international standard in data collection in citizen science,” McKay added.

Director and Chief Scientist of the Australian Museum Research Institute, Professor Kris Helgen, said frogs are not only charismatic and colourful animals, but important for healthy ecosystems.

“Because frogs are highly sensitive to environmental change, including pollution, land and water use, and climate change, they are key indicators of the health of our environment. With 249 native frog species in Australia including many in serious decline, there is a critical need to better understand our frogs and their habitats,” Helgen said. “They are the ‘canary in the coalmine’ for Australian ecosystems.”

“FrogID is a game-changer. It has allowed us to collect data on rare and threatened frog species, document the decline of native frog species from parts of their range, and detect invasive species, including native species that have established populations outside their native range—all with a mobile phone app that anyone can use. FrogID has also produced the most accurate and up to date distribution maps for Australia’s frogs ever recorded, and helps us understand how those distributions are changing,” Helgen explained.

Helping people identify frogs in the wild is just part of the FrogID project. FrogID submissions have helped identify five new species, produced more than 20 research papers and even inspired an ARIA nominated album.

Messages of support have come from leading amphibian ecologists around the world including:

Professor David Skelly, Director, Yale Peabody Museum said FrogID is a project that needs to be taken up by other countries.

“The audience that Jodi Rowley has built through FrogID will translate into positive conservation outcomes for amphibians. It is a fantastic model that needs to be repeated on other continents. Jodi Rowley and her team are fundamentally changing what we know about the biology of frogs at scales I never thought imaginable. As critical as that work is, FrogID may be even more important in elevating the importance of amphibians in the minds of huge numbers of people in ways that could change the fate of imperilled species.”

Dr Martha Crump, behavioural ecologist at Northern Arizona University and one of the world’s leading amphibian experts and the first individual to perform a long-term ecological study on a community of tropical amphibians said the milestone of over one million frog records thus far by citizen scientists is extraordinary.

“Conservation begins when people care. With their innovative approach to amphibian conservation, Jodi and her team have greatly increased our understanding of the status of Australian frogs and thus how we can respond more effectively to their challenges, and, importantly, the team has encouraged people to care,” Dr Crump said.

Professor Rick Shine, Macquarie University, Sydney said FrogID is filling a critical gap in our understanding of the frogs of Australia.

“Frog species are declining all over the world, with many tragic cases of extinction. The first step towards stopping that decline is to understand what kinds of frogs we have, and where they are found – but that’s a formidable challenge with creatures that are small, well-hidden, and active only by night. Because each frog species has a different call, Jodie and her team at Frog ID have been able to assemble a unique inventory of frogs over an entire continent. You can’t save a species if you don’t know where it occurs – and by solving that mystery, FrogID is a powerful force for conservation of our extraordinary amphibians,” Professor Shine said.

Professor Trent Garner, Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society, London highlighted that data sets like this for amphibians are as rare as the frogs are becoming themselves and are absolutely crucial for devising the conservation actions that will hopefully lead to those frog numbers going up.

“What a terrific achievement, 1 million records since starting in 2017. All the herpetologists in Australia could not generate a data set like this on their own, so hat’s off to the Australian public for enabling Australian herpetology and amphibian conservation. I can only imagine the research that this type of citizen science can lead to: capturing the evolution of frogs in real time as vocal dialects emerge, understanding the impact of environmental variation on frog abundance and breeding activity, identifying new habitats where frogs occur that hadn’t been surveyed before, it’s a goldmine of information that Australian scientists and conservationists can build careers on and provide insights that allow better management of the incredibly novel amphibian assemblage that can be found in Australia.’

Dr David Blackburn, Curator of Herpetology, Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida, said Dr Rowley and her team have created an innovative and useful tool for recording the presence of frogs across Australia by their calls.

“Since 2017, they’ve recorded >1 million records, which averages hundreds of new records each day. that are now used by scientists around the world and cited dozens of times in the scientific literature. FrogID data has contributed to our understanding of Australian frogs are responding to urbanization or recovering from bushfires, as well as new insights into how frog calls vary across Australia. They’ve even been used as part of the evidence for describing new species of Australian frogs. Because they’ve engaged such a large number of people, FrogID also provides interesting data for scientists and the museums to understand how best to motivate non-scientists to participate in the scientific process.” Blackburn said.


Dr. Jodi Rowley. photo: Stuart Humphreys, Australian Museum

“Next steps in the FrogID project will be carefully drawing on artificial intelligence to further help our researchers identify species calling. We're using this enormous library of frog calls that everybody's helped create, to use machine learning so that we'll be able to identify Australian frogs more quickly and effectively,” Rowley said.

McKay, who co-founded one of the first and most successful citizen science projects, ‘Clean Up Australia’ and ‘Clean Up the World’ back in the early 1990s, said that while the concept of citizen science is not new, the difficulty has been in the quality, reliability and robustness of collecting reliable data.

“Utilising the GPS technology in the FrogID app and the expertise of our scientific staff verifying the calls, FrogID has revolutionised the volume and accuracy of frog records across Australia,” McKay said. “As a leading science institute committed to community outreach and engagement, FrogID is also a unique learning platform that enables us to reach audiences that do not have the opportunity, due to distance, to visit the museum.”

Our FrogID platform provides teachers with classroom resources linked to the national curriculum including the profiles of 249 native species along with a description, pictures, example of their call and their calling period, where you can find them and their conservation status. The platform also illustrates how to build a frog pond and frog habitats. Schools, communities, and environmental groups can also participate in our leaderboard for prizes and recognition,” McKay said.

“Anyone in Australia can contribute to the FrogID project by downloading the free phone app, pressing record using the app whenever they hear a frog, and submitting to the AM’s team of researchers. The power to save frogs is in the palm of your hand,” Rowley added.

Further Information:

About the Australian Museum

The Australian Museum (AM) was founded in 1827 and is the nation’s first museum. It is internationally recognised as a natural science and culture institution focused on Australia and the Pacific. As custodian of more than 22 million objects and specimens, the AM is uniquely positioned to provide a greater understanding of the region through its scientific research, exhibitions, and public and education programs. Through the Australian Museum Research Institute (AMRI), the AM also plays a leading role in conserving Australia’s biodiversity through understanding the environmental impacts of climate change, potential bio-security threats and invasive species. Visit Australian Museum for more information.

About FrogID

FrogID is led by Dr Jodi Rowley together with a team of dedicated scientists at the Australian Museum. The program received funding from the Australian Government under the Citizen Science Grants element of the Inspiring Australia – Science Engagement Program from 2017 – 2020. The NSW Government has supported FrogID in 2022-23. The NSW Government Biodiversity Conservation Trust is Supporting Partner of FrogID 2022-24. The Australian Museum leads FrogID in partnership with natural science museums in NT, QLD, SA, TAS, VIC and WA.


FrogID Grid Screenshot

Dr. Jodi Rowley speaking to Schoolchildren about our frogs. Photo: Nick Langley, Australian Museum.