A brighter future for two threatened frog species

Published 4 May 2018
Richmond Range mountain frog credit David Newell Richmond Range mountain frog (credit David Newell)

The future for two endangered frog species found in the rainforests of northern NSW is looking brighter with the state government allocating almost $150,000 for conservation projects led by Southern Cross University.

With acoustic equipment in the Kyogle area, listening for Richmond Range mountain frog
Listening for Richmond Range mountain frogs: NPWS ranger Allan Goodwin (left) and PhD candidate Liam Bolitho setting up acoustic equipment in the Kyogle area (credit: David Newell)

Southern Cross amphibian expert Dr David Newell will work alongside the NSW Government’s Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) to deliver separate projects for the Fleay’s barred frog and the Richmond Range mountain frog to better understand their habitat and diseases impacting their survival.

The funding under the OEH's Saving Our Species (SOS) program will complement and boost existing work being done to help these frogs.

The announcement was made by Minister for the Environment Gabrielle Upton, who said that the partnership with Dr Newell was key to the success of these projects.

“Dr Newell has been undertaking long-term monitoring and ecological research into amphibians within the World Heritage rainforests of northern NSW for over 20 years,” Ms Upton said.

“Combining Dr Newell’s expert knowledge and expertise with the NSW Government’s contribution of $150,000 for these new projects will help improve the conservation outcomes for these frogs.”

Fleay’s barred frog is a large, stream-breeding species from northern NSW that has been decimated by the amphibian chytrid fungus, a highly infectious disease that has caused the recent extinctions of amphibians in Australia and globally; however some Fleay’s barred frog populations now appear to be recovering.

“This project will see us tag and recapture individual frogs over time to assess the presence of the fungus each time they are recaptured,” Dr Newell said.

“I have been researching the Fleay’s barred frog since the late 90s and we’ll use these funds to continue intensive monitoring of the species in three priority sites in the Border Ranges National Park and the Nightcap National Park.”

The Richmond Range mountain frog project involves remotely recording thousands of hours of sound at known breeding sites to investigate calling phenology in relation to climate. 

This species, one of a group of amphibians known as the masked mountain frogs, is only found within the upland rainforests of northern NSW and south east Queensland, sites that are generally within the Protected Areas that form the Gondwana World Heritage Rainforests of Australia.

“The Richmond Range mountain frog lives in burrows and can be difficult to detect. To get around that, we’ll use technology to record and analyse sound recordings to understand their calling behaviour and habitat requirements,” said Dr Newell who’ll be assisted by PhD candidate Liam Bolitho.

“Special software will ‘listen’ for the calls based on frequency and patterns. Using this approach we are able to analyse thousands of hours of recordings from throughout the year.

“This is very exciting because it’s a new technique for monitoring one of our region’s rarest species.”

Dr Newell said the Richmond Range mountain frog was susceptible not only to amphibian chytrid fungus but also climate change.

“They breed in the very headwaters of rainforest streams and rely on the thermal properties of these sites - temperature and moisture profiles - for survival. When you live on a mountain top you are effectively isolated on ‘sky islands’.  When the climate changes there is no way you can move further up the hill and these species are not very mobile so they can’t just change mountains.”

Media contact: Sharlene King 0426 661 349