Citizen Scientists Discover New Frogs, Monitor Environmental Health With Simple Phone App

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Scientist Jodi Rowley found her ‘Prince Charming’ on an excursion – she fell in love with frogs and dedicated her life to amphibians.

Dr Rowley, from the University of New South Wales, leads the Australian Museum’s FrogID project which encourages citizen scientists to record frog calls on their cell phones so they can be added to a national database .

“Each species of frog has a unique call that you can distinguish from the approximately 240 species of frogs in Australia,” said Dr Rowley.

It is only the males who call.

“They are definitely screaming what species they are and that the girls come to them and hopefully mate,” Dr Rowley said.

“When the project started I wasn’t sure if it would only be my friends who would end up registering frogs, but it turns out people care about frogs and conservation.

“We have had almost half a million records of frogs in just over four years.

“It’s remarkable, it was a game-changer in terms of frog conservation.”

Data from Citizen Scientists helped identify frogs that survived the NSW bushfires.(Provided: FrogID)

Survive bush fires

Citizen scientists have been the eyes and ears of researchers during the COVID shutdowns and have also provided valuable data on the impact of environmental changes, including the NSW bushfires.

“After the 2019/20 bushfires, we were really, really alarmed about all of these frogs getting hot and burning,” Dr Rowley said.

“What FrogID users really told us … [was] they gave us good news.

FrogID also provided evidence of new species.

“In Australia we’ve already had a few described as new to science this year; two last month,” Dr Rowley said.

“We have also heard some very strange calls that we think are from frogs, but we cannot match them to a known species, so we are delighted to investigate some of these calls that have been received from some remote locations. “

Dr Rowley is not alone in her passion – there is a team of experts who are trained in the identification of frogs.

Close up of a green frog on someone's hand
The FrogID project makes it possible to monitor species such as the green tree frog with a free mobile application.(Provided: FrogID)

“Each recording is listened to by one or more frog experts based at the Australian Museum,” said Dr Rowley.

“We learned the language of the frogs.

“Some [experts] are particularly good at stopovers in South Australia, some particularly good in Queensland [calls].

“We all sit with our headphones on and listen to the hundreds and thousands of recordings we receive.

Dr Rowley said the frogs can be found in most parts of Australia.

“There might be a very small part of Australia that is super arid that we don’t have any frog records for, and that’s probably true, but for most of Australia there would be at minus a handful of different frog species.

“They can spend months, even years underground, waiting for this unpredictable rain event when they go out, call and breed, then descend back underground.”

FrogID not only showed where the frogs are, but also identified breeding habitats and breeding times.

“We are then able to investigate things like, ‘How do frogs react to urbanization, how do they breed in our cities? How do they react to things like drought, fires, climate change? “

“So there’s a lot of really important research coming straight out of all of these amazing FrogID records.

Woman with torch looking at frog on a rock.
Dr Rowley with a waterfall frog (Litoria nannotis) in Queensland.(Provided: Jodi Rowley)

“They are already responding to climate change.

“[By] by watching our frogs not only do we get a fantastic understanding of how our frogs are doing, but they really are the “canary in the coal mine”.

“We are also able to monitor the health of our waterways and the health of ecosystems in general thanks to frogs.”

During FrogID week, Dr Rowley encourages people to download the FrogID app on their cell phones and record frog calls.

“It wasn’t until I was 18 and on a college trip that I went out and saw and heard frogs, that’s when I fell in love … i hope there will be people who fall in love with frogs if they are not already love with them.

“Every frog is a prince to me.”

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