Much of Australia’s biodiversity is still unknown, which presents an obstacle to its conservation. Without an understanding of what species we have, and where they are distributed, it’s difficult to make informed land-use or conservation decisions. A vital initiative to help discover Australia’s biodiversity is the Bush Blitz program.
The Bush Blitz program has been running almost a decade, conducting expeditions across the continent, often in difficult to access or remote areas, and involving scientists with expertise in a wide variety of plants and animals. Bush Blitz teams document the biodiversity of the area (including pest species), provide data to land managers and discover new species. So far, over 1600 new species of plant and animal have been discovered as the result of the Bush Blitz program. The Australian Museum Herpetology team were lucky enough to join the latest Bush Blitz in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), where we surveyed for the area’s frogs.
We focused our efforts within Namadgi National Park and its surrounds. The park is part of the Australian Alps, and features snow-capped peaks in the winter, including Mount Bimberi at 1911 m above sea level. It is also massive- making up 46 per cent of the ACT. Incredibly, this vast and wild place can be found right on Canberra’s doorstep! While we weren’t particularly expecting to find any new species of frogs, the Alpine region has a lot of unique, endangered diversity, such as the Northern Corroboree Frog (Pseudophryne pengilleyi). Our goal was to document the frog diversity of today in this interesting and threatened region.
As frogs are largely nocturnal, our surveys were conducted at night. We usually drove along rugged 4WD tracks and hiked in to streams, swamps and ponds in search of frogs, but we gained access to the most remote parts of the park via boat and helicopter. We also used the FrogID app to record the frogs calling at each site we visited. This national project contributes to our country-wide knowledge of frog distributions, breeding seasons and habitats, and also provides hints on how frog diversity changes across the continent (as frog “accents” may actually reveal hidden diversity, including new species).
The frog species found included the stunning Whistling Tree Frogs (Litoria verreauxii), and the large and colorful Eastern Banjo Frogs (Limnodynastes dumerilii). These are widespread species that require further work to determine if they are indeed both a single species, or may be more than one species that look rather similar.
Bush Blitz’s are also about much more than just the scientists conducting surveys. We also took the public on frog call surveys in the Australian National Botanical Gardens, participated in a teacher’s development day, highlighted the national citizen science project FrogID, and took teachers into the field with us as part of Bush Blitz TeachLive . Knowledge from the expedition will be shared between Bush Blitz scientists and participants, land managers and local community groups.
The latest Bush Blitz expedition has just ended, but the work has just begun. We’ll be analyzing frog calls and DNA samples to help understand the diversity of the frogs in this high-elevation corner of Australia. It’s a small but important part of the puzzle in understanding Australia’s amazing plants and animals and making sure that future generations inherit this unique biodiversity.
Dr Jodi Rowley, Curator, Amphibian & Reptile Conservation Biology, AMRI & UNSW
Christopher Portway, Herpetology Research Assistant, AMRI
Dr Renee Catullo, ANU & Research Associate, AMRI
Bush Blitz is an innovative partnership between the Australian Government, BHP and Earthwatch. It is the world’s first continent-scale biodiversity survey, providing the knowledge needed to help us protect Australia’s unique animals and plants for generations to come. http://bushblitz.org.au/