Australia's first national frog count has already made leaps and bounds in helping to conserve some of our most threatened animals

Australia’s first national frog count has only just begun but already it’s made leaps and bounds in helping to conserve some of our most threatened animals.

The national citizen science project FrogID was launched only 40 days ago. But in that time, we’ve had a remarkable number of submissions from across Australia!

FROG ID app in the field
Testing the Frog ID app in the field. Image: Jay Dykes
© Australian Museum/Jay Dykes

People all over Australia have used the free FrogID app to capture the calls of an amazing 92 different species of native frog, including seven nationally threatened frog species. Thanks to these citizen scientists, we’ve expanded the known distribution of several frog species and learnt much about their breeding habitats. Together, we’re making leaps and bounds in our knowledge of Aussie frogs – and helping to ensure they’ll be around for future generations.

So far, FrogID has received more than 7000 recordings from across the country and captured almost 40% of Australia’s 240 known native frog species, plus the introduced Cane Toad (Rhinella marina). This is a remarkable achievement, particularly as about a quarter of Australia’s frogs aren’t usually calling at this time of year and many other species require more rain to call.

FrogID recordings to date have tended to come from major population centres, particularly capital cities. Most of the frog calls submitted have been from eastern Australia, with 65% of calls coming from NSW alone. While we’re keen to get calls from every part of Australia, the concentration of calls from these areas will be vital in helping us understand how frog species are responding to a changing landscape and climate, and how we might better coexist with frogs.

In just 40 days, we’ve received the calls of seven nationally threatened species, including: the Kuranda Tree Frog (Litoria myola) and Australian lace-Lid (Litoria dayi), from the Wet Tropics of northern Queensland; and the Southern Bell Frog (Litoria raniformis) and Green and Golden Bell Frog (Litoria aurea), from southeastern Australia. Such recordings are particularly important because they provide an up-to-date record of the breeding habitats for these species – which is important for conserving species on the edge of extinction.

Some of the calls that we’ve been most excited to receive are from the drier parts of Australia. Frogs in arid and semi-arid areas are nearly impossible for frog biologists to study, as they remain buried underground for years and only emerge to breed after heavy rains. As these rains are hard to predict - and the surrounding roads often impassable once the rain has started - these frogs are some of the most poorly-known species in Australia. I’ve been delighted to hear the rarely-recorded Spencer’s Burrowing Frog (Platyplectrum spenceri), from Alice Springs, and the aptly-named Shoemaker Frog (Neobatrahus sutor), tapping away near Uluru during a brief downpour. We know so little about these frogs that we struggle to understand how they are faring, so these calls are incredibly valuable to conservation efforts.

FrogID submissions have also revealed the presence of frog species outside of the areas where they were previously known to occur. The call of Roth’s Tree Frog (Litoria rothii) was recorded further south in the Northern Territory than ever before, while the Northern Whistling Frog (Austrochaperina gracilipes) was recorded over 30km away from known populations on Cape York in Queensland. Accurate maps of species distributions are necessary for land-use management. To make informed decisions we need to know what species are likely to be impacted by any such changes. Your submissions are already providing information that allows us to redraw the distribution maps for frogs, truly putting Australia’s frogs on the map!

These are just a handful of the insights that we are gaining into Australia’s unique and threatened frog species, thanks to everyone using FrogID. This is incredibly useful information that will help us understand and conserve our frogs. Whether you’re an experienced frog biologist or just interested in discovering which frog species is making that strange call in your backyard, we’re hoping that you’ll download the free app and use it to record frog calls wherever you hear them.

And if you’re already using the app: Thank You. Your recordings will contribute to a better understanding of Australia’s frogs - and help ensure that they continue ribbeting, squeaking and hooting for generations to come.

Dr Jodi Rowley
Curator, Amphibian & Reptile Conservation Biology
Australian Museum & UNSW Sydney

Download the free FrogID app here and get counting!