Something remarkable happens when we see another species’ predicament with the same compassion as we might see our own.

And something very special has bonded Australians with the plight of our country’s 246 species of native frogs, with 35 of these special species tragically turning up dead or dying over the past six months.

We talk a lot about the importance of citizen science in our museums. How to do it, scale up, make it matter.

The real point of citizen science – now with the added simple brilliance of accessible technology – is that it puts the power of doing science straight into your hands – directly helping to protect something that speaks to us. And for sure, croaking frogs are the signal of our childhood summers, whatever age we may be now!

Frog on a branch

FrogID is a national citizen science project that is helping us learn more about what is happening to Australia’s frogs.

Image: Jodi Rowley
© Australian Museum

As indicator species, frogs are ‘canaries in the coalmine’ on climate change. As both prey and predator, on land and in water, as they lose their homes to multiple human factors, to pollution and habitat loss, our collective ecosystem is severely compromised, and climate change is having an intensifying effect on all these stressors.

But here’s the good news; with just you and your mobile phone recording geo-referenced frog calls with the FrogID app from wherever you hear them, we are mobilising data that is absolutely critical for effective research on climate change – what I call ‘audio-DNA’ – and we are doing so on a scale not previously possible.

Tech makes it both easy and rewarding for anyone and everyone to become involved. The initial results are in from FrogID Week 2021: from Friday 12 November through to Sunday 21 November, more than 15,000 verified frog calls were submitted by citizen scientists using the free FrogID smartphone app. And we expect this number to rise as FrogID scientists at the AM continue to verify thousands of other calls submitted during FrogID Week 2021, our most successful FrogID Week yet. In fact, the first day of FrogID Week resulted in our greatest number of submissions in the project’s history (2899) and the greatest number of unique users to submit an audio submission (1270) with FrogID!

If you can hear frogs in your environment then that's a really good indicator of ecological health.

Together, FrogID users along with Dr Jodi Rowley’s team based at the Australian Museum Research Institute (AMRI), are delivering hefty data chunks for multiple national scientific reports, informing our governments why our frogs are disappearing from the critical 'mid-section' of our ecosystem - the same one on which we are privileged to sit - precariously - at the top. Since launch, FrogID citizen scientists have upped the sample size dramatically, adding nearly 500,000 verified frog records from more than 200 Australian frog species. Read our first ever FrogID report to learn more about the incredible conservation impact recording that frog calls can achieve and how you can help contribute to this important work.

And yesterday, the FrogID team announced two new species of frogs being discovered, thanks in part to frog call recordings from the FrogID app.

Since 1989, I have been developing citizen science projects when I co-founded Clean Up Australia and instead of one thousand expected volunteers, we suddenly had 40,000 volunteers on the first Clean Up Sydney Harbour Day on Sunday 8 January 1989.

That taught me the instant potential of what more could be achieved, and fast, by blending the motivation to conserve our environment with structural organisation. Making projects like these accessible and nationally scalable is how we get on top of collective ‘loss’ issues, in real-time.

Coming out of COP26, this is more urgent than ever and surely where museums can lend their singular organisational leverage and leadership. More participants means more new facts, which helps save species.

Remember - November is peak ‘frog time’ across most parts of Australia, so hop to it and keep recording!

We can’t do it without you.