The frog finders

FrogID is Australia’s most successful citizen science project. Dr Jodi Rowley — Curator of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Biology at the Australian Museum and the University of New South Wales — founded the initiative in 2017. Her idea to enlist everyday people to help find, record and save frogs has won supporters ranging from international science luminaries to Australian school kids and international celebrities. It’s a true Australian success story.

In just six years, FrogID has become a multi-award-winning conservation initiative that has recorded almost one million frogs, yielded more than 20 scientific papers, and even inspired an ARIA-nominated album, Songs of Disappearance, which features the calls of more than 50 frog species. Most significantly, it’s provided vital data about the impact of environmental disasters such as 2019-2020’s Black Summer fires, and registered two species as endangered, ensuring they benefit from conservation protection (the Davies Tree Frog and Sphagnum Frog).

Interview with Dr Jodie Rowley

FrogID Lead Scientist Dr Jodi Rowley with Red Eye Tree Frog © Salty Dingo 2021FrogID Lead Scientist Dr Jodi Rowley with Red Eye Tree Frog © Salty Dingo 2021
FrogID Lead Scientist Dr Jodi Rowley with Red Eye Tree Frog. Image: Salty Dingo © Salty Dingo

Dr Rowley’s unwavering commitment to saving frogs has put her in high demand as a public speaker and frequent media guest, helping FrogID become a flagship program for the Citizen Science Centre. Jodi was recently awarded the NSW Premier's Prize for Science & Engineering, which recognises excellence in science and engineering, and rewards leading researchers for cutting-edge work that has generated economic, environmental, health, social or technological benefits for New South Wales. Here, she tells Explore about the initiative’s achievements and her hopes for the future.

Explore: What has been the most surprising discovery in your FrogID experience so far?

Dr Jodi Rowley: The most exciting thing to me is the sheer volume of data. It still blows my mind that we are reaching almost one million records of frogs in only six years. The other surprise to me was how many native frog species were hitchhiking around Australia and forming populations outside their native range. The tiny Eastern Dwarf Tree Frog (Litoria fallax) seems to be the most well-travelled frog so far.

Explore: What did you expect to achieve when you started FrogID? Have these expectations changed in the past six years?

Dr Jodi Rowley: We aimed to gather the data we need to help make more informed conservation decisions on behalf of Australia’s frogs and the environment in general — and we’ve done that. But the job doesn’t end now; we need a long-term dataset to better understand the impact of a changing environment. We’re also aiming to have better coverage of Australia with FrogID records — there are still large tracts of the country with no frog records, but we know frogs are there.

Explore: What ambitions do you have for FrogID longer term, and what impact could it have?

Dr Jodi Rowley: Alongside creating a long-term data set and gathering frog records from across the country, we’re hoping to incorporate machine learning/artificial intelligence into the project. One day, we might also be able to expand FrogID to other countries.

Explore: What’s your favourite frog and why?

Dr Jodi Rowley: That’s a very difficult question. My favourite frog species changes depending on the day. Today, I’d say it is a tie between Helen’s Flying Frog (Rhacophorus helenae), a species from Vietnam that my colleagues and I named after my mother, or the Crucifix Frog (Notaden bennettii), the sequined potato of Australia’s frogs!

Explore: What changes did you see in the location of frog species, after the Black Summer bushfires?

Dr Jodi Rowley: Our research on the impact of the bushfires using FrogID data has been surprisingly good news. Thanks to thousands of people recording frogs across the fire zone before and after the fires, we have shown that many Australian frog species have a remarkable ability to persist after fire. However, the long-term impacts of the fires on these species, and the impact on some of the rainforest-adapted frog species that are not often recorded via FrogID, remain unknown. The FrogID dataset is an invaluable source of information on the impact of drought, fires and floods (among other threats) on Australia’s frogs, and our research into their impact continues.

Explore: What are the biggest challenges that frogs face today?

Dr Jodi Rowley: Overall, the biggest threat to frogs is habitat loss and modification. However, disease, introduced species and, increasingly, climate change, are also huge threats. Unfortunately for frogs and other amphibians, they are the most threatened groups of animals on the planet. A recent study revealed that two in five amphibian species are threatened with extinction.

Explore: Do you capture cane toad calls on FrogID?

Dr Jodi Rowley: Please use FrogID to record cane toads as well as native frogs! Thanks to people using the FrogID app, we are better able to understand the distribution of cane toads across Australia, including the invasion fronts in New South Wales and Western Australia. We are also able to help detect any calling cane toads that pop up outside of their established range, helping to ensure that these stray toads do not establish populations. Recording cane toads with FrogID will also let us better understand the impact of toads on native frog populations.

Explore: What else would you be doing if you weren’t working with frogs?

Dr Jodi Rowley: I’m very lucky that I fell in love with frogs and ended up working with them. I can’t imagine what I would be doing otherwise! Something else in the biodiversity conservation space, I think.

Fun frog facts

FrogID has discovered some amazing new facts about frogs, including:

  • Some frogs have accents
  • Some breed for longer in cities than in the country
  • The Striped Marsh Frog is our most urban-tolerant species
  • About 40 per cent of Australian frogs live near farm dams
  • The Tusked Frog — previously feared extinct from the New England Tablelands of NSW — is still alive near Tenterfield.
Male Eastern Smooth Frog (Geocrinia victoriana) guarding a terrestrial nest of eggs. Often multiple females will lay their eggs in the nest, and the male will guard them until rainfall eventually floods the nest and the tadpoles hatch and complete their d
Male Eastern Smooth Frog (Geocrinia victoriana) guarding a terrestrial nest of eggs. Often multiple females will lay their eggs in the nest, and the male will guard them until rainfall eventually floods the nest and the tadpoles hatch and complete their development in water. Image: Thomas Parkin © Australian Museum

Impressive frog stats

  • 220 species have been recorded on FrogID (there are 259 species in Australia)
  • FrogID data now covers 36 per cent of the entire nation
  • FrogID has yielded more than 20 scientific papers
  • It’s introduced five new frog species to science

Get involved

There are many ways ways to get involved in the FrogID count and help save Australia’s frogs.

Out in the field

Take part in Australia's biggest frog count! Download the FrogID app and start recording frog calls and help provide valuable data for the protection and conservation of frogs.

FrogID app in the Northern Territory
Using the FrogID app. Image: Jodi Rowley © Australian Museum

Donate and help

The Australian Museum's FrogID project harnesses the work of citizen scientists to power frog research and conservation. Your donation will help support FrogID as we grow our community and important research dataset: from updating mobile and web applications, to producing open-access science and financing our small team, every contribution counts!

Here's what your donation to FrogID can make possible:

  • $50 helps our scientists verify 10 minutes of frog call recordings
  • $100 helps send one month of emails
  • $250 stores 10 days of audio recordings
  • $500 supports two hours of developer time for app updates
  • $2000 supports scientific data subscriptions or two months of data storage

See the scientific impact of FrogID recordings at www.frogid.net.au/science.

Davies Tree Frog
Davies Treefrog (Litoria daviesae), NSW. Image: Jodi Rowley © Australian Museum

Songs of Disappearance

In collaboration with The Bowerbird Collective, the Australian Museum has produced Songs of Disappearance, an Aria-nominated album featuring the calls of more than 50 Australian frog species, including a number that are sadly now extinct.

Album proceeds support the Australian Museum FrogID project, so when you buy Songs of Disappearance, you are supporting frog research and conservation too.

Songs of Disappearance
Our one-of-a-kind album includes the calls of threatened frog species recorded by FrogID citizen scientists across Australia. Pre-order your copy today to help frogs hop into the ARIA charts and support our flagship citizen science project, FrogID. Image: Mervyn Street © Bowerbird Collective
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