KEY POINTS

  • You can help by promoting the conversion of gardens into natural habitats for native amphibians to live and breed, an finding out about local amphibian conservation groups (see DIRECTORY at bottom of page)
  • Wherever you live, discouraging pet trade and overexploitation of amphibians will assist in reducing the spread of diseases, giving the world’s amphibians a better chance of survival.  It will also serve to safeguard wild amphibian populations they cannot withstand the removal of individuals for this trade.  Instead, consider supporting captive breeding programmes for conservation purposes at the Amphibian Ark
  • You can also support conservation initiatives dedicated to amphibian survival, such as those organised by the EDGE of Existence Programme at ZSL to protect the world’s extraordinary diversity of amphibians

Those of you who are already amphibian enthusiasts may already know that 2008 bears the title “Year of the Frog”. Amphibians are in crisis, and a message from the coordinators of the YOTF campaign, Amphibian Ark, says it all: “Frogs Matter. Jump In.”

Amphibians represent an extremely important component in complex food webs, providing food for predators as well as keeping some invertebrate numbers under control. In 2008, one third of the world’s amphibian species are threatened with extinction, and this page will show you just a few ways to get actively involved with the conservation of this beautiful class of animal, whether in your back garden, or in your local community.

In order to assist with this global initiative, it’s a good idea to have a basic understanding of exactly what environmental pressures are causing the extinction crisis. There are 6 main contributing factors, some of which facilitate or affect others to produce an extremely complex problem, largely influenced by human activity. These are:-

Know your amphibians!
Amphibians can be easily classified into three groups – the frogs & toads, the salamanders & newts and the caecilians – so it helps to be able to identify what you’re looking at, as each group has its own unique behaviour and ecological requirements. Assistance with British amphibian identification and breeding times can be found on an informative website run by an amphibian conservation agency that is partnered with ZSL, called Froglife.  You can also learn about many examples of these different types of amphibians throughout the EDGE website.

Help in your garden
If an amphibian population is to survive, a supply of water must be readily available. Not only do most adult amphibians lay their eggs in water, but their mucous-covered skin must be regularly hydrated if they are to avoid desiccation, especially considering that the majority of amphibians actually breathe through their skin. Unfortunately, increasing global alternation of natural environments by mankind is greatly reducing the area of land viable for amphibian inhabitance and breeding.

As a result, if you live in an urban or suburban area, converting your garden into a microhabitat for amphibians and other wildlife could prove vital for the survival and prosperity of a local population.

Building a pond
Creating a pond for your local amphibians is a great starter point for encouraging amphibian life in your garden, and can be easily achieved in a few steps. If you are keen to build your own pond, then Froglife can provide you with a comprehensive guide called “Pond Heaven”, which can be purchased on their website for £1.30 (including postage and packing).

Although amphibians do not always spend their whole lives in the water, ponds play a vital role in their life cycle, providing a breeding ground for many species to spawn each year. This spawn develops into fully aquatic tadpoles or larvae which undergo metamorphosis, emerging from ponds as froglets, toadlets or juvenile newts. As a result, ponds should be built with shallow, sloping edges, to allow newly metamorphosed individuals to move onto the land.

If your garden has a swimming pool, amphibians may occasionally enter thinking that it is a pond. The steep cornered sides of swimming pools make it impossible for small animals to escape, so an American company have invented a product called the “Froglog” to allow animals such as frogs and toads an exit route.


leopard frog escapes

Copyright www.froglog.us

Ponds may also offer an excellent refuge for adult amphibians during particularly cold periods, by providing a site for hibernation - while on land amphibians would not survive the freezing and drying conditions of a harsh winter, the temperature at the bottom of a pond often remains above freezing. Ice also insulates the water below to a certain extern, and can protect pond inhabitants from predation.  However, when ponds freeze over in the winter it is sometimes very difficult for oxygen to dissolve into the water from the air. As oxygen is essential for animal respiration, any available is quickly used up, producing anoxic (oxygen deprived) conditions which ultimately result in suffocation of all animals in the pond. This anoxia can be prevented fairly easily in small ponds in many ways, for example:

  • Placing a plastic ball in the water before it freezes.
  • Placing a bowl of boiling water on its frozen surface, creating a space for oxygen to diffuse in.
  • Purchasing a de-icer for larger ponds, commercially available from a company named Kasco, which works by circulating higher temperature water heated by the earth at the bottom of ponds with lower temperature water at the surface to prevent freezing.

If your pond is to attract amphibian life, it must contain a mix of preferably native vegetation, with plants around the edge to provide shelter, and submerged plants to offer a breeding site for newts.

Alabama waterdog (Necturus alabamensis)

The rest of the garden
Many adult amphibians spend the majority of their lives out of the water, so it is vital that the rest of your garden can accommodate for their needs. The perimeter of your pond must have an area of dense vegetation to afford individuals a damp shelter. If the rest of your garden must be mowed, make sure it is kept very short - this discourages young froglets from attempting to gain cover in areas that are mowed, where they are very vulnerable to predation from household pets. It is also a good idea to keep your household pets indoors at night as, for example, cats are extremely efficient night-time predators and will catch and kill unsuspecting amphibians.

The presence of amphibian populations in your garden will provide a natural form of pest control, eliminating the need for pesticide and herbicide control - a form of pollution which can have a devastating effect on wildlife populations and ecosystems in general.

Detailed advice on how to encourage amphibian colonisation of your garden can be found in ‘Pond Heaven’, or alternatively through the Froglife website in Advice Sheets 1, 7 and 12. Advice Sheet 1 answers many frequently asked questions, providing guidance on amphibian death and the need to fill a pond.

Helping in your local community
If you want to get involved with amphibian conservation in your local community, there are plenty of ways to help. As community-based work is on a slightly larger scale than the garden, it is a great idea to contact and join your local Amphibian and Reptile Group, or ARG, in order to meet people in your area who are also interested in amphibian conservation. Once joined, you can assist in important surveying projects involving population size, success and death, as well as working towards the protection of breeding sites from industrialisation and road placement.

Surveying provides vital information for conservation initiatives like EDGE, allowing regular analysis of an endangered population’s success and disease susceptibility – particularly with species at a high risk of extinction in countries such as New Zealand - so that necessary action can be taken. There are around 60 ARGs in the UK, so click here to locate your nearest group (see directory at the bottom of this page for non-UK ARGs and organisations).

Luschan's salamander (Lyciasalamandra billae)

Turkey

Protecting breeding sites
Construction of roads and buildings can not only destroy amphibian habitats completely, but can also isolate breeding and feeding sites so that they become inaccessible to populations. This, in turn, isolates populations themselves by preventing their colonisation of new areas, resulting in inbreeding. Over generations, this will increase the probability of reoccurring genetic disorders in individuals, as well as increasing a population’s overall susceptibility to certain infectious diseases – a particular interest of the EDGE project.

Amphibian breeding and foraging sites can be protected efficiently through liaising with Local Councils, site developers and landowners. “Froglife Advice Sheet 9: The Planning System and Site Defence” outlines conservation legislation issues, and provides information on how to go about protecting an area, whether on your own or, advisably, through your local Amphibian and Reptile Group.

“Toads on Roads”
Each spring, toad populations return to the same ancestral ponds to breed. Unfortunately, Britain’s extensive road network has already deprived many amphibian populations of a safe, direct route to their breeding ground. As a result of this, toads often have to cross busy roads to reach their pond, causing an alarming amount of toad mortality in recent decades, greatly reducing their abundance in the UK.

To counteract this problem, Froglife co-ordinates a scheme called ‘Toads on Roads’, which works with ARG-UK to register areas of roads with a particularly high toad mortality rate in spring as ‘toad crossings’, gaining permission to erect warning signs for drivers.

There are now over 600 designated toad crossings in Britain, and this, with the help of organised ‘Toad Patrol’ volunteer groups - who visit the crossings during migratory periods to carry toads across the road to safety - has worked to greatly reduce toad death on roads in recent years.

Betic midwife toad (Alytes dickhilleni )

Some local groups have reduced risk even further by gaining permission to insert a tube underneath roads to provide a safe crossing for toads without the direct assistance of humans. All of these schemes help to reduce isolation of amphibian populations by connecting habitats, allowing them to colonise and disperse in a natural manner.

If you would like to get involved with ‘Toads on Roads’ in the U.K., then you can find and contact your nearest ‘Toad Patrol’ group through your local ARG, or by emailing Froglife. If you believe that you know of a site that should have a toad crossing, then please contact Froglife, and they will help you register area. You can then organise your own volunteer group through your ARG.

When carrying out ‘Toad Patrols’, it is important to record the number of individuals crossing the road each year. Sending this information to Froglife allows the success of your toad population to be monitored, indicating whether the scheme is an effective form of toad conservation. More information can be found in “Froglife Advice Sheet 3: Toads on Roads”.

Reducing death and disease
Death is a big part of amphibian life. Spawn is laid en masse, resulting in hundreds of tadpoles inhabiting a relatively small pond - but we all know this pond won’t produce hundreds of adult amphibians. Tadpoles are the prey of many aquatic organisms, so this overcompensation is a method to ensure that a fraction of juveniles actually survive to adulthood, being fit and well adapted to their environment.

However, when large numbers of adult individuals of a population start to die with no obvious cause, serious problems arise, as you are probably dealing with infectious disease. There are two infectious diseases that are currently affecting amphibian species: Ranavirus and chytridiomycosis.

Ranavirus is a condition which is prevalent in the UK, amongst other countries, and has affected many populations of common frogs and common toads in the past 20 years, killing spawn, tadpoles and adult individuals alike. Although Ranavirus rarely works its way through a whole population, its spread has caused a great deal of mortality in amphibian species that are already under a great deal of environmental pressure, and there is no known cure.

As a result of this, ZSL formed a partnership with Froglife to create the “Frog Mortality Project”, aimed at better understanding how Ranavirus spreads and operates, and exactly how it impacts Amphibian populations.

You can help with this research by filling in a Frog Mortality Questionnaire if you notice any unexplained amphibian mortality in your area, and sending it to Froglife. Questionnaires can be downloaded from the Froglife website. This surveying will aid the Frog Mortality Project in understanding the distribution of the disease across Britain. Information on the symptoms of ranavirus, alongside what to do if you suspect Ranavirus to be present in your garden, can be found in “Froglife Advice Sheet 7: Amphibian Health and Disease”.

Chytridiomycosis is another amphibian disease - caused by the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis – that is particularly virulent, and now has an almost global distribution. Particularly prevalent in areas of North, Central and South America, as well as Australia, chytrid has the ability to wipe out entire populations of amphibians within a relatively short period of time, and has been attributed as the main contributing factor in the extinction of certain would-be EDGE species, such as the evolutionarily distinct Gastric Brooding Frogs of Queensland.

Other species, such as the Number 1 EDGE Species Archey’s New Zealand frog are possibly being pushed to the brink of extinction by chytridiomycosis, and conservation initiatives are working their best to find ways to treat whole habitats for chytrid infection through extensive research. Whatever country you’re from, you can help with chytridiomycosis prevention by donating to research organisations such as ZSL and the EDGE Programme, and Amphibian Ark. Please report any amphibian mortality that you think may be due to chytrid to your regional zoo or amphibian group. Again, Froglife Advice Sheet 7 – outlines the main symptoms of the disease.

Archey's frog (Leiopelma archeyi)

Chytrid has been found in the UK in certain individuals of North American bullfrog, and although not found to be present in any native amphibians, both the common toad and natterjack toad are known to be susceptible.

It is imperative that chytridiomycosis does not spread around Britain’s native amphibians, so please report any sightings of exotic amphibians or suspicion of chytridiomycosis in the UK to ZSL and EDGE, or Froglife - detailed information on the exotic amphibians you may come across in Britain can be found in “Froglife Advice Sheet 8: Exotic Reptiles and Amphibians in the Wild”.

If amphibians in your garden are dying in abundance, please do not move them to other habitats or dispose of dead bodies in bins, as this will help to spread diseases. Contact Froglife, who will record details of the deaths, and inform you on how to safely bury or burn the bodies.

One crucial factor of the chytrid fungus is its varying pathogenicity – it has a catastrophic effect on some species, but can remain fairly quiet in others, which are largely resistant to its effects. This allows certain species to become carriers of the disease, and this is indeed thought to be the way in which it has spread.

It has been proposed that the global outbreak is due to the worldwide trade of the African clawed frog Xenopus Laevis, used both as a model organism in many scientific laboratories, as an early pregnancy testing method (see EDGE species account for the Lake Oku clawed toad, Xenopus longipes) and a pet in many people’s homes. The introduction of a disease from outside a country can often cause devastation to native populations, as individuals do not possess the required immune response to cope with their effects, allowing the disease to thrive.

Pet trade
As a result of disease risks and overcollection, the trading of foreign or exotic amphibians for the pet market can be extremely detrimental for wild amphibian populations. Pet amphibians may occasionally escape captivity and may spread novel diseases and (in rare cases) cause unwanted competition with native wildlife, dramatically effecting populations and ecosystems. Ranavirus, for example, is thought to have been spread to the UK by the accidental release of the North American Bullfrog through the pet trade – a species that is also an extremely effective predator of British amphibians.

In certain countries, the amphibian pet trade can be highly focused around owning the most endangered species possible, causing a negative loop. The popularity of a rare species will push it further towards the brink of extinction, in turn making demand higher. Endangered individuals kept as pets rarely live a full life, and are not part of any controlled breeding programme. Therefore, the pet trade often damages populations of amphibians that desperately need to be protected. Also, many species are critically endangered due to the effects of chytridiomycosis, so the pet trade in amphibians may only serve to spread the disease.  Instead of keeping your own amphibians, it’s a great idea to consider supporting professional captive breeding programmes for conserving endangered amphibians, coordinated by initiatives like the Amphibian Ark.

Overexploitation of amphibians for meat has a very similar effect. We’ve all heard of frog’s legs, and every year in certain regions of Asia, millions of frogs are harvested as an unnecessary food source for many countries in Europe and Africa, as well as the USA.

 

 

DIRECTORY

Below is a directory of amphibian organisations listed by country, so please contact one to get involved. If you have any more questions or worries involving amphibian conservation and ways in which you can help, please do not hesitate to contact either EDGE or Froglife via e-mail.

We are constantly adding to this directory, so please contact EDGE if you would like us to feature an amphibian conservation initiative that does not appear above.  Thank you.

Australia

  • Frogs Australia Network – a network to increase public awareness and link individuals and groups interested in frog conservation. Provides information on native species, including habitat, distribution and behaviour.
  • Frogwatch – based in Victoria, a group that allows the local community involvement in frog conservation.
  • Victorian Frog Group – get involved with frog conservation, and meet people with similar interests.
  • A large directory of regionally divided frog groups is available here.

Canada

New Zealand

South Africa

U.K.

U.S.A.

 

FROGlife is a national wildlife charity concerned with the protection  and conservation of amphibians and reptiles in the UK. For further details visit: www.froglife.org