University of Canberra Scores ARC Discovery Project Funding For Frogs

University of Canberra
Thursday, 22 February, 2024

University of Canberra Scores ARC Discovery Project Funding For Frogs

Chytrid fungus has devastated amphibian ecosystems around the world, leading to the extinction of many frog species, including the green and golden bell frog, extinct in the ACT for nearly five decades.

Over four years, the Restoring amphibian populations in chytrid-impacted landscapes project aims to reintroduce the long-extinct species back into the wetlands of the ACT, with researchers recently receiving $900,000 in funding as a result of a successful grant in a recent ARC Discovery Project round.

With the help of citizen scientists and community participants, this multi-agency, multi-year project hopes to reintroduce the green and golden bell frog back to wetlands throughout the ACT. Citizen scientists and community members will also play a role, highlighting how STEM education online can help to address issues that have a global impact.

The Fungal Threat

One of the major challenges facing the reintroduction of the green and golden bell frog is the threat of chytrid fungus, a fungal crisis affecting frogs like no other species. An infectious fungus unlike any other, chytrid fungus has been attributed with the elimination of no less than four frog species in Australia.

Frogs infected with chytrid fungus suffer from a condition called chytridiomycosis, an infectious disease that makes it difficult for a frog to breathe. The spread of chytrid fungus into ACT waterways has had a fatal impact on historical frog populations, with research as a part of this project hoping to reverse the devastation that this fungus has had on amphibian populations.

Reviving an Extinct Frog

Resurrecting the population of an extinct frog is no small feat. The green and golden bell frogs will first need to be bred in captivity and provided with an immunisation so that they can resist the effects of chytrid fungus.

When released into the wild, community groups such as FrogWatch will help scientists understand how the frog population is faring out in the wild. By engaging with a range of universities and other project partners, researchers Dr Simon Clulow, Professor Richard Duncan and Dr Ben Scheele hope to understand the impacts of their research.

It’s expected that the frogs will be of a sufficient population that they’ll be able to be released into more than two dozen wetlands, located through the ACT. Professor Duncan noted that “it will be about a year and a half of work before we have all 25 wetlands set up and suitable for the reintroduction of the bell frogs”.

A Two-Pronged Solution

The world-first solution being explored by researchers goes beyond a simple reintroduction. Researchers will be also working to test the impact of landscaping modifications, specifically designed to reduce and eliminate the presence of chytrid fungus from wetlands in the ACT.

Work is underway in more than two dozen habitats, including the creation of salted satellite ponds. It is hoped that this research will help scientists to understand the impact of landscape interventions. Dr Clulow describes this as “involving environmental manipulations that create conditions good for the frogs, but not good for the fungus”.

Any understanding of the impact of physical interventions on the green and golden bell frog may help researchers around the world in their fight to save vulnerable amphibian species under threat by chytrid fungus.

Image credit: Griffiths

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