A ground-breaking project aimed at tracking Tasmania’s frog populations will help ensure Tasmania’s wilderness remains an important global refuge against chytrid, a deadly fungus that is decimating frog populations and causing species extinctions worldwide.
A partnership between NRM South, Hydro Tasmania and DPIPWE has provided the opportunity for Wildlife Disease Biologist David Sinn to join the Tasmanian Frog Conservation Project. Between now and November the team will gather information about frog numbers and their health within the Tasmania Wilderness World Heritage Area.
The chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) is a significant threat to frog populations. It infects the skin of frogs destroying its structure and function, and can ultimately cause them to ‘leak to death’. Chytrid is spread by the movement of infected frogs, water and soil from place to place.
Chytrid has been found in Tasmania, infecting Tasmanian frogs near population centers, but it is still to penetrate Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Area, which is home to three frog species found only in Tasmania.
The project will examine the frog populations for signs of chytrid while also monitoring frog numbers within the World Heritage Area. David Sinn is looking forward to the opportunity that will see him and the team spending time capturing and observing frog populations during the chilly nights of Tasmania’s winter – the peak breeding season for frogs.
“Frogs are indicators of broader ecosystem health and play important roles in ecosystem balance; among other things they keep waterways clean of algae and keep insect numbers in check.”
“We are looking into monitoring methods that will allow us to track frog populations remotely, using microchips and sound recordings, to provide information on how these populations are faring in the long term,” he explained.
“One of the interesting factors with the Tasmanian Frog Conservation project is that it is doing the work before chytrid becomes a problem. In many cases, scientific work to preserve populations takes place after a creature becomes threatened; we’re working out what can be done before that occurs.”
NRM South’s Magali Wright says the work will provide important information to help measure the impact of visitors to the World Heritage Area.
“At the moment, Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Area is chytrid free. It’s one of the last places in earth where chytrid could occur but where it hasn’t been found. That alone makes it a rare and special place and one of the many things that makes the TWWHA very appealing for tourists from interstate and overseas. We know chytrid is in Tasmania, in some cases on the edges of the World Heritage Area.
“It’s one of the reasons we need to make sure that when we venture into the World Heritage Area and other remote areas of Tasmania that we Check, Clean and Dry our gear, and if we can’t dry then Disinfect. It’s an important message that can reduce the risk of spreading this devastating pathogen.”
Michael Driessen, the senior zoologist in DPIPWE’s World Heritage Section, is counting on this information to inform how the chytrid threat is managed.
“This information will build on what we already know of chytrid and help us to manage this threat in the future.”
“A key part of this management is bootwash stations on the major entry points to the World Heritage Area including the station at Par Avion for bushwalkers visiting Melaleuca. The data collected by David and the team will let us know how well these facilities are working and what areas and frog populations are at greatest risk.”
Hydro Tasmania, Australia’s largest producer of renewable energy and water manager, is a partner in the Tasmanian Frog Conservation Project as a contribution to the sustainable management of Tasmania’s environment. Hydro’s Simon Gartenstein says that there is good news when it comes to protecting Tasmanian from pathogens such as chytrid and other pests.
“A single, simple and effective protocol, that is to Check, Clean (Disinfect) and Dry your gear can protect against the spread threats that we know of, such as chytrid fungus and Didymo or rock snot, and those that we are yet to encounter” he explained.
“The more people that use these protocols as a matter of course when visiting Tasmania and moving into and between remote sites the more we reduce the risk to our frogs, protect our waterways from being chocked by the invasive rock snot, and prevent the introduction of a range of other potential threats that could change our pristine landscapes and impact on our businesses.”