Scientific Officer Dr Jodi Rowley has been recording midnight frog calls in the forests of Vietnam, Cambodia and southern China. It's part of a project to better understand the amphibians of South-East Asia and inform future conservation programs.
Amphibians are one of the most highly threatened groups of animals in the world. One-third of all amphibian species are listed as threatened and almost half are known to be experiencing population declines. While we in Australia have a relatively good understanding of the distribution, basic biology and status of our native amphibians, the same can't be said for neighbouring regions.
Gaps in knowledge
South-East Asia has one of the highest levels of overall species richness and endemism in the world, but knowledge of the region's amphibians is lacking. Just over 730 species of amphibian are known from the region, but new species are being described continuously.
While approximately one-fifth of South-East Asian amphibian species are listed as threatened, a further one-third are so poorly known that we don't have enough information to assess their conservation status. We don't know if populations are declining dramatically, going extinct or being threatened by disease, as they are in other regions.
Surveys with local students
In order to gain a better understanding of the diversity and conservation status of amphibians in South-East Asia, my work involves conducting amphibian surveys and research in remote and often previously unsurveyed forests in Vietnam, Cambodia and southern China. I have been doing this since 2006, when I started working for the non-profit organisation Conservation International.
During each expedition, I lead a small team including local university students to search for frogs, salamanders and caecilians (amphibians resembling earthworms or snakes) at night, mostly along streams. We document their abundance, biology and disease status, and record frog calls. We also preserve voucher specimens and tissue samples from each species.
Now at the Australian Museum, I am examining the specimens and information collected during three years of fieldwork. By studying the preserved amphibian specimens, comparing frog call recordings and analysing tissue samples for molecular differences, I will be able to identify species of amphibians from each site and describe new species. Data will be made publically available via resources such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.
Further surveys are planned for later this year.