New frog leaps into North Taranaki
North Taranaki locals have unearthed a frog species not previously known to live in the area, after doing their first night survey of the region.
Ngāti Mutunga community members, primary school tauira (students) and scientists have found a species of frog – known as the Green and Golden Bell Frog – that is new to the North Taranaki rohe (area). This is the first time it has been seen south of Mokau in Waikato, some 20km north of the Taranaki boundary.
The group made this discovery when doing a survey of North Taranaki's frogs as part of their research project called Kimihia ('seek') Kermit, which came about after people of the Ngāti Mutunga iwi noticed they were struggling to find tadpoles to teach their tamariki (children) about the frog life cycle.
North Taranaki was known to have populations of the non-native Southern Bell and Tree frogs. People remember the common sound of frogs echoing through the still evenings throughout rural North Taranaki.
Then in the 1990s, the non-native frogs around Aotearoa were hit by a chytrid infection that decimated their numbers. This fatal disease, caused by the waterborne Chytrid fungus, damages the skin and makes breathing difficult for the frogs.
Project co-ordinator Marlene Benson says over the years, some local people noticed that the sounds had gone silent. “And people around here remember being able to find tadpoles easily as kids, bringing them home and watching them grow. Then they couldn’t find tadpoles in places they used to.”
So Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Mutunga came up with the idea to work with children from Mimi, Urenui and Uruti Schools to find out which species and populations of frogs were still in the area and where they were.
Night surveys add excitement
Ngāti Mutunga enlisted the help of ecologist Patrick Stewart who planned and supervised the research, and statistician Marc Hasenbank who analysed the data collected about the frogs.
Farmers were also contacted to access their ponds, with some reporting they had recently heard frogs again after a quiet time in the past five or six years. “Some were upset and thought they had lost their frogs - they missed hearing them,” says Marlene.
Patrick and the students carried out night surveys in areas where frogs were known to have been and were thought to still be. They identified 42 sites and placed automated listening devices there, which Patrick later brought back to the schools to play the recorded sounds to the students.
The children spoke to their families and neighbours about the project with Ngāti Mutunga, and parents and teachers supported them on evening excursions to listen out for frogs.
“The kids sat quietly by the ponds and counted what they could hear. They were so excited it was sometimes difficult for them to keep quiet!” says Marlene.
She says the project was especially worthwhile for building community relationships and engaging children in science.
“It is the start of them doing things in a scientific way, they had to measure, be accurate and record things properly.”
Unearthing unusual findings
The team detected frogs in 25 (60%) of the 42 sites with the listening devices and in 23 (74%) of the 31 ponds that they surveyed, suggesting that the frogs are making a recovery.
Patrick reports that the Southern Bell Frog was found reasonably well distributed throughout the rohe but with some unexplained gaps.
“They were found in some very small ponds, and yet were absent from large networked ponds, as is reported in Australia where the species originates from. This is not what we expected to find.”
The team also found Green and Golden Bell Frogs living at three unconnected ponds. “That was pretty exciting,” Marlene says.
However, the Brown Tree Frog was not detected in the survey. Patrick also says more field work is needed to answer the second survey question on whether the population is stable or declining.
Marlene says that Ngāti Mutunga aims to continue studying frogs with students at their school camps, and is happy to share information with others who may want to survey their area.
Photo credit (Green and Golden Bell Frog): Doug Beckers.
About the project
Kimihia Kermit is led by Rūnanga o Ngāti Mutunga in partnership with Sound Counts, Taranaki Regional Council, Tiaki te Mauri o Parininihi Trust, Mimi School, Urenui School and Uruti School, with support from the Taranaki Participatory Science Platform.
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