Victorian frogs need our help; the first step is understanding them
Nick Clemann and Michael Swan, herpetologists and authors of Frogs of Victoria: A Guide to Identification, Ecology and Conservation, share their insights into what makes frogs so critical to our environment, and how books like theirs can inspire us to protect them.
Frogs are often said to be environmental indicators. Around half of Victorian frog species are listed as threatened, so what does this tell us about the state of Victoria’s ecosystems? A dedicated band of conservation biologists carefully monitor and recover some of Victoria’s most threatened frogs, but all of us can play a part in documenting frogs and their habitats, and help protect them.
To save frogs, a crucial first step is understanding. Understanding how to identify frogs. Understanding what they need to persist. Understanding their habitats. Understanding not only the threats that have led to so many species being endangered, but also how to ease or stop those threats.
As well as giving readers the means to identify Victorian frogs, Frogs of Victoria details the fascinating biology and ecology of frogs. It tells the story of Murray Littlejohn, a pioneering biologist who started a research program that would continue for decades, building the foundation of all this book contains. And – unlike most wildlife field guides – this book taps into the knowledge of the scientists working on the frontlines of frog conservation to deliver a deep dive into the drivers of frog declines.
But it does not stop there. It provides clear direction on how to stop and reverse declines; ultimately, this book is a tool to be used – for learning, and for practical conservation. It is a book of hope.
Let’s take a look at a few of Victoria’s most interesting, and most imperilled, frogs.
Baw Baw Frog (Philoria frosti)
The book’s cover model, and Victoria’s only endemic frog, the Baw Baw Frog is naturally rare. It has also been decimated by disease; but a coordinated breeding effort at Melbourne Zoo is helping biologists trial cutting edge methods to recover the wild population. This beautiful brown blob has the largest eggs of any Victorian frog, laid in underground chambers in chilly montane forests and bogs.
Alpine Tree Frog (Litoria verreauxii)
The Alpine Tree Frog can persist in surprisingly modified environments, even breeding in flooded wheel ruts. But it is susceptible to disease, and went from common to critically endangered in just a few short decades. Plans are forming to bring this frog back to the places it used to occur.
Southern Giant Burrowing Frog (Heleioporus australiacus)
One of Zoos Victoria’s Fighting Extinction priorities, the Southern Giant Burrowing Frog sounds like an owl, but spends most of its time underground, and few have heard its call. Males have spines on their fingers to help them grasp females during amplexus (frog mating); these spines are perhaps even used for fighting other males or defending against predators. Logging has been the most immediate threat to this frog’s habitat, but with the end of native forest logging in Victoria on the horizon in 2024, the recovery team will focus more on resilience to disease, fire, drought, and the effects of climate change.
Drawing on the deep knowledge of the best frog experts in south-eastern Australia, Frogs of Victoria not only provides the tools to identify Victorian frogs – including keys, photographs and comparative information on similar species – it also presents detailed information on their biology, habitats, status and threats. Available in bookstores or online.
About the authors
Nick Clemann has been leading programs on threatened wildlife throughout south-eastern Australia for 25 years. He advises government on threatened species research, management, policy and scientific permits. He works for Zoos Victoria and holds an honorary position with Museums Victoria.
Mike Swan was previously a senior herpetofauna keeper with Melbourne Zoo and Healesville Sanctuary. He is now the coordinator of the Lilydale High School reptile collection, the largest school collection of reptiles and frogs in Australia. He is a keen photographer and has written numerous articles, papers and books about reptiles and frogs, including Frogs and Reptiles of the Murray–Darling Basin.