Bell frog sightings welcome

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YVONNE.OHARA

@alliedpress.co.nz

Alexandra may well play a part in bringing back an Australian frog from threatened extinction.

Otago University’s Department of Zoology professor Phil Bishop, would like to hear from anyone who knows of any populations of the southern bell frog in Central Otago.

He has been researching frogs, their populations and their environment for about 20 years.

He and his researchers used to visit one site in Alexandra to research the species, but in 2006 the chytrid fungus swept through New Zealand, killing off most of the bell frogs.

“The ones in Alexandra were OK but within two years they went from [a population of] thousands of bell frogs to have only a few and then none,” Prof Bishop said.

He said they assumed the disappearance was caused by the disease, but could not be sure as there were no frogs left to examine to determine the cause.

The small brown tree frogs seemed to be unaffected and survived.

He said what was interesting was areas which were formerly poor sites for frogs had seen populations increase, and previously good sites now had low numbers.

Prof Bishop said he knew a lot of people in Central Otago were interested in frogs, so he was keen to hear from anyone who knew where the amphibians lived.

“We are very interested to know where the populations are and how well are they are doing,” he said.

“I am happy to hear about reports of other species of frog, too.

“The southern bell frog Ranoidea (Litoria) raniformisisis] the one that occurs in Central Otago.

“The green and golden bell frog [Ranoidea (Litoria) aurea] is the one that occurs in the North Island, although there may be populations on the South Island and these need to be verified.”

One of his students, Tessa McKenzie, will be researching the bell frog in and around Alexandra for her master’s project from next October.

A colleague of his in Australia was particularly interested in the study and the survival of the bell frog, as it is a native of that country and considered endangered.

“He can’t work with them in Australia and he wants to look at the habitat and where they are occurring in New Zealand and then compare it to the habitat in Australia.”

Prof Bishop said it might eventually be possible to establish a facility in Central Otago to breed them, so they could then be returned to Australia.

“I feel we have a moral obligation.”

He said while he was in the United Kingdom he had been involved with a programme reintroducing a particular native English frog species to its Norfolk home.

The programme used frogs that had come from similar (but slightly different) genetic stock in Sweden, bred a population and successfully reintroduced them to their home range.

Prof Bishop can be contacted by email at phil.bishop@otago.ac.nz.