What is your favorite frog? Why is this your favorite?
I like the Southern Orange-eyed Treefrog (Litoria chloris), which graces the SAVE THE FROGS! logo and is the central frog in our Frogs of Australia poster. They like to congregate on the edges of waterfalls in the rainforest during heavy rains, and thus have chosen some of the most beautiful places to live. They call loudly and are a very social frog. They have no predatory escape response, so they are highly photogenic as well. They signify life, health, and wilderness.
What’s the most interesting work you have done with frogs?
Rapid amphibian population declines have generally afflicted high-altitude amphibian populations most severely, and this is usually attributed to the chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) preferring cooler weather. In southeast Queensland, Australia, where I did much of my Ph.D. research, high-altitude populations of several species experienced drastic population declines and two species completely disappeared, the Southern Gastric Brooding Frog (Rheobatrachus silus) and the Southern Day Frog, (Taudactylus diurnus). For a research project of mine that was supported by the National Geographic Society I sampled frogs at various altitudes to determine if montane frogs have a higher prevalence and intensity of chytrid infections than do their lowland counterparts. Demonstrating this relationship would provide strong support for the hypothesis that the chytrid fungus caused Southeast Queensland’s frog extinctions, and that it is the cause of many of the amphibian population declines in montane areas worldwide. However, contrary to my initial expectations, I found the chytrid fungus to be widely distributed at all altitudes in Southeast Queensland. Lowland frogs were often heavily infected and I found the chytrid fungus at virtually every location I sampled. Thus the reasons for the declines and extinctions in southeast Queensland are still poorly understood.
Do you have any ongoing projects that have to do with endangered amphibians? If so, what are they?
At this moment I am not involved in any scientific research projects, but my work with SAVE THE FROGS! is still aimed at protecting endangered amphibians. One of my primary activities at the moment is raising awareness of the amphibian extinction crisis within the general population. I feel strongly that amphibian conservation efforts will not be successful unless the amphibian extinction crisis becomes common knowledge. This April I will be lecturing on the amphibian extinction crisis at schools, museums and environmental groups nationwide, and I am coordinating April 28th’s Save The Frogs Day, in which herpetologists worldwide will be giving free lectures on amphibians. I also create educational posters for schools, and am working on a book that can be used as a guide for teaching high school students about amphibian conservation.
What is the biggest threat to the amphibian population?
An uneducated, apathetic public. There are so many threats to amphibians – pollution, pesticides, climate change, habitat destruction, infectious diseases, over-harvesting for the pet and food trade, invasive species – that it will require a major shift in our society’s priorities if we are to save wildlife from extinction.
What is the most interesting thing about frogs?
Frogs have been around in more or less their current form for 300 million years. They’ve survived countless ice ages, asteroid crashes and other environmental disturbances. They watched the dinosaurs come and go. But they can’t survive what the human race is doing to the planet. That should tell us something about our actions.
What do you do for a living?
I save frogs.
What got you interested in working with the field of herpetology?
I like hanging out on streams. When I decided to pursue a Ph.D. I knew I’d need to choose an animal to study so I started thinking about what lived on streams. When I found out amphibians were disappearing, they sounded like an obvious choice: I’d get to work on streams doing something of high importance.
What is the best experience you have had while working with amphibians?
The most memorable experiences are of doing fieldwork in beautiful places far from civilization, on nights when there are lots of frogs and other animals out that few other people are ever lucky enough to see or hear.
Do you think people are aware of the decline in amphibians?
I think that less than 1% of the world’s population is aware that amphibians are under serious threat. One of my life’s goals is to make it so that nobody ever has to ask me the question “why frogs?”.
What inspired you to make savethefrogs.com?
I needed a way to communicate with and educate a wide sector of society. The internet allows this to happen and does not require a dependence on large media companies. A website stays online 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, so allows me to educate people about amphibian declines and extinctions even when I’m sleeping!
From reading your page on savethefrogs.com I saw that you like playing a bamboo flute. What is a bamboo flute and why do you like playing it?
I play the bansuri, which is a 7-hole side-blown bamboo from northern India. The bansuri is one of the oldest instruments known, dating back about 4,000 years. I like playing the bansuri because it makes beautiful sounds and it is portable, so I can travel and hike with it. I have a website about the bansuri called www.indianflutemusic.com.