Endangered mountain frog takes a leap with funding for breeding program

Some of the areas where the mountain frog is found. There are six areas and six species of frog.

A Southern Cross University project to breed and reintroduce a rare rainforest frog back into its natural habitat has been boosted by a $500,000 grant.

The endangered mountain frog (Philoria kundagungan) faces extinction from climate change and introduced species, particularly pigs, in its increasingly shrinking home within the Gondwana World Heritage listed national parks of northern NSW

This includes the Border Ranges, Tooloom National Park and Richmond Range National Park. Each area has a different species of mountain frog.

This mountain frog found at Tooloom National Park.

Associate Professor David Newell said the grant funding from the Australian Government Saving Native Species Program will support the purpose-built breeding facilities located at the Lismore campus.

“We are breeding mountain frogs in a dedicated animal facility named Project GRASP,” Dr Newell said.

“Despite their habitats being well-protected within World Heritage listed National Parks, the frogs are increasingly threatened through climate change and pigs. The drought and subsequent Black Summer fires have resulted in localised extinction of populations.”

The frog found in the Border Ranges looks like this.

Dr Newell and his team are working closely with National Parks staff from NSW and Queensland to protect the remaining areas of habitat.

The mountain frog lives at headwater streams on mountain summits of the Gondwana rainforest. These frogs are effectively stranded on ‘islands in the sky’.

“With existing support from the NSW Government’s Saving Our Species program and WWF Australia, we have successfully managed to breed frogs in the facility — a world first — and hope to undertake our first releases into predator-free areas later this year,” said Dr Newell.

“These frogs are incredibly slow-growing and take up to four years to reach sexual maturity, so it’s vital we’ve received this support to continue our work.”

Mountain frogs are small, about 30mm in length, and spend most of their lives underground. The University’s amphibian research team uses frog calls to find them and acoustic recorders to monitor populations remotely.

“The funds will allow us to purchase and deploy additional audio recorders for our field sites,” research fellow Dr Liam Bolitho said.

This type of frog is found at the Richmond Range.

“These devices are used to collect thousands of hours of sound recordings that we analyse using machine learning (AI) approaches in order to monitor if our releases are successful.”

Mountain tops form what scientists call ‘sky islands’ or ‘islands in the sky’: little pockets of distinctive habitat that animals adapt to – in this case, cool, high-elevation rainforests with very high rainfall.

Each mountain top is separated from another by a ‘sea’ of lower-altitude habitat that is unsuitable for mountain frogs.

This information supplied by Southern Cross University.

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