To view a slide show on leopard frog research, click here.
Northern Leopard Frog Conservation in Alberta
Amphibians throughout the world are at risk of extinction. In fact, no taxonomic group is disappearing faster - an astounding 1,900 species are considered endangered across the globe. One of North America's most common amphibian species, the northern leopard frog, is facing a puzzling decline not only in Alberta, but throughout it's western range. Conservationists fear this could be the beginning of a much larger, continental decline.
In Canada, leopard frogs have a federal classification of Special Concern, but an estimated 60-80% decline in Alberta's population over the last 30 years has led to a provincial classification of Threatened. The reason for this population decline is not fully understood, but possible causes include climate change, disease, habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, water quality degradation, and poor water management practices. There has been no evidence of recovery and it is widely accepted that a better understanding of the ecology of the species is needed.
At the Calgary Zoo's Centre for Conservation Research, we are leading one of Canada's largest studies to help protect northern leopard frogs. By combining intensive fieldwork and mathematical modelling, our study aims to gain a better understanding of leopard frog population dynamics in western Canada.
Sparsely distributed over a broad geographical range, leopard frogs can be difficult to detect in some habitats, making accurate population counts difficult. This six year study, will establish a new monitoring technique which will allow us to more accurately assess the distribution of frogs in their various habitats. As a result, our researchers will be able to more accurately estimate the size and distribution of leopard frog populations. This study will also help us to understand: a) what habitats are most important for leopard frogs, b) when are the best times to survey and what are the best methods to use and c) assess changes in populations.
In addition to surveying for amphibians, our researchers are also measuring environmental variables such as wind speed, air and water temperature, dew point, humidity, pH and conducting vegetation assessments for type, structure and density.
The information gained from this study will be used to guide management decisions regarding reintroduction, habitat restoration and stewardship, to ensure the survival of leopard frogs in Alberta and western Canada.
Past ResearchIn 1999, the Alberta Conservation Association and Alberta Fish and Wildlife initiated a reintroduction program for the Northern Leopard Frog with the goal of re-establishing them in areas of their historical range. Between 1999 and 2004, over 13,000 juvenile frogs were released at three sites in Central Alberta in hopes that they would establish self-sustaining populations.
During the summers of 2003 and 2004, the Centre for Conservation Research monitored the reintroduced frogs at one of the release sites. Researchers examined the frogs’ dispersal dynamics and habitat selection, and scanned for the presence of chytrid fungus – a disease that can debilitate amphibian populations.
In 2005 and 2006 researchers at CCR investigated the spatial orientation of egg masses, tadpoles and newly metamorphosed Northern Leopard Frogs. They also examined the dispersal patterns of these newly metamorphosed frogs - before, and after, they had been handled by humans.
With a better understanding of how Northern Leopard Frogs utilize ponds, and of the dispersal patterns of frogs that have recently undergone metamorphosis, we now have a better understanding of what constitutes the species’ critical habitat.
Past research findings have allowed current researchers at the CCR to develop promising future conservation research projects for the Northern Leopard Frog.
All of the research projects conducted at the CCR will help conservation scientists identify how much human involvement may be required in future Northern Leopard Frog reintroductions, and whether captive breeding and the installation of movement corridors may be necessary for the future conservation of this species.
To learn more about the Northern Leopard Frog click here.