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Snow-Dwelling Frog Faces Extinction As Researchers Try To Save Species

The Baw Baw frog was once abundant in Australia’s Baw Baw Plateau.

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The Baw Baw rog (Philoria frosti), an amphibian endemic to Australia’s Mount Baw Baw plateau in Victoria that winters under the snow, is on the verge of extinction and researchers are trying to find a way to reintroduce the species into the wild without them becoming susceptible to the chytrid fungus that has decimated its populations.

Currently there are captive raised populations of the little frog in universities in Australia that are suitable for release, but Ph.D student Thomas Burns and his supervisor, Prof. Don Driscoll, Director of Deakin's Centre for Integrative Ecology at Deakin University haven’t yet found a suitable spot to release them. They have spent time in the Baw Baw area of the Victorian Alps trying to identify low-risk areas for the species’ potential reintroduction.


"Baw Baw frogs have a really interesting life cycle," Driscoll told Phys.Org. "They live under the snow in winter and are more active than most other frogs in colder months. They lay their eggs after the snow has melted in mossy nests or other crevices, sometimes up to a metre below the surface among rocks. The females make a foam nest as they lay the eggs by hand-balling bubbles of air into the jelly mass as it is laid. Unlike most frog species, the developing tadpoles don't swim or feed, but are nourished by a yolk sac; they are the only species in Victoria that does this.

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In the 1980s, surveys of the Baw Baw plateau found thousands of frogs across the plateau, but 20 years later only two percent of the species remained. The critically endangered frog has been studied in the field for the last 20 years and their prospects aren’t promising. 


"There are only a few hundred left in the wild and with their consistent downwards trajectory, they are expected to be extinct in the wild within five years," Driscoll, told Phys.Org.

Burns, who has studied frogs in Scotland and in the Caribbean,  is hoping to reverse the trajectory and help the frog survive again in the wild.

"The main aim of my project is to examine the dynamics of the fungal pathogen within the species' current and historic range, to determine how chytrid risk varies across the landscape and to identify factors which may influence this," Burns told Phys.Org.

"We hope that this information may prove useful for identifying locations to trial the reintroduction of Baw Baw frogs raised within captivity at Zoos Victoria or the Amphibian Research Centre in Werribee."


Hopefully Burns and Driscoll are successful in finding suitable habitat for this species, which is one of 21 critical species on Zoos Victoria's 'Fighting Extinction' program.