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DNR courts the frog listeners to count amphibians

POSTED: December 2, 2008 5:00 a.m.
For The Times/

The northern cricket frog.

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This may seem like an odd request, but it’s all in the name of science.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources is looking for people who are willing to drive around at night listening for frogs.

The state wildlife agency is joining the North American Amphibian Monitoring Program, which tracks the size and distribution of frog populations. Amphibians have been vanishing worldwide, mostly because of habitat loss, but also because their porous skin makes them vulnerable to pollution.

Georgia DNR’s first step is to establish baseline data, according to senior wildlife biologist John Jensen.

"We’re trying to get to the point where we have enough information about frog abundance in Georgia that we can evaluate trends in populations," he said.

But with a limited staff, the DNR needs about 80 volunteers to carry out the census. Each person will be assigned to a 15-mile route plotted by the U.S. Geological Survey.

"We looked for 10 wetland areas (on each route) that are at least half a mile apart," said Jensen. "Volunteers have to sit at each site for five minutes and write down what (species) they hear."

That’s easier than it may seem. There are only 31 species of frogs and toads in Georgia, compared to about 400 bird species. Jensen said frog calls are simple, monotonous and consistent, so even a novice can quickly learn to identify the sounds.

Volunteers must pass an online quiz to demonstrate their identification skills. Jensen said there are several Web sites people can use to learn frog calls, or they can purchase the DNR’s frog CD, "Calls of the Wild."

Volunteers will be asked to make a three-year commitment to the project. But they actually need to work only three nights each year, for about 90 minutes each time.

They’ll need to run their route once in each of three periods: Jan. 15-Feb. 28, March 15-April 30 and May 15-June 30.

Most frogs don’t start calling until breeding season begins in the spring. Jensen said the Jan. 15 period is aimed mainly at picking up the calls of the wood frog.

"Their breeding season is early and short," he said.

Jensen said quite a few people have expressed interest in participating in the survey, but their enthusiasm wanes when they learn what the requirements are.

"A lot of people want it to be something they can do in their backyard, or something they can do with their kids, and that’s not what this is about," he said. "It’s one observer per route, for the sake of consistency."

Though volunteers are asked for a three-year commitment, Jensen said the project itself "is designed to go on in perpetuity."

Just as the Census Bureau keeps continual watch on the human population, Jensen said the frog survey will monitor the amphibians for many years to come.

"There’s a similar project called the Breeding Bird Survey that’s been going on successfully for decades," he said.


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