Sunday, November 18, 2012

Hope is raised for Gopher frogs in South Georgia!

Recently, the very first adult Gopher frog (Lithobates capito) was detected at the release site, where the Garden, in collaboration with UGA, GA DNR's Non-Game Conservation section, Zoo Atlanta, Jones Ecological Research Center and Bear Hollow Zoo have all been working towards increasing the numbers of these endangered frogs with a multi-institutional 'head-starting' program.

Over 4,000 Gopher froglets and tadpoles have been released since 2007, and the detection of this adult female, right where it should be in a Gopher tortoise burrow is very encouraging!

The adult female Gopher frog, detected Nov 1st at the release site (photo by Vanessa Kinney Terrell)
Below is the statement from Georgia Department of Natural Resources:

Discovery raises hopes for rare frogs project in Early County

   Unlike some sights on Halloween, spotting a big gopher frog after dark in a tortoise burrow was a welcome surprise for Vanessa Kinney Terrell and other University of Georgia researchers.
   Even better, the next night they caught the adult frog (above) as it hopped out of the burrow at Williams Bluffs Preserve.
   Why better? A clipped toe marked this hefty, 46.3-gram female as a former froglet released at the Early County preserve in 2010. That makes her the first release known to have reached adulthood, and provides confirmation that a joint venture to establish a self-sustaining population of the rare frogs at Williams Bluffs is making headway. (Recent photographs of frogs in burrows had heightened expectations.)
   “It’s very encouraging,” said Terrell, a research professional at UGA’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources.
   The loss of intact upland sandhill habitats and nearby fishless wetlands needed for breeding have reduced Georgia’s gopher frogs to about 15 populations. The species that inhabits gopher tortoise burrows and sounds like a rude dinner guest is state-listed as rare and petitioned for federal listing, said senior wildlife biologist John Jensen of the Georgia DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section.
   Working with UGA and other partners, DNR began collecting gopher frog eggs from healthy populations, rearing them, and releasing tadpoles and metamorphs at Williams Bluffs in 2007. The Nature Conservancy preserve near Blakely had the habitat but no gopher frogs.
   Drought in recent years has dried up the temporary, fishless ponds so critical for these frogs, affecting releases – which have exceeded more than 4,300 frogs – and presumably the breeding of mature frogs. UGA has been experimenting with releasing older frogs into tortoise burrows. According to Warnell associate professor Dr. John Maerz, the most recent check of 41 burrows that received direct releases showed an occupancy rate of 24 percent, which, combined with previous monitoring, suggests even higher overall occupancy.
   Jensen and others hope this winter will yield evidence that gopher frogs are breeding at Williams Bluffs. Automated “frog loggers” will be set to record the species' snore-like calls. And if the ponds fill, researchers will hunt for egg masses.
   “If we get the right rains … we have no reason to believe they can’t breed there,” Jensen said.

 Insights from the burrow

  • The Williams Bluffs project may not only be close to establishing a breeding population, the work is also showing the potential of terrestrial frog releases and “clearly establishing the critical role that gopher tortoise burrows play in the viability of gopher frog populations,” writes UGA’s Dr. John Maerz.
  • Project partners include Atlanta Botanical Garden, DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section, theJoseph W. Jones Ecological Research CenterThe Nature Conservancy, UGA and Zoo Atlanta.Bear Hollow Zoo in Athens has also helped.
  • The gopher frog’s range includes Florida, the Carolinas, Alabama and – oddly – one area of Tennessee. The Mississippi gopher frog, now found in only a few sites in Mississippi, is federally listed as endangered.
  •  A similar effort involving the Mississippi gopher frog has evidence that the released frogs are breeding.
 Learn more