Amphibians around the world are experiencing a crisis. Populations are declining at a drastic rate and our local species are no exception. Studies have shown that populations of our 13 species of frogs and toads native to Ontario are declining. As I’m sure many of you may know from sitting outside on spring evening frogs and toads are quite noisy. This makes them quite easy to study. By listening to calls, organizations such as Frog Watch Canada, Backyard Frog Survey, Marsh Monitoring Program, and Amphibian Road Call Count have been able to use citizen science to monitor population sizes. This is achieved by identifying the species by their calls and using calling intensity to determine the number of individuals present at sites across Ontario (with a focus in southern Ontario) which were visited annually. In all of these programs multiple species were noticed to be present significantly less at these sites! The Fowler’s Toad (Anaxyrus fowleri) is already endangered and the Northern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans) has been extirpated! The worst part, is that we are the likely culprit.
Frogs and toads have complex life cycles, starting off purely aquatic (as a tadpole) and then moving to a more terrestrial lifestyle (as an adult). Due to this complex lifecycle frogs and toads are very sensitive to changes in our local waterways. A major element impacting our water is agricultural and storm water runoff. Runoff contains fertilizers, pesticides, and various pollutants (Oil, gas, litter… ect), that end up draining into rivers and lakes. Is it safe for you to drink oil? Can you survive extra nitrogen in your water (it causes blue baby syndrome)? NO?! Neither can are frogs and toads! Just as these things can have harmful effects on humans if ingested, they are impacting our local water loving creatures. Amphibians exposure to these pollutants cause physical abnormalities, reproductive issues, illness, and in some horrifying cases, mortality. Their sensitivity to theses pollutants means they are used as an indicator for the ecosystem, predicting what will happen to other wildlife if our actions remain the same.
Unfortunately, harmful runoff is not the only threat these animals are facing. Like turtles, road mortality is another major cause of amphibian mortality. Humans are constantly expanding the area that we inhabit, this includes building new roads, often into prime frog real estate. Amphibians and reptiles are particularly vulnerable to road mortality because they are ectothermic (cold-blooded), so they require warm, sunny places to increase their body temperature before they can get their day started. Since humans often develop land in areas we have access to water, this means a lot of roads in close proximity to water. As roads are exposed to the sun they tend to heat up very quickly, to a frog this seems like a great place to warm up. Because of this, frogs and toads are particularly vulnerable to being run over by vehicles. Furthermore, as humans develop near water, the habitats in which amphibians live are prone to being destroyed by human development. As a result habitat loss and fragmentation is a growing concern for our local frog and toad species. As the frogs and toads become isolated, they are unable to find the resources they need, or find a mate to sustain the population.
How can you combat harmful run-off and harmful development? Get involved with the organizations mentioned above that monitor frog and toad populations is a huge help. The work they do is important so that we have population data for our local species to monitor changes and identify critical habitat for protection. It can be as simple as reporting your sighting here! You can help by participating in a neighbourhood river cleanups. Conservation and nature groups, like stewards of cootes and stewards of the redhill, often organize cleanups for members of the public to go out and pick up garbage from their local waterways. You can also help reduce your run-off with green infrastructure. Replace your patio or driveway with permeable pavement, get a rain barrel, or plant a rain garden! (To learn more about building a rain garden, check out this blog post!)
The Bay Area Restoration Council is a registered charitable non-profit organization. Formed in 1991, BARC represents the public interest in the restoration of Hamilton Harbour and its watershed. BARC is responsible for community engagement and educational activities in the implementation of the Hamilton Harbour Remedial Action Plan. BARC encourages public understanding and citizen action through school programs, volunteer participation, public workshops, evaluative reporting on current issues and opportunities for digital communications.