The bogs were once full of frogs – Northern Corroboree Frogs
Nestled high in the Brindabella ranges there is a special place. A place untouched by the overt intervention of the human hand. A place where nature has evolved with time, a place where our precious water commences its journey to our taps.
As a young ranger I recall standing in this place mesmerised by the rolling hummocks of soft sphagnum moss and gnarled ancient snow gums fringing the outer limits of a subalpine wetland. Beneath my feet the ground erupted with a quintessential call. The bogs were alive with frogs. It was mating season for the Northern Corroboree Frog.
As I moved carefully, the small amphibians merely crawled away, camouflaged by their quaint yellow and black markings, seeking shelter beneath the moss near a nest of exquisite eggs. When walking upon Ginini Flats in the early 1990s it was common to encounter this little frog. They were abundant.
Fast forward 30 years and they tilt on the edge of extinction.
This dramatic decline has been attributed to an exotic fungal disease, the lethal chytrid fungus. Then, in 2003, a firestorm engulfed the mountains. On surveying the devastating scene, speculation was rife that we were witnessing a species-ending event.
Fortunately, an early intervention program foresaw the potential impact of fire and fungus. Working in collaboration with researchers, Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve established a frog colony from eggs collected in the wild. In our hands these precious eggs represented the future of an entire species. Thanks to the passion of many, this critically-acclaimed breeding program has proved to be the ultimate conservation insurance policy.
Traditionally, captive breeding programs for frogs have been resource intensive, utilising climate controlled facilities. But our new, semi-wild enclosures mimic natural conditions where we can breed and nurture resilient frogs that can be returned to wilds of Namadgi National Park.
Working in collaboration with the Threatened Species Recovery Hub and the Australian National University, researchers are exploring how to provide the frogs with an ecological advantage; to encourage wild populations to better tolerate the impacts of this fungus.
Overcoming chytrid fungus has proved to be challenging. One factor is to better understand how long frogs take to reach sexual maturity. Although these frogs are found high up in the mountains, warmer temperatures at lower sites could provide a helping hand by enabling a faster growth period and earlier breeding in sites free from the fatal fungus.
For those who will walk in our footsteps, cutting edge research sustains an iconic mountain frog, placing a threatened species in secure hands for future generations.