How Are The Frogs?

Several years ago there were a remarkable number of stories in the popular press concerning the decline of some amphibian populations. Biologists and amphibian specialists (known as herpetologists) in many parts of the world reported that toads or frogs they had been studying were becoming scarce or had disappeared.

An international meeting of herpetologists was convened in California. From that meeting a new organization was formed, the Declining Amphibian Population Task Force, of which I am an active member.

Where does Missouri fit into this story? How are the amphibians doing in the Show-Me State? Luckily, I had been searching for, observing, photographing and studying Missouri's 41 amphibian species (salamanders, toads and frogs) for the past 20 years - 18 as an employee with the Missouri Department of Conservation.

My work has given me a good idea as to the distribution of these interesting, but seldom-seen creatures. I've been able to learn about their habitat requirements and reproductive biology (how big frogs make little frogs). But, knowing the exact population status of most of the frogs, toads or salamanders is another matter.

When the decline alarm rang out, I, like most herpetologists, lacked the scientific data to evaluate population changes. Sad to say, there are few places in the U.S. where such data exists. A few Midwestern states have long-term surveys of breeding toads and frogs. Of note is Wisconsin's survey which began in 1981.

This type of survey relies mostly on amateur volunteers. They select a number of wetlands and visit them three times each season on nights when toads and frogs are sure to be breeding. They learn the breeding calls and learn to estimate the number of male toads or frogs "croaking."

They complete field data forms and send them to the survey coordinator where the data are tabulated. After a number of years, rough population trends can be determined.

This type of survey is under way in Missouri using volunteer professional biologists. We hope to expand the toad and frog breeding survey statewide so that most of the 21 species are covered.

Of equal value in determining the long-term population status of our amphibians is a forest habitat evaluation project in Missouri's southern Ozarks. This extensive research is a combined effort of the Conservation Department's research staff and many temporary employees. It involves the gathering of data on forest plants, birds and small animals.

Included in this 30-plus year effort is the study of amphibian and