In a world beset by climate change, frogs and toads can provide clues about the severity of changes to ecosystems. FrogWatch USA is creating opportunities for volunteers to collect and report information about wetlands, including frog and toad populations.

During the 2013-14 academic year Cheryl Frederick, Assistant Professor of Captive Wildlife Care and Education, and Jonah Gula ’15, a Wildlife Biology major, established one of the first FrogWatch chapters in Maine. The other chapter founded almost concurrently was the Mid-Coast Maine FrogWatch, which oversees the Belfast, Camden, Lincolnville, and Swanville region.

A good idea and engaging template do not go unnoticed for long. By May of this year, an additional five FrogWatch chapters had been added in Maine.

Frogs and toads are both predators and prey in aquatic and terrestrial food webs, Frederick explained. They directly benefit humans by eating insects that can be pests and transmit diseases. They are sensitive to changes in their environment and are well-known indicator species for wetland ecosystems. Some of these problems can affect human health.

“Many previously abundant frog and toad populations have experienced dramatic population declines in the United States and across the world,” Frederick said. “It is essential that we understand the scope, scale, and cause of these declines. Factors such as climate change, environmental toxins affecting water quality, and the spread of certain diseases are causing dramatic shifts in many of these populations.”

As a reptile enthusiast and president of Unity’s fledgling Herpetology Club, Gula saw the formation of a FrogWatch chapter at Unity College as an ideal opportunity for volunteerism, learning, and ecological action. Students from the club have been trained and are collecting data.

Members of the chapter have been accurate enough in their data collection to determine the exact days that frogs emerge from spring breeding, Gula says.

“By having a Unity College chapter we are able to involve students in meaningful citizen science that will help fill data gaps for our area,” Gula said. “Years from now we will be able to look back and see trends for each species and determine what might be causing increases or decreases in the number of species heard calling.”

Gula says that not only are students collecting data for the Unity area, but they return to their home states with the tools to either join a local FrogWatch chapter there, or if one is not available, to start a new one.

“For me it is definitely valuable to be trained as a chapter coordinator because it allows me to train others wherever I go,” Gula said. “It has also allowed to me to be a leader among my peers.”

Frederick pointed out that the State of Maine has its own amphibian monitoring conducted by state biologists, but the advantage of a citizen science project like FrogWatch, is that it not only involves local communities but greatly increases the scope of monitoring that can be accomplished.

“Instead of a handful of people [doing the monitoring], it can be hundreds,” Frederick said. “Instead of relatively few areas monitored, we could eventually cover most of the state.”

Also, the Maine Audubon sponsors the Maine Amphibian Monitoring Program (MAMP) where volunteers also collect information about the abundance and distribution of calling frogs and toads.

“One advantage of FrogWatch USA is that as a national program it allows us to look at Maine in the context of the Northeast, or the entire country,” Frederick said. “That opens up a lot of research avenues of inquiry. For example, if we asked questions related to climate change, we could directly examine our data against regions of similar latitude. We can just focus on Maine or we can directly compare Maine to other places. This has enormous research potential for looking at more global trends as well as issues of local concern.”