[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][text_output]Each month the Amphibian Survival Alliance shines the spotlight on individual accomplishments for amphibian conservation through our Amphibian Champions program. This month’s Amphibian Champion is Sally Wren, a Program Officer with the Amphibian Specialist Group who is also currently working towards a PhD at the University of Otago, researching methods for improving the conservation of New Zealand Native frogs, with a specific focus on Hamilton’s frog (Leiopelma hamiltoni) and the Maud Island frog (L. pakeka).[/text_output][line][text_output]What got you interested in amphibians?
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in amphibians, but it was when I became aware of the extent of threatened species among the amphibians that I really became passionate about working towards their conservation.
What are your earliest memories of interacting with amphibians? Do you have any funny stories to share?
My earliest memories of amphibians are from garden ponds growing up – I clearly remember the terrace behind out first house seemingly covered in metamorphs of common frogs which had hatched in our pond. Our family would dig a pond for wildlife in every house that we moved to, and I remember being delighted to find that not only frogs, but also newts, had moved into one of the ponds that we dug.
When did you learn that amphibians were in trouble and how did this make you feel?
From a very young age I knew that the increase in large monoculture farms was having an impact on amphibians in the UK and Europe, but it was while studying for my undergraduate Zoology degree, and my Masters in Conservation, that I started to appreciate that amphibian declines were more widespread. The Global Amphibian Assessment was published at the time of my Masters degree, and it was then that I realised that amphibians in all parts of the world were being affected.
What are your thoughts on the future prospects for amphibian conservation and preventing further extinctions? Do amphibians face a bright or a gloomy future?
I am positive about the future of amphibians in many ways – while there are so many threats to these species, I also get to see passionate people doing great work to combat these threats, people who are having a real impact on certain amphibian species. However, there are still a lot of things that we could be doing better – I feel like one of the main obstacles at the moment is a lack of coordination between those people working on the same species or in the same region; unfortunately the research and NGO environments mean that individuals or groups are often in competition for the same limited resources. However, much more can be achieved when institutions and researchers come together to collaborate on projects, each using their resources and knowledge to maximum effect, and I really believe that cooperation leads to greater impacts for amphibian species.
I am also a big believer in strategic evidence-based conservation, because in this world of limited resources we need to make the most of what we have to work with. Developing clear strategies (and holding yourself to them!) helps to focus actions, and avoiding spending time implementing actions that have failed for others helps to achieve bigger gains.
Can you tell us a little about your current work and focus?
I am currently working towards a PhD at the University of Otago, researching methods for improving the conservation of New Zealand Native frogs, with a specific focus on Hamilton’s frog (Leiopelma hamiltoni) and the Maud Island frog (L. pakeka). These two species have very similar past and current threat processes, and limited knowledge of their ecology and behaviour, so they present similar problems to conservation managers. Through my project, I am working on developing protocols for the ex-situ population of Maud Island frogs, and I am also carrying out an analysis of past translocations with the aim of determining the effectiveness of these translocations, the impact of follow-up translocations, and hope to predict the likely success of translocations to sites in the presence of predation.
I also work on a more international scale through my role as a Programme Officer with the Amphibian Specialist Group. Through this role I have led the update of the Amphibian Conservation Action Plan (ACAP) through the development of several thematic working groups; the new ACAP was published online earlier this year and I am now working with three of the groups to implement the actions identified in the plan. Through this role I hope I can encourage more collaboration between groups to achieve better conservation outcomes for amphibians.
What are some of the things that our readers can do to help protect amphibians?
I would recommend that the first thing that you do is go and find out more about all the weird and wonderful amphibians there are out there – once you start to delve into their world and discover some of their amazing habits you might find that you become passionate too. I think there is a misconception that amphibians are boring, but even looking at parental care (something most people might not even think any amphibians do!) you see wonderful behaviours from male frogs brooding tadpoles in their vocal sacs to female frogs hatching young from their back. They really are inspiring!
What keeps you personally motivated and dedicated to saving amphibians?
Any small impact that I can have on amphibian conservation is what keeps me motivated! When I worked at the Zoological Society of London I was really inspired by some of my colleagues who had made huge impacts on a variety of species through years of dedication. I don’t think there are many quick fixes, but by committing to a project we really can achieve improvements. I also believe that when the environment is better for wildlife it is also better for people, so the benefits really go beyond the amphibians that are the focus of our projects.[/text_output][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][text_output]Above: Sally sampling frogs for chytrid in Laguna Torca, Chile.[/text_output]
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