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Statewide Amphibian Inventory and Monitoring

Tara L. Edblom
Environmental Toxicologist, EIM

Funding Sources:

ATRI. $19,000

Partner Agencies & Organizations

Bureau of Endangered Resources, WDNR


Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS
Department of Wildlife Ecology, UW-Madison
Beaver Creek Citizen Science Center

Wisconsin currently has nineteen recognized


amphibian species, including seven salamanders and
twelve frogs and toads. Amphibians are important
components of the communities in which they live.
They are high quality prey for a variety of bird,
mammal, fish and reptile predators and are
themselves important consumers of insects and other
invertebrate
organisms.
The
life
history
characteristics of amphibians make them especially
sensitive to changes in their surroundings and make
them
excellent
organisms
for
indicating
environmental change.
Several long-term inventory and monitoring efforts
for amphibians and reptiles, including the Wisconsin
Frog and Toad Survey (WFTS) and the Wisconsin
Herpetological Atlas Project (Herp Atlas) contribute
to the knowledge base on amphibian distribution in
the state. In addition to these efforts, other projects
focus on specific research questions related to
individual species. These projects provide valuable
information and have often served as examples for
other state and national organizations in
development of inventory and monitoring efforts.
Still, there remains a lack of quantitative data on the
status of many amphibian species in Wisconsin. The
current need is for information that can aid in the
interpretation of existing information, and additional
inventory and monitoring efforts for a broader range
of amphibians, and in areas of the state that have not
been well covered by previous efforts.

Objectives: The statewide amphibian inventory


and monitoring program includes several component

projects will be expanded as appropriate. Each


project has its own goals and objectives. However,
the overall objectives for the larger statewide
program are to:
1. Fill gaps in existing knowledge through the
development of new data collection initiatives,
including field surveys for native Wisconsin
amphibian species,
2. Identify future conservation and management
needs for amphibians, and
3. Increase public awareness and provide
opportunities for public involvement in
amphibian inventory and monitoring.
The sampling frameworks developed for these
projects will provide a template for and contribute
initial data for a larger EIM/DNR initiative to
establish permanent biological sampling stations for
multiple taxa groups in a variety of habitats
statewide.

Overview of Projects:
Backyard Treefrog Monitoring
Most field studies of wetland breeding amphibians
have focused on sampling at the breeding sites
during the breeding season. Consequently, little is
known about these species away from the breeding
sites or during the non-breeding season. This project
will provide a low cost way to fill that gap in
knowledge by sampling treefrogs in artificial refugia
made of individual lengths of PVC tubing. We will
work collaboratively with established citizen science
groups, schools, and other volunteers to sample
treefrogs in backyards, schoolyards, and other
appropriate locations.

Wisconsin Terrestrial Salamander Monitoring


Program
Very few data exist on terrestrial salamanders in
Wisconsin outside of the Herp Atlas; to date there
has been no systematic inventory of terrestrial
salamanders in the state. This project will follow
existing protocols established by the USGS
Terrestrial Salamander Monitoring Program and
data will feed into a national database. Both resource
professionals and citizen volunteers will be utilized
to monitor salamanders in several ways, including
the use of cover boards placed in a grid arrays at
selected sites and time-constrained searches of
selected areas.

Vernal pool egg mass surveys


We will conduct pond egg mass surveys for a
variety of amphibian species, which will
complement the WFTS information on breeding
populations. Because many amphibians are most
conspicuous at breeding ponds, surveys conducted at
these breeding sites are especially effective. Data
from these surveys will be used to estimate species
richness and abundance of breeding adults and
larvae. Information collected from these surveys can
also be used to monitor changes in population levels
of species, and to detect changes in species
assemblages, which may provide signals of overall
environmental change. Detection of such change
and its causes can be used to help make conservation
and management decisions.

Mink frog, pickerel frog and bullfrog


inventory on northern Wisconsin lakes
Pickerel and bullfrogs are species of special concern
in Wisconsin. Wisconsin frog and toad survey data
for these three species are small or inadequate for
analysis however, downward trends are suggested
for pickerel and bullfrogs. This project will provide
further information on the status of these three frog
species, provide a habitat analysis, assist in
identifying potential threats, provide conservation
and management recommendations, and increase
public awareness about amphibians and their value
in Wisconsin.

Habitat and water quality monitoring at


Wisconsin Frog and Toad Survey (WFTS) sites
The WFTS provides information on general
distribution and relative abundance of calling
amphibians in Wisconsin, but includes little or no
information on potential causes for downward
population trends where they exist. This project will
focus on a subset of WFTS routes and will focus on

gathering information on surrounding land use


patterns,
water
quality,
and
contaminant
information. The information will be useful in
understanding patterns in amphibian populations,
identifying at-risk habitat types or specific sites,
increasing public awareness, and providing
conservation and management recommendations.

Methods: Amphibians as a group exhibit a wide


variety of different lifestyles, and different species
and habitats require different sampling methods. As
a result, we will use a variety of methods in our
projects. Where possible, we will use standard
methods for inventory and monitoring of amphibians
so that our data will be more easily compared with
those from other studies. Where there is not
consensus on a preferred technique, we will field
test techniques or work to develop new and
innovative techniques. Some methods that will be
utilized in the projects include cover board
sampling, time-constrained searches, vernal pool
egg mass surveys, calling surveys, and visual
encounter surveys.
Upcoming Products:

New Natural Heritage Inventory (NHI) Records


New records for the Wisconsin Herpetological
Atlas
Data Sheet Development & Database
Development
Web-based reporting site for Backyard Treefrog
Monitoring Project
On-line support materials for projects including
protocols, field equipment lists, and additional
resources
Educational Materials
GIS Analysis and Mapping of Habitats and
Sample Locations
Technical and popular papers, posters, and
presentations
Data Sharing with ATRI, WFTS, Herp Atlas,
Natural Heritage Inventory (NHI),
USGS
Terrestrial Salamander Monitoring Program,
North American Amphibian Monitoring
Program (NAAMP), and the North American
Reporting Center for Amphibian Malformations
(NARCAM)

Management Applications: Information obtained


from the statewide amphibian inventory and
monitoring projects will have a wide variety of uses
and applications. The data may be used to:

Determine the condition of amphibian habitats


present on the landscape
Identify natural long-term trends, cycles, or
limits of variation (local or regional)
Identify agents of abnormal change (local or
regional)
Provide baseline data for future comparisons
Provide early-warning signals of the effects of
anthropogenic activities
Provide background information needed by
researchers
Determine the effects of land-use management
decisions
Determine the efficacy of restoration activities
Enable managers to make better informed
management decisions
Serve as a baseline for the preparation of
environmental impact analyses

In addition to these applications, several of these


projects are directed at citizen science groups and
will help to educate cooperators about the presence,
ecology, and conservation of amphibians and their
habitats. The voice of citizens can be highly
persuasive in local conservation and management
issues.

Timeline: Statewide inventory and monitoring


efforts for amphibians are considered a permanent
effort and will continue indefinitely as funding
allows. Timelines are variable for individual
component projects, but overall project planning and
project development began in 2002.
2003 Conduct pilot Backyard Treefrog Monitoring
with school groups and homeowners. Begin
placement of cover boards for pilot red-backed
salamander monitoring at sites used by other EIM
projects, including the Small Mammal Inventory and
the Coniferous Wetland Bird Inventory. Begin site
selection for vernal pool egg mass surveys and
WFTS habitat and water quality monitoring.
2004 Full-scale implementation of Backyard
Treefrog Monitoring. Continue pilot work on cover
boards and time-constrained searches. Begin vernal
pool egg mass surveys. Project planning for mink,
pickerel, and bullfrog inventory.
2005 Continue Backyard Treefrog Monitoring,
cover board and time-constrained searches, vernal
pool surveys, and monitoring at WFTS sites.
Implement mink, pickerel, and bullfrog survey on
northern Wisconsin lakes.