by Whit Gibbons

February 3, 2002

Birds don't have tadpoles and frogs can't fly, but they do have one thing in common. Both make a lot of noise at certain times and can be recognized by their sounds. Not all of us can recognize the species doing the calling, but for people who can properly identify them, bird and frog calls can be a powerful conservation tool. My most recent experience in the world of animal sounds came during a trip to Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland to review the North American Amphibian Monitoring Program (NAAMP).

NAAMP is a collaborative effort created in 1997 between the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and regional partners, including state natural resource agencies and nonprofit organizations. The stated goal is "to monitor the status and trends of calling anuran populations of eastern and central North America through standardized surveys." An anuran is a frog or toad, so the idea is to get enough people to listen for their calls at enough wetlands across the country to get an idea of whether species are declining in number, increasing, or remaining stable. The data could influence environmental management decisions, and the concept has potentially positive features from a conservation perspective.

If done properly, with the rigor of a scientific study, such surveys could provide a measure of when and where frogs are thriving. Doing this year after year could possibly reveal indications that certain species are less common in certain areas than was true previously. Similar approaches have been used with another program known as the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS). The USGS provides central coordination and database management for NAAMP and the BBS.

North America has more than 80 different kinds of frogs and toads, and most make sounds characteristic of the particular species. Such a biological trait is extremely useful for identification as long as the listener knows which frog call goes with which frog. So, as with any program that collects scientific data, observers must be trained. NAAMP has established protocols that volunteers must follow. Ideally, if the program is run with strict guidelines about how data are collected and verified, useful information can be acquired about the status of calling frogs. Of course, learning the calls of the dozen species of frogs that live in Wisconsin is a bit easier than being able to identify each of the 30 or so that live in Georgia, Alabama, or South Carolina. But anyone can tune in to frog calls with a little effort.

Another positive aspect of the program is that people in a region develop a fresh interest in their local environment. Through NAAMP they are given an opportunity to contribute to a conservation program and to learn about regional amphibians. A public involved in environmental issues of any sort is more likely to be aware when their regional habitats are sullied by environmental degradations. One of the interesting features of the Web site is that individuals in different states enter their own data and then anyone can go check it.

As the program develops, the plan is for NAAMP to cover much of the eastern United States. Even if you do not want to be part of the survey effort by being assigned a route, you can learn something about the frogs that are calling around the country. For example, to learn that spring peepers (one of the first frogs to be heard in the East each year) were calling about this time last year in Louisiana at nine out of ten sites, you need only go to the NAAMP Web site (http://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/naamp) and click on the Data Access link. The NAAMP Web site also has all the information needed for someone interested in participating in the program.

One of the exciting features of being in a region with a rich biodiversity of frogs is not only what you might see but also what you might hear. During the next warm rain, go to a wetland at night and listen to the sounds around you. If the frogs are talking, one thing they are saying is that your local wetlands are still intact.

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