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Most Magnificent Broodfrog you’ve never heard of

Carly Starr (Ecologist)
Published 29 Mar 2021 by Carly Starr (Ecologist)

The Magnificent Broodfrog (Pseudophryne covacevichae) could easily vie for one of Australia’s least known amphibian species. Listed as endangered on the IUCN list, and vulnerable on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, there are no publications about this species' ecology or behavior, and a Recovery Plan written in 2000 never received funding for its implementation. Fast forward 21 years, and vast areas of this very special species' range are now earmarked for development.

‘Magnificent’ is certainly a great descriptor for this little frog, which only grows to a mere 28 mm – about the length of the end of your thumb.

Its vividly coloured body exhibits flickering and swirls of orange, blue, brown, and bright yellow, with a strikingly marbled black and white belly.

Distribution is primarily restricted to high elevation areas on Jirrbal country in the Ravenshoe- Atherton tablelands area of North Queensland, near Yourka Reserve. Recently, scientists have additionally discovered a small population closer to Paluma near Townsville. 

Known only from seepage areas along small streams in open eucalypt forests on rocky volcanic substrate, the short calling ‘arks’ of males used to attract females (listen below) can be heard on warm nights during the wet season from December to April.

The females lay eggs into nests made by the males, who guard them until the larvae undertake the next part of their lifecycle in water. These specific requirements for breeding are what places the Broodfrogs at such high risk from development; this rocky landscape often requires drilling, blasting and the importation of fill for establishing infrastructure. Sedimentation and changes to ground water are all likely outcomes from such impacts.  

In late 2020, I was invited to present at a National Environmental Science Program (NESP) Threatened Species Symposium in Cairns, as a representative of the Magnificent Broodfrog Recovery Team. While no such team had formally existed in over 20 years, a window of opportunity to raise the profile of this little-known species opened. 

What followed was not something I had anticipated. A fury of discussions, cups of tea, and scrawlings on butcher paper.

A diversity of interested parties emerged, all wanting to contribute to improving the trajectory of this beautiful little frog.

In February 2021, we held the first ‘Magnificent Broodfrog Working Group’ meeting, hosted by the North Queensland Natural History Group. This was attended by Traditional Owners, academics, Natural Resource Management groups, state, and federal government representatives, conservation organisations including Bush Heritage, scientists and interested community group members.

The meeting provided a chance to share knowledge and ideas on the priorities for the working group, build partnerships, map sensitive sites with Traditional Owners for care on surveys, and to draft an action plan for implementation by the team. 

There will be two critical priorities for the group over the next 24 months.

  1. To develop improved survey guidelines for adoption by the Queensland and Australian government. Surveys for this species are usually done on foot by listening for calling males to confirm presence/absence.  Recent bioacoustics studies have identified the frequency of calling behaviour, and this information is useful to identify the adequate number of foot surveys needed to confirm populations of the Broodfrog.
     
  2. To resurvey historical locations (most known sites were last surveyed more than a decade ago) to determine on-going persistence of populations – with data management help kindly provided through the Australian Museum and their great Frog ID app. This data will be used to provide expert advice to the Species Technical Committee (Qld), Threatened Species Scientific Committee (EPBC) and IUCN to guide future listings of the species.
The team has begun field surveys this wet season and hope to locate the species on Yourka Reserve during upcoming surveys!

This would provide a safe place for populations and enable us to longer-term lead recovery planning for this truly magnificent little amphibian species.

The Magnificent Broodfrog. Photo by Michael Anthony. The Magnificent Broodfrog. Photo by Michael Anthony.
Jirrbal elder Anthony Bean Snr pictured with material used to collect scent from frogs for detection dog trials collected on a recent field survey. Photo by Carly Starr. Jirrbal elder Anthony Bean Snr pictured with material used to collect scent from frogs for detection dog trials collected on a recent field survey. Photo by Carly Starr.
Bush Heritage ecologist Carly Starr carefully collecting scent from a Magnificent Broodfrog for use in detection dog trials. Photo by Leanne Hales. Bush Heritage ecologist Carly Starr carefully collecting scent from a Magnificent Broodfrog for use in detection dog trials. Photo by Leanne Hales.
Field survey by members of the working group. Photo by Carly Starr. Field survey by members of the working group. Photo by Carly Starr.
Inspecting habitat for frogs during a recent field trip. Photo by Carly Starr. Inspecting habitat for frogs during a recent field trip. Photo by Carly Starr.
Setting up Bioacoustic recorders in historic frog sites with Kael Starr, one of the younger members of the team. Photo by Carly Starr. Setting up Bioacoustic recorders in historic frog sites with Kael Starr, one of the younger members of the team. Photo by Carly Starr.
Carly Starr sets Bioacoustic recorders at historic sites to determine Broodfrog persistence a decade from their first sightings. Photo by Susan Adamczyk. Carly Starr sets Bioacoustic recorders at historic sites to determine Broodfrog persistence a decade from their first sightings. Photo by Susan Adamczyk.
The gorgeous colours of the Magnificent Broodfrog. Photo by Michael Anthony. The gorgeous colours of the Magnificent Broodfrog. Photo by Michael Anthony.

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