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A mountain to climb (down?)


 
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Dr Arthur White, President of the NSW Frog and Tadpole Study Group, explains how creative conservation might enable more populations of corroboree frog to be established in the wild.     
There has been much work done to conserve the corroboree frog, Dave Hunter making particular efforts to restore them into high alpine areas in the Kosciusko Range. The onset of climate change brings further bad news for their habitat and has led to some lateral thinking about the issue.
The thinking has also had fuel from Mike Archer’s research into the mountain pygmy possum which until recently lived in lowland forests and rainforests, rather than its current high alpine habitat. It is not known what drove the possums to high alpine areas and they are not very well adapted to such habitats.

 
 This has given rise to the idea that the species could be reacclimatised to live in sub-alpine areas. This is already happening with an enclosed area home to mountain pygmy possums with a special cold zone structure built within. It turns out that corroboree frogs also used to inhabit lowland areas, given that the Snowy Mountains were only formed recently in terms of geological history. Indeed, there are populations of corroboree frogs living some 600 metres down the western (Khancoban) side of the Kosciusko Range so the idea that corroboree frogs could also be reacclimatised has merit. A student is currently looking at the feasibility of setting up such a program, one that is obviously long term and requiring long term oversight. Part of the preliminary work will involve measuring temperature variations in the habitats of corroboree frogs and to test for genetic differences, if any.

 

 
It is already known that sub-alpine corroboree frogs can be successfully located into the higher regions, showing a plasticity in a move to colder areas. Now it is hoped that the reverse will also be true. Potential release sites in the Kanangra area have been identified and, because of successful in-captivity breeding operations, there is a viable population of frogs available for release and research purposes. The chytrid virus will need to be monitored, however, especially given that it wiped out many corroboree frogs from the high alpine areas and likes warmer temperatures. It is a mountain to climb but one that will have great benefits for the corroboree frog. 

Dr Arthur White was interviewed for A Question of Balance by Ruby Vincent. Images are by Dave Hunter (Kosciusko range) and Taronga Zoo (Corroboree frog), Summary text by Victor Barry, June 2014.

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