Perhaps for the first time in the country, researchers of the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment have initiated a project to monitor the presence of frogs and toads in the evergreen forests of the Western Ghats to preserve these endangered species serving as indicators of climate change.

The Ashoka Trust is based at the Agasthyamalai community conservation centre at Manimuthar.

The researchers plan to exploit the behaviour of frogs and toads by placing automated sound recorders and climate data loggers in the forests to record the calling of males at night to attract females for breeding. They will analyse the data in relation to climate and the frog species found in an area and discern the patterns after a few years of monitoring.

Among amphibians, frogs and toads are exceptions: they are without tails while being adults. They are collectively called anurans. India is a home to 277 species of anurans, and close to 150 species have been listed as ‘threatened.'

If the predictions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are to come true, many more anurans may be pushed to the brink of extinction. Sensitive to temperature and moisture in the atmosphere, amphibians also serve as indicators of climate change. This will be the first effort at monitoring the amphibians for long-term population dynamics.

“This study will throw light on the present status of anurans, and we will be able to understand the role of climate in the anuran population,” says K.S. Seshadri, who is heading the study team in the Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve.

The key components of the study are a pilot survey of anurans and documentation of calls of each species; setting up of equipment for seasonal and long-term monitoring in the mid-elevation evergreen forest of the Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve; an intensive study of the habitat of anurans; training of volunteers from urban and rural communities in the use of gadgets for long-term monitoring; and an analysis of the data gathered to predict the impact of climate change on anurans.

“With the backing of modern technology, we will be able to gather baseline data on the amphibian population. Long-term monitoring of the anuran population will help us better understand the drastic changes, which may indicate a decline in amphibian population,” says T. Ganesh, Senior Fellow at the Ashoka Trust and an adviser of the project.

Automated sound recorders, ‘Song Meter,' made by Wildlife Acoustics Inc., U.S., and Kestrel Pocket Weather Tracker, are used to record climate change. These gadgets allow for pre-set programming to record data for specified lengths of time.

Forest canopies experience a harsh environment as they are the first to interact with the atmosphere. There are many anurans living in this harsh environment. For a holistic understanding, sound recorders with climate data loggers will be placed on the forest floor as well as on the forest canopy at an altitude of 900-1,200 metres.

The success of the pilot project conducted by the Ashoka Trust helped its researchers bag the prestigious Future Conservationist Project, which is funded by the Canada-based Conservation Leadership Programme's Rs. 5.75 lakh-worth ‘Save Our Species Campaign.'

They faced a tough competition from more than 150 teams worldwide. Research scholars J. Allwin and M. Mathivanan of the Ashoka Trust will be involved in understanding the perceptions of the local communities of the amphibians and build the stewardship towards amphibian conservation. Mr. Seshadri and P. Mrugank will document the amphibians and the ecological aspects. A database of anuran photographs and calls will also be made available.

“Understanding the perception of the people, living both in and outside of the KMTR, of the amphibians will go a long way towards their conservation. People can easily relate to frogs and toads as they are found even on paddy fields and in cities,” says Mr. Mathivanan, who has a long-standing association with local communities in conservation and now manages the Agasthyamalai community conservation centre.

“The project is well under way, and we have finished one field session during the northeast monsoon and got some interesting insights. We also sighted a rare toad, Duttaphrynus beddomei (Beddome's toad), after a decade. It was last sighted in 2001,” Mr. Seshadri says.

Rare green frog

A rare green frog, Raorchestes chalazodes, was recently rediscovered in the the Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve by Dr. Ganesan and Mr. Seshadri, and Dr. S.D. Biju of Delhi University. The frog was not seen for 136 years, they claim, and nothing much is known about it.

This project is a significant step towards filling this gap in the knowledge.

“In the long run, we will be able to better understand the relationships and provide inputs for amphibian conservation,” Dr. Ganesh says.