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Byron Shire
February 2, 2023

Climate change a threat to local Gondwana rainforest mountain frogs

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A new Southern Cross University study predicts that two species of mountain frogs located on the NSW/Queensland border are on track to be extinct by 2055.

These mountain frogs (Philoria kundagungan and Philoria richmondensis) which live in Gondwana World Heritage listed national parks around the NSW/Queensland border, are incredibly ancient species that only live within very small patches of mountain top rainforests. They are incredibly important and precious species as they have uniquely adapted themselves to Australia’s rainforests through biogeographic speciation.

‘Because these frogs cannot move far from their headwater stream breeding sites, they are now effectively stranded on islands in the sky,’ said project lead Dr David Newell.

However, these unique and complex species of frogs are likely not long for this world, at least, if the current trends with climate change continue.

‘Under the worst-case scenario of three degrees of warming, up to 91 per cent of their ecological niche will be lost within a relatively short time,’ says lead author and Southern Cross University PhD researcher Liam Bolitho.

‘Even under current projections of warming by 1.5 degrees celsius, we expect that these frogs will not survive in half of their current mountain habitats.

‘Frogs are particularly vulnerable to climate change because they require moisture for breeding, have a bi-phasic life cycles and are explicitly linked to environmental temperature.’

While the study was only directed at two species of mountain frogs, the researchers believe the results will apply to all of the species due to similarities in ecology.

‘One of these species, Mount Ballow Mountain Frog (Philoria knowlesi), is completely new to science, having been described earlier this year, and it is very disturbing to think that this frog may well be extinct within 30 years of discovery,’ Dr Newell said.

Dr David Newell. Photo Shannon Greenfields DPE

Fire impacts

Wildfires in 2019/2020 impacted large areas of mountain frog habitat that had previously not been affected by fires.

‘We have little doubt that these events are linked to climate change. Post-fire monitoring has revealed ongoing declines and localised extinctions as well as the emergence of an additional threat – feral pigs. Pigs can completely destroy the habitat of these frogs within a very short period,’ Dr Newell said.

‘Without urgent intervention these frogs will be lost forever within our lifetimes.’

With the assistance of the Australian Government’s Bushfire Recovery for Wildlife and Habitat, WWF Australia’s Rewilding Australia Program, the NSW Government’s Saving our Species (SoS) program and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Southern Cross University has started a captive husbandry program dubbed project GRASP, with the aim to undertake conservation translocations to bolster remaining populations.

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