With habitat loss, disease, and pollution ravaging frog and toad populations around the world, the Santa Barbara Zoo’s chapter of FrogWatch U.S.A., a program of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, is recruiting volunteers to listen in on the calls of resident amphibians.
The greater Santa Barbara area is home to nine different species of frogs and toads, each with its own unique call, which volunteers, dubbed “citizen scientists,” learn about in a three-hour training session at the zoo. In addition to learning to identify anurans’ ribbits and croaks, participants learn about their wetland habitats, their importance to the ecosystem, and the variety of threats that have left a third of the species worldwide in danger of extinction.
With their permeable skin, frogs and toads are especially sensitive to their environment, and declining numbers can indicate that something has gone wrong in their habitat. In order to gauge the health of this region’s populations, volunteers stake out a spot in a wetland habitat 30 or more minutes after sunset and prick up their ears. After two minutes of letting the amphibians acclimate to their presence, participants listen for another three minutes to the types and intensities of calls.
That data, in addition to notes on the weather and location, are submitted to FrogWatch U.S.A.’s website, where it’s combined with 15 years’ worth of citizen science data from around the country. On top of indicating the health of an ecosystem, the information can be used to inform conservation and land-development strategies.
“It’s really valuable data because obviously we can’t hire enough biologists to cover the kind of areas that our citizen scientists can help with,” said Estelle Sandhaus, director of conservation and research at the Santa Barbara Zoo. “It’s such a great way to get people involved in conservation.”
The final training session for volunteers will be Wednesday, March 23, 5:30-8:30 p.m., at the Santa Barbara Zoo. See sbzoo.org/frogwatch-usa.