Is the humble farm dam the lifeline that frogs need?

Media release

14 September 2023

Frogs are in trouble. While many of the world's animal species are now at risk from habitat loss, climate change and other human pressures, it is frogs that are particularly at risk.

Today in The Conversation, Deakin University ecologist Dr Martino Malerba and co-author Jodie Rowley from the University of NSW and the Australian Museum, write about how freshwater habitats like wetlands, streams, and lakes are especially at risk, and how the humble farm dam may well save the day.

"These ubiquitous human-made ponds are scattered across Australia’s rural regions," Dr Malerba wrote. "Our new research found they have become home to over two-fifths of Australia's 240-plus surviving frog species. Better still, as we compiled more than 100,000 audio recordings made by citizen scientists, we could hear the unmistakable calls of species threatened with extinction, such as the green and golden bell frog."

A peer-reviewed scientific study recently published in the prestigious journal Biological Conservation, also shines a spotlight on the essential role that farm dams play in supporting frog species.

This research also develops a new framework for using farm dams to combat habitat loss and protect endangered frogs.

Dr Martino Malerba, who works within the Blue Carbon Lab at Deakin's Centre for Marine Science, said:

"Farm dams, often overlooked in the conservation context, have emerged as potential lifelines for numerous species during dry spells, including frogs.

The results are promising. The highest frog species richness was observed in farm dams older than 20 years, with an intermediate surface area (0.1 hectares), and situated within small or medium rainfall catchments (<10 hectares). Biodiversity further increases in farm dams near other freshwater systems or conservation areas."

Dr Jodi Rowley said: "It is fantastic that farm dams host several frog species threatened with extinction, such as the Growling grass frog (Litoria raniformis), the Green and Golden Bell Frog (Litoria aurea), the Sloane’s Froglet (Crinia sloanei) and the Northern Heath Frog (Litoria littlejohni). This highlights the value of farm dams to frog species of high conservation concern.

Excitingly, the Growling grass frog was detected more than 3000 times near 315 farm dams. This species is listed among Australia's six priority frog species in the Threatened Species Action Plan."

One of the study's most compelling aspects is its potential to bridge the gap between agricultural interests and conservation goals. By identifying specific features that enhance farm dams' ecological value, this research offers opportunities for mutually beneficial outcomes.

Farmers can increase agricultural productivity while simultaneously contributing to local biodiversity conservation.

"As the federal government advances its plans for a nature repair market, it’s possible we could see a surge of interest in farm dams," said Dr Malerba.

"In this scenario, making farm dams more wildlife-friendly could net farmers and landholders biodiversity credits. Given the wealth of frog species in dams, this could present a cost-effective strategy.

As we look to the future, 'biodiversity credit' policies could incentivise large-scale ecological restoration by rewarding individuals who invest in enhancing their farm dams to support local biodiversity. It's a forward-thinking approach with the potential to promote a sustainable coexistence of agriculture and conservation.

This research is not just a scientific breakthrough; it's a call to action. With our newfound knowledge of farm dams for wildlife conservation, we have a unique opportunity to rethink our approach to managing these ecosystems. The importance is undeniable. Together, we can ensure a healthier future for native species while improving agricultural productivity."

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Media release Faculty of Science Engineering and Built Environment