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Monday, December 12, 2016

There could be amphibians in your neighborhood and they need your help

Posted by: Jenny Mears, Education

Pacific treefrog spotted at Forterra's Hazel Wolf Wetland. Photo: Mike Mallitt. 

Yes, YOU can get involved in local amphibian conservation! Woodland Park Zoo has partnered with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) since 2012 to offer Amphibian Monitoring, a citizen science program in which western Washington residents learn how to survey for frogs, toads and salamanders in local ponds and wetlands. We welcome people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds in the program—no science or citizen science experience is necessary!

The next Amphibian Monitoring training is Saturday, February 4. At the training you will learn how to find and identify local amphibians in a way that’s safe for people, amphibians and their habitats. Participants will form teams, choose a local wetland or pond, and monitor that site once a month using equipment provided by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, including hip waders, aquascopes and GPS units. Volunteers will upload their findings to iNaturalist, an online community where participants can connect with each other and have their species identifications verified by amphibian experts.

Some people do it for the love of amphibians, some out of a sense of stewardship to their local waterways, and still others for the joy of getting outside more often. We spoke with members of four different monitoring teams to hear more about what motivated and inspired them throughout the year.

A tale of four Amphibian Monitoring teams 

This year, 16 teams monitored 20 sites around King and Snohomish counties. These teams found six different species, including Pacific treefrog, northwestern salamander, red-legged frog and rough-skinned newt in sites that range from lowland forests to ponds and wetlands in Seattle city limits. The impact and benefits of Amphibian Monitoring has been lauded by WDFW since the program’s inception. Says WDFW Wildlife Biologist Chris Anderson, “Efforts such as this broader multi-species Amphibian Monitoring program help provide baseline knowledge for the impact of habitat loss, water quality issues, disease, and climate change on amphibian populations, and can inform management goals and long-term planning. There is no proxy in my mind; this is the only way to get this type of data. Working with the public and partners not only provides for these efforts, but develops understanding, promotes education, engagement and furthers collective goals by creating a culture around conservation of ALL native wildlife and their habitats both common and those unfortunately already known to have management issues.”

Amphibian Monitoring provides different benefits to each participant. In the following interview, we've highlighted the experiences of different team members to give you a sense of what it might be like to be a citizen scientist.

Team leader and ZooCorps teen Sophie Yasuda with WDFW Wildlife Biologist Chris Anderson at the Amphibian Monitoring practice session. Photo: Jenny Mears/Woodland Park Zoo.

Why did you decide to get involved in Amphibian Monitoring?


Stephanie Snyder, leader of Washington Park Arboretum team: I’ve always been interested in wildlife of all kinds and became particularly interested in amphibians when I learned that they can be a way of monitoring the health of our environment. I and my team were really curious to see what amphibians were actually surviving in urban areas. We looked at this project as an opportunity to learn more about the wildlife community in our own backyard and also contribute data and observations that might lead to better conservation practice in the future.

Sophie Yasuda, ZooCorps teen volunteer and co-leader of North Seattle Community College team: Most of my favorite memories from when I was little are of exploring nature, whether it was wading in the creek by my house, collecting fallen leaves or investigating tide pools at the beach. It wasn't until I got older that I realized the exploration I already loved could lead to the research that is vital for conservation. Being an amphibian monitor was an amazing opportunity for me to go out into nature to collect data that will be used to protect the ecosystems I want to see conserved for kids in the future to explore.

Joel Kresse, WPZ Youth Engagement Specialist: When evaluating priorities for the ZooCorps program, we always put conservation and leadership first. The Amphibian Monitoring program is an opportunity for volunteers to engage in direct conservation action and leadership through a significant, statewide citizen science project. They get a first-hand introduction to field biology methods and best practices while working collaboratively in a team. Volunteers gain job skills and field experience while becoming part of the larger community of citizen scientists around the state. And it all happens right in their backyard! 

Lizzy Stone, Seattle Tilth Environmental Program Coordinator: Seattle Tilth works to restore wetland habitats on our farms throughout King County. These wetland ecosystems are disturbed and degraded, so we are working to build soils, control invasive weeds, plant native trees and shrubs, and encourage wildlife to re-inhabit the sites. We were interested in the zoo’s Amphibian Monitoring program so that we could establish a baseline for amphibian populations to use as a metric for habitat improvement over time.

Julie Webster, leader of Carkeek Park team: I think we all got involved because we are interested in conservation, and citizen science seemed like a really interesting way to participate in a conservation effort. We have stayed because it is fun to be out in nature and because we have come to care for the amphibians. There really is a sense each year of hope and worry. Will they still be there? Will they make it? And there is elation when we find them doing well.

The Seattle Tilth team monitoring for amphibians at Red Barn Ranch in Auburn. Photo: Katie Remine/Woodland Park Zoo.


How did your season go? What did your team see?


Stephanie: We have had three relatively productive seasons there. So far we have found eggs of two species: northwestern salamander and Pacific tree frog. Later in the season we found juvenile salamanders and many aquatic insects like dragonfly larvae and daphnia, which the salamanders feed on.

Tracey Byrne, member of Washington Park Arboretum team: We also saw evidence of other animals that frequented the ponds, such as raccoons, ducks, owls, and insects, which made it exciting, for though we were only monitoring for amphibians, the ponds are a vital part of the urban forest ecosystem. 

Sophie: This year we were excited to see a ton of egg masses appearing as early as February. Soon we were seeing tadpoles emerge! The most common species we identified was the Pacific frog, also known as the Pacific chorus frog. We also found multiple long-toed salamander eggs and even spotted a few salamander tadpoles! My team had a lot of fun, especially when we tried to catch the speedy tadpoles on camera. 

Lizzy: The season went well! We had a large monitoring team that was very interested in exploring the two sites. At Red Barn Ranch in Auburn, we found Pacific treefrog egg masses, juveniles and adults. At Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands, we did not find evidence of amphibian populations, which is important information for determining our starting point at the site!

Julie: This year, we had three core members who have been doing this for at least three years and who committed to being there. Between having a full group and having that experience, monitoring went really well. We know the site and have a sense of history. We have been able to watch how laying sites have changed as the vegetation changes. We saw egg masses for the long-toed salamander, rough-skinned newt, northern salamander, and Pacific tree frog. We saw less of the frog egg masses than last year and that may be because there was much less of the grass they seem to prefer to lay their eggs in that last year. Later in the season we saw northwestern salamander, rough-skinned newt, and Pacific tree frog tadpoles. 

The Carkeek Park team monitoring their site, which dried up especially early this year. Photo: Julie Webster.

What impact do you think participating in Amphibian Monitoring had on you and your team? 


Stephanie: Amphibian monitoring these past few years has given me a deeper understanding of how vulnerable amphibians and aquatic life in general are to changes in the environment. It’s one thing to read about it, but to witness firsthand the impact human activity has on plants and animals living nearby has made me even more committed to changing the way I live and work. It also has made me realize how difficult it really is to do that! I’ve also gained a deeper insight and appreciation of the hard work that goes into scientific research, that careful observation and gathering and recording data is just part of a very long ongoing process toward understanding what’s going on in the world. It has been fun to share the experience with my very enthusiastic team as well as people we meet in the field.

Sophie: I think that the experience of amphibian monitoring made all of us think more about the animals that inhabit the ecosystems closest to us. A lot of the time these animals, like amphibians, are overlooked, but they are also the most directly impacted by our pollution. By observing them as they traveled through their life cycle, we all gained a sense of appreciation for amphibians. Seeing the amount of life that was present in just the tiny pond we monitored, I was reminded of the proximity of nature and the responsibility we all have to ensure its survival. 

Lizzy: Seattle Tilth staff and volunteers were and still are very excited about monitoring for amphibians at our sites. We love to talk to volunteers and visitors about the wildlife populations at our sites, so it is great to know more specifics about what is present. I think that the monitoring team, students who visit the farms, and our volunteers were empowered by the concept of citizen science and their ability to make an impact on a larger scientific study!

Julie: While we all came into the work caring about the environment, we have developed a real fondness for the amphibians we have seen and are rooting for them to make it. The training gave insight into the problems facing amphibians, so when we go looking for them, we are aware they might not be there. Finding them, especially after a lot of searching, feels like a win and something worth celebrating. Being in the wetlands has also made us consider what so many kids are missing today. Aside from being useful work for conservation, it is just plain fun. We also have a real appreciation for the experience and skill required to really identify the different species. We get better each year but still work at it. 

Joel: The Amphibian Monitoring program has a positive impact on participants’ understanding of amphibians, habitat and citizen science. ZooCorps teen volunteers certainly have a lot of love for animals on Day 1. However, this program deepens that love by engaging volunteers in studying local wildlife that they may have otherwise overlooked. They witness the connection between habitat and conservation first-hand. Habitat destruction is not something that only occurs in places like the Amazon or Malaysia. It’s a local conservation issue too! The program really focuses our volunteers’ passion for wildlife conservation directly on our local environment. The wonderful thing about citizen science is that it is so accessible. Our volunteers find out that with just a small amount of training and preparation, they can make significant contributions to a collection of data that informs both local and state conservation efforts. 

Want to get involved? Please see www.zoo.org/citizenscience for more information and to sign up on our interest list! The Amphibian Monitoring program is part of Woodland Park Zoo's Living Northwest conservation program to ensure Washington's wild future. 

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