There are fewer than 350 Oregon Spotted Frogs left in the wild in BC., Moses Michelsohn / iNaturalist (CC-BY-NC)
There are fewer than 350 Oregon Spotted Frogs left in the wild in BC. © Moses Michelsohn / iNaturalist (CC-BY-NC)

Fewer frogs are a sign of a changing world


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Meagan Simpson
Conservation Research Assistant

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Freshwater Biodiversity

Published

2024-04-23

The WCS Canada assessment on the State of Frogs in Canada finds that nearly half of all frog species are at some level of risk.

I have fond childhood memories of yearly trips camping in Parry Sound. When my family went up early enough in the spring, you could listen to the Spring Peepers. This tiny frog could fill the night air with their lovestruck chorus in the hopes of attracting a mate.

As the seasons change, so does the nighttime musical orchestra of frogs. Spring Peepers will give way to Western Chorus Frogs, which sound like a thumb being dragged along the teeth of a comb. When summer hits, the song changes to the banjo string twang of Northern Leopard Frogs intermixed with the occasional thunderous boom of the Bullfrog. Over the years, Spring Peepers’ calls seem to have softened on spring nights. Is it possible, in front of our eyes and ears, frogs are quietly disappearing in Canada? A new evaluation on the status of frog species across Canada by Wildlife Conservation Society Canada (WCS Canada) highlights that our frogs are in trouble.

Nearly half of Canada’s frog species at risk

The WCS Canada assessment on the State of Frogs in Canada finds that nearly half of all frog species are at some level of risk. Several frog species in Canada could be lost without immediate conservation actions. It may already be too late for Ontario’s Blanchard’s Cricket Frog, and there are fewer than 350 Oregon Spotted Frogs left in the wild in BC. This risk of losing our diversity of frogs is apparent across the country. In Ontario, the province with the highest number of frog species (15), one-fifth are at some level of risk. However, the observed trends in BC and Alberta are far worse. More than half of species in Alberta and two-thirds of frog species in BC are at risk.

Why are Canada’s frogs at risk?

Frogs face a variety of threats in Canada, making their conservation complex. As amphibians, frogs rely on both terrestrial and aquatic habitat to complete their life cycle and often have small home ranges. Frogs are exposed to numerous threats, largely caused by human activities including loss of wetlands, road mortality, invasive species, and pollution. Frogs are also ectotherms, meaning they rely on their surroundings to regulate their body temperature. That makes them particularly sensitive to changes in their environment, and climate change now increases their vulnerability.

Another issue with frog conservation is that scientists still lack information on frog populations and their distribution. It can be challenging to estimate populations because of wide annual variations. Frogs occupy small home territories, which requires close observations to accurately understand how populations are faring. Amphibians are also less studied compared to other large charismatic animals like polar bears or whales that attract more scientific and public attention. These challenges reduce the accuracy of information about frogs and can therefore hinder the effectiveness of our conservation efforts.

Frogs play a critical role in ecosystems

It’s in our own best interest to conserve frogs. They play a critical role in their ecosystems, managing insect populations and providing a food source for herons, otters and other predators. Frogs are also good indicators of the current health of ecosystems and watersheds. Their sensitivity to even small changes in the environment, such as pollution and rising temperatures, can signal the health of both land and water.

Next steps for frog conservation

Too often, frogs are left out of the policy decisions and conversation planning to protect biodiversity. Proactively protecting frogs and their habitats from human activities is especially important in areas like southern BC or southern Ontario and Quebec, where most of the wetlands that frogs need have been lost.

Some actions are underway in Canada to help conserve frogs. ‘Frog crossings’ along high-traffic roadways reduce amphibian and reptile road mortality. For example, the Long Point Causeway Improvement Project near Lake Erie in Southern Ontario successfully installed 4.5 km of fencing to reduce wildlife road mortality by 50%. The Wilder Institute and Wildlife Preservation Canada are reintroducing at-risk Northern Leopard Frog and Oregon Spotted Frogs respectively with the goal of recovering stable populations in the wild. Identifying Key Biodiversity Areas that are critical to support at-risk frog species or those that are restricted to small home ranges like the Rocky Mountain Tailed Frog can support actions to conserve frogs.

What you can do for frogs

We can all do more to help save Canada’s frogs. Here are some actions you can take locally:

  • report sightings through programs like iNaturalist, FrogWatch or the Marsh Monitoring Program which help conservation scientists to track populations of frogs

  • get involved with organizations to protect habitat, especially wetlands, around your neighbourhood

  • participate in events that remove invasive species like European Common Reed to improve the quality of frog habitat

  • most importantly, you can continue to spread the word about the importance of protecting frogs and their habitat

A spring without frog calls would be the sign of a diminished and troubled world. Now is the time to act. Frogs just need our help.

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