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Answer’s in the eyes

Some amphibians, such as Harlequin toads, pictured right, have highly individual patterning. However, one major problem with surveying amphibians from a non-invasive point of view can be that some specimens lack clear individual markings, so its very difficult to tell them apart. However, quantifying population sizes based on the number of individual is key to understanding and conserving most wild populations. Amphibians are particularly sensitive to being tagged in any way, including the use of some methods that involve even the smallest microchips and elastomer dyes. Elastomer was initially developed to use with fish and is now also used with some amphibians.

We first trialed it over 12 years ago with the wild population of Lemur Frogs in Costa Rica and the method proved to be not at all conducive to the frogs or even a basic survey due the very nature of the frogs sensitivity and elastomer composition.12 years on we still have not been in a position to try and quantify this critically endangered frog’s population status…    That is until now.

During the past couple of months one of our zoology students, Charlotte McMurray, has been working in the vivarium to help develop a new method that could help solve the problem. She has been thoroughly testing some of the latest software that was originally developed for a high-tech security eye recognition program.

Charlie had previously worked on a project with Natterjack toads with an early version but it didn’t work out at all due to the warts and patterning highlights not being in tune with the software requirements. However, the finely spotted patterning found in Lemur frogs in particular was just like the speckling in an eye so the method has worked far beyond our expectations – just perfectly!

Project notes    Charlie McMurray

Proposals are now to be discussed regarding how we best monitor the population using this, but the work represents a huge step forward for our conservation related focus on the species. I would sincerely like to thank Charlie for all her work with us and her commitment to the project over the past months, she’s a star!

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