Why Study Amphibians?

Ken Mierzwa

File begun: August 20, 2000 -- Updated: February 14, 2006

First, three definitions:
  • An inventory is a one-time gathering of data, as in a baseline study or a site inventory.
  • Monitoring is a repeated data-gathering effort, usually intended to track trends over time or to measure the effects of restoration or some other activity.
  • Research is a study designed to test one or more specific hypotheses.
These types of efforts can and do overlap. For example, an inventory can be the first year of any monitoring effort, and either inventory or monitoring information can be gathered during a research effort. Let's say you are interested in some aspect of a particular type of frog, but also record other amphibians observed in the course of the study.

In 1999, we gathered inventory information on frogs at numerous Chicago Wilderness locations by monitoring calls. Approximately 141 volunteers participated, so we should have distributional data from lots of places. There will be gaps, some of them large; and not all frogs present at some sites will have been heard because of the vagaries of weather and the timing of routes. But we should learn a great deal about the distribution of the more common species, and compile at least relatively complete species lists for some preserves which did not previously have them. In future years we will attempt to find volunteers for preserves not currently being monitored. As multiple years are spent at preserves species lists should, over time, become very nearly complete. Not finding a certain species can be important as well, by documenting that rarity is real and not a function of a lack of field work.

Inventory level information is important. Site managers can more carefully design management plans if they know which species are present. Land acquisitions may be targeted to include areas where a rare species was found just outside existing public open space. Researchers may use distributional data to decide where to conduct their more specific studies. Inventory and associated habitat information can be incorporated into a GAP analysis which determined which species or habitats are not adequately protected by the existing preserve network. The Illinois Natural History Survey is currently in the early stages of a statewide GAP analysis.

Monitoring, or at least detecting trends, can take longer. If we had a frog monitoring program in place in the 1970s we would have known about the decline of the cricket frog years earlier. Monitoring programs at individual preserves (Glacial Park) have already documented amphibian increases concurrent with large-scale restoration efforts. However, detecting more subtle trends is difficult and is complicated by natural cycles and fluctuations in amphibian abundance.

Research efforts will largely be determined by the interests of the individuals conducting the work, and by the priorities set (and funded) by regional conservation institutions.

Conservation initiatives are perhaps best served by making certain that our amphibian information is readily available to those making land management decisions. We can document which restoration strategies work (or do not work) in particular habitat types; but the landscape context, ecological processes, and socioeconomic and political framework may differ for each preserve. Successful conservation requires that all of these factors be considered, and Chicago Wilderness has already begun to implement strategies to accomplish exactly that.

Frogs and Toads of the Chicago Region
Northern Cricket Frogs
Acris crepitans blanchardi
American Toads
Bufo americanus
Fowler's Toads
Bufo woodhousii fowleri
Tree Frogs (two species)
Hyla versicolor complex
Spring Peepers
Pseudacris crucifer
Western Chorus Frogs
Pseudacris triseriata
Rana catesbeiana
Green Frogs
Rana clamitans
Pickeral Frogs
Rana palustris
Northern Leopard Frogs
Rana pipiens
Wood Frogs
Rana sylvatica
Plains Leopard Frogs
Rana blairi

My frog book

Frogs: Inside Their Remarkable World

More Chicago-Region Amphibian Information on my Site

Status of Chicago Region Amphibians by County

Amphibian links

My homepage

Ellin Beltz ebeltz@ebeltz.net
February 14, 2006

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