I do things, visit places, see frogs…

As my PhD life approaches the 15-months mark, I have more or less worked out what I want to do when I grow up – that means now, unfortunately. Or fortunately? I have a lot of exciting stuff ahead of me now, so I thought I’d let the internets know. Here are three of the cool projects I am currently involved in. I’d love to talk about them to anyone interested, but beware – that could mean a LOT of talking!

ACEAS working group

With Matt West, my PhD supervisors Mick McCarthy and Sarah Converse and a bunch of other great people, I am setting up an ACEAS Working Group to look at “Decision Making for ex-situ conservation of Australian frogs”. We have secured funding from ACEAS to bring together a group of the best experts in captive breeding, amphibian ecology and decision making, plus (or including – most of them fit in at least two of those categories) end-users like managers at State, Federal and NGO level. We’ll look at the current state of captive breeding for amphibians in Australia, trying to work out what we want for the future and what we can realistically hope to achieve.

Spotted marsh frogs breeding in captivity here at the University of Melbourne
Spotted marsh frogs breeding in captivity here at the University of Melbourne (photo by A. Hamer)

To do so, we’ll collate a comprehensive dataset of captive breeding programs for amphibians worldwide – if you are aware of any of them and wish to be involved, by all means get in touch with me NOW! We should have a webpage soon and I’ll post the link.

This is very exciting – it will be a massive effort and I am very lucky to be leading this project, with so many fantastic people involved. We’ll make sure it provides useful tools for end-users, in addition to great science.

Southern Corroboree frog recovery program

With Dave Hunter in NSW, I have been doing lots of analysis to inform the captive breeding and reintroduction program for the Southern Corroboree frog. These beautiful animals have been having a hard time in the wild in the last twenty years or so and unfortunately they’re expected to go extinct pretty soon – but their captive breeding has been increasingly successful, meaning we haven’t seen the end of Corroboree frogs yet, and they stand a better chance than most other species to be successfully reintroduced.

I’ve been using population models and simple optimization to work out release strategies for different life stages (should we release cheap but fragile eggs, or robust but expensive adults?), and whether headstarting (collecting eggs, rearing them to a stage with high survival) can replace full captive breeding, and how we can maximize viability and minimize costs under different parameter scenarios.

This is the second-coolest species I am working on – I guess there must be something special between myself and yellow and black amphibians…

Toads, yellow bellies and fungi

Speaking of first love (the one you never forget), I have been working on a mark-recapture database for Yellow-bellied toads that I’ve built over the last few years. I have used Bayesian models to determine the rates of recapture, and then fed these into a beta-binomial model of disease prevalence to assess the effectiveness of chytrid surveys.

That means: if I look for frogs at different times of the year, and I get no infected individuals when I do chytrid tests, how will my confidence that there is actually no chytrid there change?

I have applied these methods to some screening I did in 2011 and 2012 to my beloved populations in the Ligurian Apennines, working with great people at Gent University in Belgium. The papers are in review but if you’re interested in the results (they’re looking pretty good), or in doing more analysis, again get in touch NOW!

Swabbing Yellow-bellied toads in Italy (photo by S. Salvidio)
Swabbing Yellow-bellied toads in Italy (photo by S. Salvidio)

A good part of the thinking on these projects has been done while riding my bike over the last few months – long hours on the saddle are great for reflecting and working out solutions with a relaxed mind. That is, if you have a good combination of padded shorts, comfortable seat and chamois crèmes. These items are rapidly becoming as important as R or JAGS to me, and when you’re doing something wrong, they provide error messages that are a lot more interpretable (but equally painful).

Updates on all these projects should be coming soon (at least, editorial decisions should…)

4 thoughts on “I do things, visit places, see frogs…

  1. Un ciclista amatoriale mentre sta scalando la Guardia si rivolge ad un abitante del posto:
    – per la Madonna vado bene?
    – dio bono, sei meglio di Bartali!
    e continua così che stai andando forte.

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