2020 Annual Newsletter

Read up on highlights from the field season and critical results from a long-term frog recovery project in our annual newsletter. Also learn how we fund mountain-yellow legged frog recovery, and how you can help. 2020 has been quite the year, and we send a big thank you to our partners who helped make our work possible during the COVID-19 pandemic and an historic wildfire season.

Mountain yellow-legged frog restoration amid a wildlife pandemic.

California’s mountain yellow-legged frogs are endangered. One reason is an ongoing wildlife pandemic (or, a panzootic). Worldwide, amphibians are threatened by a disease called chytridiomycosis, caused by the amphibian chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. This disease has caused declines in frog and salamander species across six continents, including here in California. In a public seminar on Thursday 12 November 2020, our own Mountain Lakes Research Group Principal Investigator Tom Smith, PhD described some of the conservation tools that we study. Our goal is to help mountain yellow-legged frog populations persist in a landscape with widespread disease.

The recorded seminar is available to watch:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRKf_rnxbSEvv_dp5lZtPBQ

This seminar was part of the UC Santa Barbara Natural Reserve System seminar series. Our research group is based out of the Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory, which is part of the Natural Reserve System.

Researchers and agencies work together to stop Bd epizootics in wild mountain yellow-legged frog populations.

Our work on Bd mitigation and cooperation with California and U.S. wildlife agencies was recently described on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s blog, in a series on conservation in action. Thanks to Meghan Snow for the write-up, and to Jill Seymour, Isaac Chellman, and many others for their collaboration on this project. See the link below:

https://medium.com/conservation-service-in-action/fighting-chytrid-how-do-biologists-fight-pandemics-in-the-animal-kingdom-675a5dc99af2

Frogs released after treatment.
Mountain yellow-legged frogs are released into pens after a round of antifungal treatment to reduce infections with the amphibian chytrid fungus. credit: Roland Knapp.

Technology aids conservation: Observing frog behavior in frozen lakes using ROVs.

“What do frogs do in winter?” That is a question we hear frequently. Meters-thick ice covers high elevation Sierra Nevada lakes for about nine months of the year. For an animal that spends summer days lounging on rocks in the sun, winter imposes a radical shift in lifestyle. But historically, we could not document frog winter behavior through direct observation. Although scuba diving allows observation of some taxa, winter ice, elevation, and remoteness prevent us from diving in Sierra lakes.

Enter David Lang and his team, who developed the Trident underwater drone at OpenROV and Sofar Ocean Technologies. Over the past few years, our team used a Trident to search for frogs in a frozen lake. This technology allowed us to find frogs and tadpoles, and to capture video to document their overwintering behavior. David and some of his colleagues joined us at our study lake on two late winter expeditions and experienced our “eureka” moments in which we saw frogs and tadpoles as never before. Through the lens of the Trident and the VR goggles, we finally saw the frog’s eye view of life under the ice.

In his recent OneZero article, David describes how the Trident makes this project possible. More generally, he explores the potential for tech to enhance conservation projects. We are happy to see David’s story published, and honored that he focused on our project. Read his story here.

New paper published in Ecosphere

A paper entitled “Disease and climate effects on individuals drive post-reintroduction population dynamics of an endangered amphibian” by Max and Roland was published in Ecosphere today. The accompanying UCSB story is available here. Although developed for mountain yellow-legged frogs, the hierarchical Bayesian hidden Markov model they developed might be applicable to other species impacted by the amphibian chytrid fungus. 

Frogs make an unexpected recovery

In this new video, UCSB videographer Spencer Bruttig talks to Roland during a visit to one of his Yosemite study sites and gets the latest on the outcome of frog conservation efforts there. Amazingly, despite all of the challenges the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog has faced during the past century, the frogs are making a remarkable comeback. Hear about this exciting turn of events from someone who witnessed the frogs’ decline and now the beginning of their recovery.

New article on ranavirus in Sierran frogs

“Ranaviruses infect mountain yellow-legged frogs (Rana muscosa and Rana sierrae) threatened by Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis” by Tom, Roland, and Angela Picco (United States Fish and Wildlife Service) appears in Herpetological Conservation and Biology. The paper (available here) documents the presence of a ranavirus in a small number of mountain yellow-legged frog populations. Despite causing occasional tadpole mortality events, ranaviruses play a small role in large scale mountain yellow-legged frog declines, especially when compared to the fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis.