Listed as a Species in Greatest Need of Conservation in the Illinois Wildlife Action Plan, the wood frog is a species that Chicago Academy of Sciences / Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum’s biologists are working to monitor and restore to the woodland ponds of Illinois.
About the Wood Frog
The tiny but tough wood frog can be found in woodland ponds and forested habitats across the northern half of North America. These unique frogs can survive even when 65% of the water in their bodies is frozen. Despite their tolerance for the cold Chicago weather, and even the Alaskan winters, the species is one of several pond-breeding amphibians that have lost nearly 85% of their habitat, as wetlands continue to disappear. Dr. Allison Sacerdote-Velat and her team at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum are working to preserve this species through careful monitoring of reintroduced populations of the frogs in Illinois.
What is the Nature Museum Doing to Help?
For Dr. Sacerdote-Velat, wood frogs have been an important part of her amphibian work since 2004 when she began assessing a wetlands habitat for the reintroduction of the species. Following successful translocation of the frog eggs to the new site that had been hydrologically restored (or made to mimic the frogs’ needed water conditions), a wood frog monitoring program at the Nature Museum was born. As researchers keep an eye on the wood frogs that were reintroduced to the forest preserve as eggs, it’s important to look at many aspects of the frogs’ lives. Here is a bit more about what the Museum monitors:
Through live-trapping (a method of capturing that allows experts to observe a frog and then set it free) and photo identification the Museum’s experts can learn a lot about population dynamics and how the species is reproducing.
Monitoring frog population health is vital. A pathogen called chytrid fungus is wiping out frog species worldwide. The Museum conducts surveillance to monitor for the prevalence of the disease and ensure it doesn’t spread. Experts can even monitor frog stress levels through a simple, non-invasive swab of their skin to see if their baseline stress and disease incidence become lower as habitat quality improves through restoration. The stress research is in collaboration with Dr. Rachel Santymire, Director of the Davee Center for Endocrinology at Lincoln Park Zoo.
POST-BREEDING HABITAT USE
Researchers use radio trackers to examine wood frog movement patterns, post-breeding survival, and habitat use in an active restoration site. The small radio transmitters are externally attached to the frogs and do not harm them in any way.
EVALUATING REINTRODUCTION OPPORTUNITIES
In 2017, following a relocation of many wood frog eggs to two new sites, the Museum’s experts are looking at egg hatching success and tadpole survival in the new sites. We also brought a small number of tadpoles to the Museum to see if raising them under controlled conditions may provide an additional source of frogs for reintroduction.
The Power of a Frog
It’s hard to believe how much one frog species can affect the ecosystem, but research shows the wood frog has notable contributions to its environment:
- Wood frogs are early breeders, so the effects of their presence in the environment may be more pronounced. When wood frogs mate for the season, there are few competing species and wood frogs appear in large numbers in fishless ponds. Their breeding patterns affect the nutrients and energy levels in ponds, and their tadpoles affect the dynamics of the algae for species that arrive later in the season.
- These frogs also play a key role in the predator and prey cycle within the habitat. They prey upon insects and soil arthropods and act as food sources for snakes and wading birds.
- Wood frogs are part of a diverse amphibian community. When there are many species present, certain disease agents may be diluted, or spread, throughout the population, reducing the chance of spreading disease among frogs.
How Can I Get Involved?
Become involved in monitoring the wood frog, and other frogs in the Illinois area through the Chicago Academy of Sciences / Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum’s Calling Frog Survey, one of our community science programs. The data you collect might give our experts important information about what frogs are breeding in our area and what habitats need special restoration attention.
Meet the Expert
“Since the launch of our program in 2017, we have found over 200 wood frog egg masses in the site where we reintroduced the frogs – the greatest reproductive output we’ve seen in this species!”
Dr. Allison Sacerdote-Velat
Dr. Allison Sacerdote-Velat is the Curator of Herpetology at Chicago Academy of Sciences / Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, conducting research focused on conservation and restoration of local reptiles and amphibians including the smooth greensnake and wood frog. Allison coordinates the Calling Frog Survey, a community science program that monitors amphibians across the Illinois region.
Funders for the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum’s work with the wood frogs include the Lake County Forest Preserve District, Illinois Department of Natural Resources State Wildlife Grant, Lincoln Park Zoo, Wildlife Grant Project, and the Virginia Military Institute.