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Citizen-led project helps change scientific view of frog species

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by December 21, 2016 General

Trading their offices and urban confines for the rain-drench forests, a group of ‘frog enthusiasts’ teamed up with researchers to change the scientific view over the Sholiga narrow-mouthed frog.

Though the tiny frog — measuring 1.7 cm long — was first discovered nearly 16 years ago in Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple Tiger Reserve, and it was widely believed that they were found in just a few locations. However, a citizen-led project, set up nearly four years ago, would go on to change that. From being an ‘endangered’ endemic species, it is now believed to have larger population, spread over 28,000 sq. km.

In 2012, IT professional Deepika Prasad formed a team of ‘frog enthusiasts’ to spend two nights in the small town of Bisle near Sakleshpur scouring for the elusive amphibians. Eventually, the ‘Bisle frog-watch team’ expanded to include researchers from Gubbi Labs and the National University of Singapore (NUS).

On a monsoon night in 2015, the team started a chain of events that would uncover the mysteries of Sholiga narrow-mouthed frog. “Initially, we did not expect to see a frog as the call was sounding like a cricket. But we persisted and looked carefully to see a small microhylid frog (a ‘narrow-mouthed’) calling among the grass,” says K.S. Seshadri, a scholar from the NUS.

Meanwhile, researchers from Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) had discovered the frog in their field station in BRTTR, and eventually, the network to hunt down the frog increased through the Western Ghats. The study reports that the frog’s habitat is now widespread across an area of 28,000 sq. km., and has been found in 15 new locations, including Bannerghatta National Park on the outskirts of the city. This would see its status change from ‘endangered’ — according to the International Union of Conservation of Nature — to ‘least concerned’, says Gururaja K.V., chief scientist, Gubbi Labs.

The experience, however, reaffirms the need to engage citizens in the scientific processes of understanding and preserving biodiversity, say the researchers.

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