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What Frogs Can Teach Us about the State of the World

We currently find ourselves on the other side of a stark but intangible line created by the climate tipping points we’ve blown past for and at our leisure, the virulent diseases we’ve helped spread, and the habitats we’ve destroyed in the name of peace and quiet. Being on this side of the line is a lot like grieving: we are in an “after” time.

And, as with other forms of grieving, in times defined by disease and mass extinction, we need to bear witness. We can be quiet and press record to capture what is still there. We can cup our hands around our ears and listen.

What Frogs Can Teach Us about the State of the World, By tracking amphibian songs, citizen scientists are helping us understand what’s happening to our environment, The Walrus , BY CAITLIN STALL-PAQUET 18 Sept 20, 

T’S AN HOUR after sunset, one night in early April, and I’m standing on the side of a dirt road in my hometown of Frelighsburg, Quebec, with my hands cupped around my ears. I’m listening for the calls of anurans—amphibians without a tail, so frogs and toads. I am here, more specifically, to hear the croaks of wood frogs, which are one of the first species to peek their little brown heads out after a long winter of hibernation.

This isn’t just recreational listening, mind you—this is also for science. I am a volunteer observer, one of several who are gathering data about dwindling amphibian populations in this region. For the parcours d’écoute (“listening pathways”) project I am on, participants each choose a quiet eight-kilometre stretch of road and go out listening along it, noting the frog and toad species they hear and the volume of their calls, returning to record these observations in the same spots once more, later in the season, ideally year after year. It’s called the Amphibian Population Monitoring Program, a long-term citizen-research project created in the 1990s by the Saint Lawrence Valley Natural History Society—part of a provincial-government push that came about when the International Union for Conservation of Nature highlighted worldwide declines of amphibian populations.

I make my path along Chemin Pinacle, at the foot of the mountain of the same name, stopping at markers every 800 metres and perking up my ears for a three-minute stretch at each one. This road is about three kilometres from the house I grew up in, where my bedroom was next to a pond that resonated with an amphibian chorus through the spring and early summer; on warm nights, I would leave my window open and be lulled to sleep by frog songs.

Though the term “citizen science” is relatively new, the practice of nonscientists gathering data about the natural world is not. Sometimes this has been undertaken by curious individuals: Mary Anning, who had no training, hunted for fossils along the cliffs of Devon, England, in the early nineteenth century and unearthed the first known plesiosaurus skeleton. (She is also believed by many to be the inspiration behind the “She sells seashells by the seashore” tongue twister.) By the early twentieth century, evolving telescope technology allowed the astronomically curious to turn an eye to the sky and gather useful data. But, increasingly, groups have also coalesced to pursue scientific interests. The National Audubon Society founded the Christmas Bird Count in 1900; it is one of the longest-running community science projects in the world. In 1954, a sea turtle survey began on a single beach in Japan; now, about forty beaches across the country host counts. And the University of Cape Town’s Animal Demographic Unit established an ongoing project to monitor population dynamics in 1991.

In Canada, the federal government launched its NatureWatch website in 2000, encouraging citizens to monitor all sorts of wild elements, from plants to ice formations to frogs. And, in the last decade, apps like iNaturalist and Merlin and online databases like eButterfly have bolstered community participation in natural sciences by allowing users to easily share their findings about the locations of animals, identification of species, and number of individuals in a sighting. Nearly all of us now own devices that put scores of wildlife information at our fingertips. Databases are growing—in a boon for underfunded scientific communities, findings on apps are shared to data repositories like the Global Biodiversity Information Facility—and long-term monitoring projects made up mainly of volunteers, like the one I am participating in, are gaining popularity.

Nowadays, amateur scientists have extra impetus for heading into the field: studies like the major UN report on biodiversity last year, which warned of unprecedented declines in the natural world and estimated that 1 million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction. Increased tracking of these accelerated declines is key to understanding, and hopefully slowing down, what scientists call our planet’s ongoing sixth mass extinction. Without filling in our knowledge gaps about the natural world, we can’t know what it is we’re trying to save. ………

…… We currently find ourselves on the other side of a stark but intangible line created by the climate tipping points we’ve blown past for and at our leisure, the virulent diseases we’ve helped spread, and the habitats we’ve destroyed in the name of peace and quiet. Being on this side of the line is a lot like grieving: we are in an “after” time. Earlier this year, I used the words “we are in the after” in an epilogue to my friend Alexandre Bergeron’s music video for “Aquatic Ruin,” a song about ecological disaster that ends on a chorus of spring peepers. And, as with other forms of grieving, in times defined by disease and mass extinction, we need to bear witness. We can be quiet and press record to capture what is still there. We can cup our hands around our ears and listen.  https://thewalrus.ca/what-frogs-can-teach-us-about-the-state-of-the-world/

September 19, 2020 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, environment

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