By Stephen C. Lougheed
I am travelling in Australia funded, in part, by The J. Allen Keast Field Biology International Exchange Fund. Allen, born and raised in Australia, was a long-time professor in Biology at Queen’s and an enduring presence at the Queen’s University Biological Station (QUBS). The Fund, as its name implies, facilitates exchanges between Australian and Canadian scientists. As Director of QUBS my hope on this sojourn is to visit a number of facilities and bring back some ideas for our own station on how to enrich the research, teaching and outreach.
I am currently at the University of Sydney Tropical Ecology Research Facility situated about an hour outside of Darwin in the Northern Territory and just outside of Fogg Dam Conservation Area – about halfway between the Tropic of Capricorn and the equator. Most of the work done here is herpetological with a major focus on understanding and countering the negative consequences of the massive cane toad invasion in Australia. Indeed my host (aside from the Facility Director Rick Shine and Manager Dr. Greg Brown who kindly made this visit possible), Cam Hudson, who is both a Queen’s University alumnus and an ex-student of mine, is doing his doctorate on cane toads here.
The surrounding woodlands here are diverse, although having spent time in similar Neotropical and Afrotropical habitats, I can say that there always seems to something familiar like the squawking of parrots (e.g. here red-tailed black-cockatoos, lorikeets or rosellas) or omnipresent cooing of doves of various kinds. The annual rainfall here is markedly seasonal (mean annual rainfall 1729.7 mm) with most rain falling between November and March. We are firmly in the grip of the rainy season as there have been daily deluges since I arrived. Mean maximum annual temperature is 32 degree C although the daily minimum temperature seldom dips below 15 degrees C.
In the mornings I have been taking time to walk along the local roads and trails bird-watching (well really anything watching), in afternoons working on manuscripts, letters and emails, and in the evenings doing some ‘herping’ especially looking for frogs that are now actively chorusing and breeding. In three nights of not particularly intensive searching we have assembled a handsome list of 15 species – a rogues gallery of which I present here (note that 9 of them are in the massive genus Litoria!):
To put this into perspective on QUBS lands we have documented only 9 anuran species (Chorus frog, Spring peeper, Grey treefrog, American bullfrog, Green frog, Pickerel frog, Leopard frog, Wood frog, American toad), and this list expands to ten if we consider all of Eastern Ontario (to include the Mink frog). Thus in three nights we have assembled a list comprised of 50% more frog species within a single small region.
In February I will be traveling to Cairns in the northeast hoping to spend some time in Daintree National Park – again a very productive, biodiverse, and humid area of Australia.