Name Affiliation
Deborah Bower University of New England
Jordann Crawford-Ash UNSW/Australian Museum
Chantelle Derez University of Queensland
Kaya Klop-Toker University of Newcastle
Kimberly McReynolds University of New England
Claudia Santori University of Sydney
Lin Schwarzkopf James Cook University
Sarah Stock University of Newcastle
Lou Streeting University of New England
Birgit Szabo Macquarie University
Kate Umbers Western Sydney University
Samantha Wallace University of Newcastle

Deborah Bower

Debbie Bower (B.Sc., Ph.D) is a Conservation Biologist and head of the Laboratory of Applied Zoology and Ecosystem Restoration (LAZER) in School of Environmental and Rural Science and UNE. Her research focuses on the management of invasive species and applied ecology of threatened taxa. This work incorporates experimental techniques to explore disturbances such as wetland weeds, salinisation and emerging infectious diseases. LAZER undertakes research in diverse aquatic systems including the wetlands of the Murray Darling Basin, savannas of north Queensland and, most recently, the rainforest streams of Papua New Guinea.

Abstract: After growing up in North Queensland, there was no better place to begin my research journey than the Townsville Town Common. Community ecology is fascinating because every trap you check is a surprise ranging from a skinny brown snake to nothing at all. It turns out that more para grass, an African weed, means more little brown skinks and swamp frogs. So perhaps managing our weeds for water bird breeding is a good trade-off in conservation. Hungry for adventure, 21 year old Deb moved to South Australia to work in the not so mighty Murray River, during the millennium drought. Luckily, I found Australian freshwater turtles are fairly tolerant of salty water. Radio-tracking broad-shelled turtles, I followed them up the river to find that males moved up to 33 km. After postdoctoral research at Sydney Olympic Park on the green and golden bell frogs, I lived in Madagascar for a year, volunteering for a non-government organisation. I helped on a project looking at the impact of slash-and-burn agriculture on Malagasy reptiles, many of which occur in isolated communities. The past five years have been spent looking the amphibian chytrid fungus and its relationship with the environment and frogs. I work in Papua New Guinea monitoring for disease and supervise students in north Queensland on physiology and population genetics of rainforest frogs. Recently, I created the Laboratory of Applied Zoology and Ecological Restoration at the University of New England and through this I aim to support students that are underrepresented in science. We are working on ecology of frogs and reptiles in upland lagoons in the New England tablelands, desert river systems and highly regulated catchments.

Jordann Crawford-Ash

Jordann is a passionate, young herpetologist, with a research focus on amphibian disease management and conservation. She works at the Australian Museum on the FrogID citizen-science project as a frog call validator for 6 of Australia’s states and territories. Jordann recently completed her honours research in association with both the Australian Museum Research Institute and UNSW Sydney, exploring the disease dynamics of the amphibian chytrid fungus in the greater Sydney region.

Abstract: Wildlife disease is a major cause of global biodiversity loss. Amongst the most devastating is Chytridiomycosis, caused by the amphibian chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), contributing  to declines and extinctions in hundreds of amphibian species. In Australia, our understanding of Bd is derived from studies that are highly geographically biased, focusing on the rainforests of tropical north Queensland and alpine regions of south-eastern Australia. Our ability to extrapolate lessons learnt in these unique environments to other regions is unknown. To gain a greater understanding of the dynamics of Bd in the Sydney region, we examined the prevalence and intensity of Bd infection in three frog species; Litoria citropa, a poorly-known species that has experienced population declines in parts of its range was predicted to be susceptible to Bd infection, and Crinia signifera and Litoria lesueuri, two known reservoir species in other regions. Litoria citropa and L. lesueuri were infected with Bd at a high prevalence and intensity, while the reverse was true for C. signifera. The results indicate that L. lesueuri may be a reservoir species for Bd in this habitat, but that C. signifera may not- conflicting with previous studies in other regions. Further research is needed to understand the impact of Bd on L. citropa. Our findings highlight the importance of region-specific studies to inform the conservation management of frog species.

Birgit Szabo

I started my scientific education in Austria where I received my bachelor degree in ethology and, in 2013, finished my master degree in behaviour and cognition. During my studies, I worked with ants, monkeys, fish, frogs and parrots. My masters-thesis focused on the influence of the social relationships between an observer and a demonstrator during a none food-rewarded object choice task in Goffin’s cockatoos. Recently, I received my PhD from Macquarie University during which I looked at how social and non-social lizards learn and exercise behavioural flexibility when conditions (learning rules) change. ​However, more recently I have been studying lizards self-control abilities and quantity discrimination.

Abstract: Clever Gidgee
Gidgee skinks (Egernia stokesii) are arid adapted lizards that live in big family groups. They inhabit rock outcrops and occupy rock crevices in these outcrops. Gidgee skinks are a fascinating lizard species to work with, because they live in big, multi-generational family groups and because they are mostly herbivorous making it easy to run food rewarded tests. Lizards demonstrated that they can detour around barriers to access a reward and even  learn to control their actions to detour a transparent barrier through which the reward is visible. These lizards can discriminate food quantities and show similar abilities to birds and mammals. Finally, they can learn to touch cue cards with their snout to receive a reward and using this method in a two-choice setting, demonstrated that they can discriminate between colours but have problems when patterns are presented. Together, these findings clearly show how clever these skinks are and demonstrate that lizards are smarter than we might expect.

Kaya Klop-Toker

Kaya is a herpetologist specialising in frog conservation. Her research centres around threat mitigation, disease (chytridiomycosis), population ecology, and reintroductions. She began her frog-centric career in New Zealand, but has travelled to Ecuador, Madagascar, and Australia for herpetology research. She now works as a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Newcastle’s Conservation Biology Research Group (CBRG), on a project looking at the impact of longwall mining on Littlejohn’s treefrog populations. Kaya is presenting on behalf of Rose Upton.
Rose is a CBRG PhD candidate who specialises in the cryopreservation of frog sperm and other assisted reproductive techniques, such as IVF, for conservation. Rose has a background in reproductive biology, and is currently combining her love of amphibians with her education during her current project optimising cryopreservation techniques. She has become the “Frog doctor” for the group and frequently liaises with veterinarians to help heal sick and injured frogs.

Abstract: For people who spend a lot of time with frogs, such as herpetology researchers, keepers, or vets, there is a high chance that at some stage, they will encounter a sick or injured frog. Due to the relative obscurity of frogs in the pet or agricultural trade, there is a limited amount of knowledge surrounding best practice when caring for an ill amphibian. Documentation for disease treatment is fairly robust, with some diseases able to be treated with heat regimes, antibiotics, or salt baths. But there are less resources to help people treat frog injuries. As part of an amphibian-focused research laboratory, we have many years of experience dealing with injured amphibians. During this time, we have worked with vets and documented the recovery of frogs suffering from a variety of medical issues, e.g. broken legs, skin tears, burns and prolapse. Here we will share what we have learned and showcase what has worked for us. In many cases, the robustness of frogs wins out, and simply providing adequate time for self-healing has been the best treatment.

Lin Schwarzkopf

Lin Schwarzkopf is Professor at James Cook University.  She has studied reptiles and amphibians since 1986, when she completed a master’s degree on temperature dependent sex determination.  Since then she has studied thermoregulation, predation, invasive species, and the effects of habitat selection on responses to habitat modification.  She often uses reptiles or amphibians as model systems.

Abstract: Old and new problems to solve: amphibians as model systems

Claudia Santori

My name is Claudia and I am a PhD candidate in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Sydney, Australia. I am particularly passionate about herpetology and conservation. My PhD is focussed on the ecology of the freshwater turtles living in the Murray River, which have been steeply declining for the past 40 years. I am investigating what the consequences of their decline are for the river ecosystem, as well as conservation techniques such as headstarting baby turtles to reverse their decline. I also love citizen science and in the last few years I have been involved in promoting participation and analysing data collected through TurtleSAT, an Australian turtle mapping app.

Abstract: Ecology and conservation of the Murray River turtles

Chantelle Derez

Chantelle Derez is a field-based ecologist with a passion for herpetology. Starting out as a part-time reptile keeper at the Adelaide Zoo, then as a animal attendant at the largest private venom laboratory Venom Supplies, herps has always been a large part of her life. An undergraduate degree in South Australia led to Honours with the late Dr Mike Bull, looking at sociality in the tree skink in tree habitats, which led to the first study in the wild looking at the ecology of the endangered slater’s skink in Northern Territory. In 2018, she was the leading author on a paper describing a new species of elapid snake in Queensland, Australia. Currently as PhD student at University of Queensland, her main focus is radio-tracking carpet pythons to understand urban python behaviour, translocations and how these affect python ecology. She also involved with Reptile Rehabilitation Queensland as a wildlife carer, educator and scientific officer. 

Abstract: Translocation of nuisance wildlife is commonly used in urban areas to mitigate human-wildlife conflicts. This process often results in snakes being moved from their location to a ‘suitable’ new environment. Over a season this can involve multiple snakes being released at the same site, which may also be utilised by different relocators. But what constitutes as suitable habitat and are we increasing conflict by moving snakes?

Lou Streeting

Louise Streeting is a Masters of Environmental Science student at the University of New England, Australia. Louise is a Zoologist with an interest in freshwater turtle conservation. Her research project on the endangered Bell’s Turtle (Myuchelys bellii) is evaluating in-situ nest protection versus ex-situ rearing of hatchlings as strategies to increase recruitment of hatchling turtles into the wild.

Abstract: Bell’s Turtle (Myuchelys bellii) is an endangered freshwater turtle endemic to the New England region of Australia. Our study found that more than 95% of Bell’s Turtle nests are depredated by foxes. Juvenile and sub-adult turtles comprise less than 6% of the wild population. We are evaluating two conservation strategies aimed at increasing the number of juveniles in the river systems.
We protect the nests of Bell’s Turtles using wire mesh and steel cages to exclude foxes. We locate nests using camera traps, active searches on foot, and the assistance of trained detector dogs. Between 2017-19, a total of 138 nests were located along 2 km of riverbank of which 30 nests were protected. Of the unprotected nests, 95% were predated by foxes, often within 24 hours of oviposition. Nest protection prevented any predation of live nests and enabled the emergence of over 400 hatchlings.
We are evaluating the head-starting of hatchlings in a laboratory. We harvested eggs from wild females and incubated them across a range of temperatures. Optimal incubation temperature was 27°C. A total of 380 hatchlings were produced of which 330 have been returned to the river. 50 are currently in captivity and will be fitted with radio transmitters and released at 12 months of age.

Sarah Stock

Sarah is a PhD candidate at the University of Newcastle’s Conservation Biology Research Group (CBRG). She completed her Bachelor of Science (First Class Honours) at The Australian National University before moving to Newcastle this year to pursue further research in amphibian conservation.  Her research focusses on using molecular genetic methods to study and help guide conservation of threatened Australian amphibians.  Sarah’s current project involves investigating population genetics and reproductive biology of the cryptic and poorly understood species, Litoria littlejohni.   

Abstract: Litoria littlejonhi is a poorly understood Australian tree frog currently listed as vulnerable by the Australian government. These frogs are patchily distributed across the central and south east coast of Australia and were only described in 1994, as they were previously considered the same species as Litoria jervisensis. Due to their cryptic nature, L. littlejohni are difficult to find, despite a number of efforts to locate populations across its range. Even at known sites, detectability of L. littlejohni is inconsistent. Together, these factors have resulted in a poor understanding of this species, with disagreements in the literature concerning their breeding biology and habitat requirements.  Our work focusses on filling in these knowledge gaps through field based and molecular methods. After 18 months of seasonal surveys, we have found that they show behaviours not common in Australian frogs, such as almost year-round breeding, with high activity levels in winter and tadpoles found in every season. Understanding the ecology of this elusive species will help target surveys of this species, and determine the extent of their decline.

Kate Umbers

Kate completed her BSc at Macquarie University in Sydney and stayed at Macquarie for her honours project and PhD. During her undergraduate degree Kate worked with Adam Stow, David Briscoe and Andy Beattie on sociality in Australian native bees. Kate’s honours project was supervised by Gregory Holwell & Marie Herberstein looking at paternity in Ciulfina praying mantis. Kate’s PhD focused on the adaptive significance of temperature-dependent colour change (thermochromy) in an Australian alpine grasshopper (Kosciuscola tristis), supervised primarily by Marie Herberstein.
After graduating from her PhD in 2011, Kate accepted a one-year Postdoctoral position shared between Scott Keogh’s Lab and Hanna Kokko’s Lab at The Australian National University. With Scott, Kate worked on publishing lizard communication papers and began thinking about frog coloration; in Hanna’s lab, in collaboration with Matthew Symonds, Kate moved into the world of chemical signalling in moths focusing on female strategies. In 2013 Kate was awarded a Vice Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Wollongong to work on frog defences with Phillip Byrne. This work focused on the Vulnerable red-crowned toadlet (Pseudophryne australis) and the Critically Endangered southern corroboree frog (P. corroboree)
Kate was appointed as a Lecturer in Zoology at Western Sydney University in 2015 where she is active in teaching and research. In 2017, Kate was awarded an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) to conduct intensive research into startle displays. and in 2018 was awarded an ARC Discovery project lead by Prof Marie Herberstein at Macquarie University on the evolution of warning signals.

Abstract: How vulnerable are reintroduced corroboree frogs to Australia’s alpine predators?
After 30 years of near-complete extirpation, the yellow-and-black-striped Southern Corroboree Frog (Pseudophryne corroboree) is being reintroduced into field enclosures that exclude all but avian predators. The frog’s long absence means avian attack risk to reintroduced individuals is unknown, so we asked: does corroboree frog colouration make them vulnerable to predators? Using painted clay frog models and humans as proxy predators, we found that, surprisingly, striped models were as difficult to detect as control black models (and far less detectable than yellow). To quantify attack probabilities we deployed 2304 models twice in the species’ former range. Initially 18% of striped models were attacked suggesting birds are a significant threat. In our second deployment, only 10% of striped models were attacked. The statistical significance of this difference was not tested due to study limitations, but nonetheless suggest learned avoidance by avian predators. If predators generalise to real corroboree frogs, model deployment at release sites may enhance the probability of survival of reintroduced frogs. Our study suggests that model deployment could be an effective low-cost technique to increase the survival of reintroduced prey species, including, but not limited to those potentially conspicuous to their natural enemies.

Kimberly McReynolds

Kimberly McReynolds is a Masters of Environmental Science (Research) student at the University of New England. Kimberly is a zoologist with an interest in reptile and amphibian conservation. Her research project examines the interactions between humans and herpetofauna (Ethnoherpetology), to gain a greater understanding of the public’s perceptions and attitudes towards these often misunderstood creatures. Kimberly is passionate about advocating for diversity within STEM fields.

Abstract: Throughout the centuries, women in science have had to overcome barriers  both academically and professionally. During the mid- nineteenth and early- twentieth century, there were numerous women in herpetology that defied the odds and excelled in the industry. Unfortunately, many of these women are missing from the history books.

Samantha Wallace

Samantha Wallace is a PhD candidate at The University of Newcastle. Before moving to Newcastle, Samantha studied a Bachelor of Environmental Science at Deakin University and completed her Honours year conducting research on frogs within agricultural landscapes in western Victoria. Samantha’s Honours project explored the effect of converting swamps to cereal crops on local frog populations. With Newcastle as her new home, Samantha started her PhD to pursue her passion for both amphibians and conservation. As part of the Conservation Biology Research Group, Samantha’s PhD project investigates the impact of longwall coal mining on stream-breeding frogs. Her research also places focus on Litoria littlejohni – a tree frog that is not well understood biologically, but is listed as vulnerable within NSW.

Abstract: In the face of worldwide agricultural intensification, understanding species’ responses to agriculture is crucial to help maintain biodiversity. Whilst fragmentation of amphibian habitat is prevalent within agricultural landscapes, the impact of converting swamps to cropland on amphibian habitat occupancy remain poorly understood. Within this study, we examined the effect of swamp cropping on frogs in south-western Victoria.  We conducted three nocturnal auditory surveys at 94 swamps. Using detection and occupancy modelling, we investigated the effect of swamp cropping, refuges, vegetation type, and neighbouring swamps on the occurrence of frog species.
One of three common species detected, Southern brown tree frogs (Litoria ewingii) declined with increased swamp cropping. Habitats with greater refuge availability, increased cover of rushes, and low bare ground and herb cover coincided with increased occurrence of Eastern banjo frogs (Limnodynastes dumerilii). Spotted marsh frogs (Limnodynastes tasmaniensis) preferred habitats with greater grass and leaf litter cover. Proximity of other swamps did not appear to affect amphibian occurrence. Although only a single species responded directly to swamp cropping, frog occurrence was greatest in habitats where modification by cropping was low. With agricultural intensification set to continue, we recommend that to conserve amphibians within agricultural landscapes, swamp cropping should be minimised and the restoration of degraded habitats encouraged.