30 May 2024

The race to save Papua New Guinea's frogs

From Our Changing World, 5:00 am on 30 May 2024
Ryan and his colleague, from Papua New Guinea, stand in front of a tank filled with greenery. They are both wearing khaki shirts.

Ryan Reuma, wildlife officer, Port Moresby Nature Park and his colleagues are working to keep Papua New Guinea's frogs safe. Photo: James Purtill / ABC Science

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Frog populations around the world have been decimated by a deadly fungus. But one place that has remained unaffected – so far – is Papua New Guinea.

It’s home to the world’s most diverse array of tropical frogs, including many species unknown to science. Conservationists are racing to safeguard these amphibian treasures before the fungus inevitably reaches Papua New Guinea.

The frog-killing fungus

The deadly fungal pathogen, called chytrid fungus, has swept around the world in recent years, causing mass mortality in some frog species and populations.

Chytrid fungus has been detected in New Zealand in both introduced and native frogs. It might be one factor behind the decline of the endangered Archey’s frog, but its impact here is still not well understood.

When the worldwide chytrid epidemic began to accelerate in 2015, Yolarnie Amepou from the Piku Biodiversity Network in Papua New Guinea joined a search for the fungus. No evidence of chytrid was found, but scientists believe it’s just a matter of time before the pathogen arrives on the world’s largest tropical island.

Yolarnie, a woman from Papua New Guinea, is wearing a black t-shirt and blue zip-up jacket. She sits on a log in front of a tree and ferns that feel dark and damp, like a rainforest. She is smiling and looking at the camera.

Yolarnie Amepou from the Piku Biodiversity Network in Papua New Guinea. Photo: James Purtill / ABC Science

A frog paradise

Papua New Guinea is home to rare and unique species, with many still unknown to science. In this episode from the ABC podcast Pacific Scientific, reporter James Purtill joins Yolarnie and her friend Heather for a frog hunt in the jungle near the capital city, Port Moresby.

James also checks out a captive frog facility where conservationists are raising an insurance population for if – or when – chytrid fungus hits.

A close-up of a person's upturned hands holding a tiny grey and white speckled frog about the size of a 50-cent piece on their fingers. The person's hands are specked with soil and the background is dark, indicating the photo was taken at night.

An undescribed frog species, previously the Misima Island Mehely frog. Photo: James Purtill / ABC Science

Pacific Scientific is a podcast series covering science and scientists from across the Pacific. It is a co-production between ABC Science and Radio Australia. This episode was reported by James Purtill and produced by Tamara Cranswick.

James spoke to Yolarnie Amepou, director of the Piku Biodiversity Network, and Ryan Reuma, wildlife officer at the Port Moresby Nature Park.

The series producer is Jordan Fennell and executive producer is Will Ockenden. Jonathan Webb is the ABC science editor.

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