What got you into doing this research?
I was knee deep in mud by the time I was four. I have also always had a fascination for the natural world combined with sense of social responsibility to find solutions and to protect and conserve our natural biodiversity and ecosystems.
The real hook came in university, learning about the process of science and recognising the power that science holds to effect positive change in our society. Science has a great capacity to inform our decisions as we are confronted with expanding cities, ever growing human populations and the human footprint that goes along with this.
Why is your research important?
Lots of people identify with frogs and salamanders, perhaps because they have bodies quite similar to humans and similar digestive and circulatory systems, and perhaps also because they often feature in the art and stories of many of our cultures. They also have a very complex life cycle and depend on multiple environments. This means that they feel the environmental impacts on many different ecosystems, both land and water. There is a real wonder in how they manage to live their complex lives, laying eggs and becoming tadpoles in water before emerging onto to the land as frogs.
What do you love about it?
I love being outside and I’m fascinated by the natural world. There is a real joy in being in wild places. And I love that I study species that can’t speak for themselves.
We have been studying the health of a population of Cascade frogs in Olympic National Park for the last 15 years. We capture, tag and then release frogs each year so we know who’s who, how old they are and how the population is doing. When I started this work the thinking was that the frogs only lived to be 8 years old. Last year we caught over 12 frogs from the very first year of the study, which tells us that these frogs are at least 20 years old and still going strong.
So, even though they live in these harsh environments they live a lot longer than expected – that’s a little hard to believe and pretty impressive.