Students researching endangered cricket frogs
PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — Continuing throughout the summer, two University of Wisconsin-Platteville students will be researching the breeding patterns and locations of endangered cricket frogs in Southwest Wisconsin in order to help the Department of Natural Resources better protect the area’s wetlands. Allison Wells, a biology major with a zoology emphasis and environmental science minor from Moline, Ill., will work with Sammie Tomczewski, a biology major with a zoology emphasis with minors in psychology and environmental science from Twin Lakes, Wis. The two will work as 2015-16 Pioneer Undergraduate Research Fellows through the Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Endeavors.
“Cricket frogs are part of the healthy ecology of the state,” said Wells. “They help keep wetlands healthy, but are endangered in Wisconsin and are only found in the southwestern counties. We both love animals, and through this, we have an opportunity to study them. The data we collect can help the ecology of Southwest Wisconsin, potentially a lot.”
Working with their biology department faculty advisor, Dr. John Peterson, Wells and Tomczewski are identifying sites throughout Grant County where cricket frogs are thought to be located. They will be installing Frog Loggers, a type of digital recording device designed to pick up the frogs’ calls, and comparing the results to their own personal observations.
“In addition to helping provide data on cricket frogs, we can also help develop a protocol on how to utilize digital devices,” said Tomczewski. “It’s a good experience in developing research techniques and using new equipment, such as Frog Loggers.”
Tomczewski and Wells will be counting the number of cricket frog calls in an attempt to figure out when the breeding season for these amphibians is. Higher number of calls would indicate the peak of the breeding season. This information can be very valuable for local landowners as current guidelines require them to hire a biologist to come and listen to cricket frog calls whenever the landowners wish to develop an area or utilize land which may also be the habitat of the endangered frogs. The Frog Loggers would replace the need for a hired biologist to do five nights of research, making costs lower for landowners.
"Through undergraduate research, students are dealing with a real world problem and trying to solve it. We can tell them in class what it’s about, but until you actually do it, you don’t really know what it is.”
–Dr. John Peterson
“This project is making conservation easier for the species by working with landowners,” said Peterson.
Cricket frogs are currently mainly located in Grant, Lafayette and Iowa counties in Wisconsin. The protection afforded to them, with which landowners must comply, is due to their endangered species status.
“In past decades, you used to be able to find cricket frogs all over the state,” said Tomczewski. “Their declining numbers is very indicative that something is happening to the area and the ecosystem. These frogs are important to study because amphibians are good indicators of a good habitat.”
“Amphibians are also sensitive of water quality due to their skins and the sensitive environments where they live,” said Wells. “A decline in their population could indicate something like that is going on.”
Wells, who has experience working in an aquarium and a zoo, and Tomczewski, who plans on using this research as the focus of her senior thesis next year, both developed their interest in this project through working with the UW-Platteville Animal House in Boebel Hall. Peterson supervises both of them in their work at the Animal House, and it was this basis that formed the foundation for their advisor-researcher relationship.
Peterson, who is in his second year at UW-Platteville, has been working with undergraduate research students for almost 10 years during his graduate studies, dissertation writing and post-doctoral work.
“I’ve always wanted to work with undergraduate researchers who are also my students,” said Peterson. “That’s why this project is very important to me. Through undergraduate research, students are dealing with a real world problem and trying to solve it. It shows them what research is like. We can tell them in class what it’s about, but until you actually do it, you don’t really know what it is.”
“He is very supportive,” Tomczewski said of Peterson. “He is easy to get along with and very passionate about reptiles and amphibians, which can be seen through his work.”
Tomczewski and Wells will also receive professional support for their research through the guidance and assistance of Jeff Hastings from Trout Unlimited, an organization helping fund a part of their research; Gary S. Casper of the UW-Milwaukee Field Station; and Steven Bertjens of the National Resources Conservation Service.
Written By: Angela O’Brien, UW-Platteville University Information and Communications, 608-342-1194, firstname.lastname@example.org