Frogs about town : aspects of the ecology and conservation of frogs in urban habitats of South Africa
Kruger, David Johannes Donnavan
MetadataShow full item record
Globally urbanisation impacts on 88% of amphibian species and is recognised as a major cause for the observed amphibian declines. This is as result of habitat fragmentation, alteration in habitat morphology and degradation of habitat quality. The interference of anthropogenic noise on anuran communication and the impacts thereof on their breeding success has become a major research focus in recent conservation studies. . However, within the African continent very little research has been conducted on the effects of urbanisation on anuran habitat and the acoustic environment, which is the main focus of this study. The thesis is structured as follows: CHAPTER ONE provides an introduction to the field of urban ecology and relates it to amphibian conservation. The chapter reviews the far reaching and diverse effects of urbanisation on frog populations reported in literature across the world and also supply a broad introduction to the succeeding chapters. It also briefly summarises evidence from literature on the positive contributions brought about by the developed world. Following the vast negative impacts of urbanisation, the importance of amphibians is briefly discussed to motivate their conservation in urban environments, before concluding with a motivation for the need for urban ecological research on amphibians in South Africa. CHAPTER TWO addresses the distribution of amphibian communities across an urban-rural gradient in the city of Potchefstroom and assesses the habitat determinants explaining distribution at both local (pond) and landscape scales. Four surveys conducted spanned the breeding seasons of all species occurring in this region and included three different sampling techniques to detect fish and anuran larvae species. Seven micro-habitat and seven landscape variables were included to evaluate determinants of habitat use among local species and species richness. Using Bayesian modelling, aquatic vegetation, predatory fish and pond size was found to be major determinants shaping species richness on a local scale, whereas surface area of urban central business district had only a slightly negative correlation with species richness on a landscape scale. This is a pioneer study for documenting effects of urbanisation on amphibian communities along an urban-rural gradient in Africa. CHAPTER THREE evaluates the extent of the influence of aircraft acoustic noise on the calling behaviour of the critically endangered Pickersgill’s Reed Frog, Hyperolius pickersgilli. Literature documenting the effects of airplane noise on anuran calling activity is very limited and this study aimed not only to contribute to existing knowledge, but also to provide the first study of its kind within South Africa. Effects on five call properties of H. pickersgilli were determined using passive and directional recording equipment at two sites, reflecting presence and absence of aircraft flybys. Results showed an increase in calling rate of H. pickersgilli during aircraft flybys. Hyperolius pickersgilli was found to call throughout the night until just before sunrise. The calling behaviour, frequency structure and call sound pressure level of H. pickersgilli suggest that this species is prone to be effected by continuous anthropogenic noise. However, the lack of flights between midnight and sunrise provides a period of no disturbance for the frogs. Future studies on the effects of change in calling behaviour should be supported by playback studies at quiet sites and connected to breeding success to determine if these effects are detrimental to the survival of this critically endangered species. CHAPTER FOUR focussed on the Western Leopard Toad, Amietophrynus pantherinus and was divided into two major parts. One component focussed on the migration of this species across roads and aimed to firstly quantify the number of individuals migrating over a 500 m stretch of road using a drift fence system operated by public volunteers. The drift fence proved very successful, with no roadkill observed during the time it was in place. This study also stressed that large numbers of toads (average of 20.47% of 2 384 toads over six breeding seasons) are still being killed on the urban and suburban roads. Road patrol statistics collected by volunteers are biased in the sense that it is prone to human error, but when a drift fence is constructed, bias is excluded and space for human error limited. The study also provided road sensitivity areas analysed using geographic information systems to create digital buffer zones of 250 m, 500 m and 1 000 m around selected breeding sites. Secondly the study aimed to evaluate the use of data collected by these citizens occupying a volunteering role in the toad’s conservation. The second part of this study was directed towards the acoustic analysis of the call of A. pantherinus. The two main objectives of this component were to 1) evaluate the extent of variation of the call properties in order to 2) assess whether the ambient anthropogenic noise have an effect on these properties. Seven call properties for advertisement calls and four for release calls were analysed. Call properties were found to vary significantly between populations (P<0.05). Although sound pressure level was found to have an effect on variation by using canonical redundancy analysis, variation can also be explained by the geographical isolation of the populations. CHAPTER FIVE provided novel data on the extensive repertoire of Amietia quecketti in terms of its unique calling behaviour. Directional recordings were used to examine the extent of the variation in the two-part call (click-note followed by a whine-note). The whine-note was re-described and four different notes were designated, including the tonal-note, creak-note, pulsatile- / rip-note, and whine-note. Furthermore, the newly assigned whine-note was divided into nine phases that differed in frequency structure. Also, evidence is provided that A. quecketti males call at high frequencies. The success of A. quecketti in urban environments as observed in Chapter 2 is described in terms of this species’ extensive repertoire and unusual frequency structure. CHAPTER SIX provides insight into the effects of atmospheric conditions on the calling behaviour of Amietia quecketti, giving the proximate impact urbanisation has on weather conditions as well as the potential impact human activities can have on climate change on the long term. Calling activity was monitored over a nine-week period together with data from a mobile weather station which logged atmospheric variables every five minutes. Amietia quecketti was found to call most intensely between 00h00 and 03h00 in the morning and was most active in May, June and August. Humidity, temperature and wind velocity were found to have significant effects (P<0.05) on the calling activity of A. quecketti. CHAPTER SEVEN is concerned with the attitudes of people towards frogs in South Africa. The first part of this study assessed the attitudes of people towards frogs in Potchefstroom. Surveys were distributed via the internet as well as manually to reach people with no internet access as well. Attitudes of people of Potchefstroom were mostly positive with more than half of the sampled population of 295 respondents indicating a strong liking in frogs. This study provides evidence that the presence of myths and knowledge can highly affects people’s attitudes towards frogs. The second part of this study focussed on the motivations of volunteers saving Western Leopard Toads from roadkill in Cape Town, South Africa. Volunteers were motivated by a strong value-driven approach to saving toads. CHAPTER EIGHT provides a general discussion and outline on the contributions this study presented and also the new areas where more research is needed within the extent of the field of urban ecology from a South African perspective.