Final Report to Michigan DNR Non-Game Wildlife Fund
1999 Natural Heritage Grants Program
Project Title: Amphibian Malformation Survey of the Western Upper Peninsula
Using Middle/High School Classes
One of the most perplexing phenomena in recent ecological research has been the apparent increase in the incidence of deformities among frogs in the U.S. A large number of deformities have been documented in the Upper Great Lakes states of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Most of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has not been surveyed, and the malformation status of the State’s amphibian resources remains unknown. The Michigan DNR currently lacks the staff to collect such basic inventory and monitoring data. The Michigan Frog and Toad Survey and the Michigan Bird Atlas Project have demonstrated that well-organized volunteer efforts can contribute valuable biological information on taxa that can be easily identified.
This project was a pilot study to test the feasibility of training middle/high school teachers to engage their students as volunteers to inventory and monitor the presence and rate of amphibian malformations in Michigan. Our results demonstrate that trained teachers and gr. 5-12 students can contribute to basic studies of the distribution and abundance of frogs and toads in the Upper Great Lakes region. As part of this project, surveys were conducted at teacher-selected sites in three western counties (Houghton, Gogebic, and Marquette) of the Upper Peninsula.
Deformities occurred at seven (29%) of 24 sites sampled. Of the seven sites that reported deformities, five sites had just one deformed individual, one site had two and one site had three. Deformities were found in two of nine species collected as part of the survey: green frog and mink frog. The frequency of deformity for the green frog and mink frog was 1.5% and 1.7% respectively. While no individuals of the seven other species were found with a deformity, the green and mink frogs were the two most abundant in the survey. Three species were inadequately sampled (< 6 individuals) to draw conclusions about the incidence of malformation.
Information Provided by This Project:
• A 10-hour workshop program to train middle and high school teachers on “frogs as bio-indicators” and how to conduct frog deformity surveys.
• A data form useable by middle and high school students.
• Data that indicates that amphibian deformity is not widespread (< 1.7%) in the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan
• Experience that students in gr. 5-12 can effectively be used to conduct amphibian malformation surveys.
• Experience that both teachers and students enjoy and benefit from learning about “frogs as bio-indicators” and amphibian malformation and decline issues.
In the spring of 1999, the two principal investigators prepared a 10-hour workshop program after consultation with several people who had been involved in either conducting frog deformity surveys and/or involving the lay public in conducting surveys in Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Persons consulted included: Tony Murphy, Assistant Professor at the Center for Global Environmental Education (CGEE) at Hamline University in St. Paul; Cheryl L. Summer, Aquatic Biologist, Great Lakes Environmental Assessment Section, Surface Water Quality Division, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality; and Robert Hay, Bureau of Endangered Resources, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The North American Reporting Center for Amphibian Malformations (NARCAM) (website: http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/narcam/) was also consulted for the current protocols and standard field form used for wildlife refuge surveys. The workshop was publicized to teachers of grades 5-12 throughout the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. A copy of the workshop agenda is attached.
The principal investigators led the 10-hour teacher training session on May 13-14, 1999. At the training session, teachers were instructed in all aspects of the study from general amphibian conservation issues, to frog and toad identification, to malformation incidence in the Great Lakes region. Sampling equipment (e.g., nets, containers, and identification books) was distributed and teachers were able to go into the field with the investigators to conduct breeding frog surveys and to capture frogs for deformity screening. In addition to the two principal investigators, two middle school life science teachers and a DNR state park naturalist were presenters at the workshop.
Following the training, teachers selected two different wetland types to sample for deformed frogs and toads using the study protocol prepared by the investigators. Teachers were asked to conduct their surveys by September 15, 1999. Teachers and students used nets to capture frogs and toads at their wetland sites and each organism was inspected for deformities and released. Photos of deformed specimens were obtained whenever possible. Data from all surveys and all captures (both positive and negative reports) was collected on standardized data sheets that were returned to Dr. Flaspohler who summarized the data.
Teacher Training -- This project sought to train and utilize middle and secondary school teachers and students to collect data on the frequency of deformations in frog and toad populations in the western U.P. By using volunteers to conduct the inventory, we were able to gather more information over a larger region and over a longer period of time than we could have using paid field workers or graduate students. While our original goal was to recruit teachers from a four-county area (Houghton, Baraga, Ontonagon, and Gogebic), we ended up with interested teachers from Houghton, Gogebic and Marquette counties attending the workshop and conducting the surveys. This study yielded 17 trained teachers and 384 experienced students that can continue to carry on deformity surveys, or develop more refined or focused studies in the future.
Participating teachers each received: 3 fine-mesh, long-handled nets for capturing frogs; 5 plastic live wells for temporarily storing captured frogs; the K-12 Frog Educator Activity Guide (published by Thousand Friends of Frogs, CGEE, Hamline University); Michigan Frogs, Toads and Salamanders Field Guide And Pocket Reference, Peterson Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians; Michigan and Minnesota frog ID posters; variety of wetland information handouts; variety of frog activity handouts and list of internet sites, and WOW! The Wonder of Wetlands. These educational materials and sampling equipment were very helpful to the teachers as they integrated amphibian deformity and decline issues into their curriculum. These items can also be viewed as a small way to compensate the teachers for their efforts to arrange field trips, and carefully collect and report the data to the investigators.
Frog and Toad Survey -- We received data from ten schools in three counties (Houghton, Marquette, and Gogebic) in the western Upper Peninsula (Figure 1). These ten schools sampled 19 open water or wetland sites. Some schools (teachers) were able to have their classes visit and collect data from more than one wetland site. A couple sites were visited on two different dates by different schools. We received 24 data sheets from 24 sampling exercises (Table 1). Wetland types sampled most often were: wooded swamp (4 sites or 21%), man-made pond (4 sites or 21%), lake (4 sites or 21%), pond (3 sites or 16%), stream (2 sites or 11%), vernal pool (1 site or 5%), and marsh (1 site or 5%). We divided the sampling periods into three seasons (spring, summer, and fall). As expected, teacher schedules confined most sampling to late spring and early fall, although we received some data from mid-summer. Sampling intensity was rather evenly spread over the spring and fall periods. For most species, we received good samples from all three seasons, although all of the summer sampling came from a single exercise (Table 2). Green frogs accounted for half (50%) of all individuals sampled. Mink frogs (15%), spring peepers (12%) and northern leopard frogs (10%) were the next most frequently sampled species. These three species, along with the green frog, accounted for 87% of the total sampled.
Deformities occurred at seven (29%) of 24 sites; the types of deformities found are reported in Table 2. Of the seven sites that reported deformities, five sites had just one deformed individual, one site had two and one site had three. Deformities were found in two of nine species found in the survey: green frog and mink frog. The frequency of deformity for the green frog and mink frog was 1.5% and 1.7%, respectively. While no individuals of the seven other species were found with a deformity, the green and mink frogs were the two most abundant in the survey. Three species were inadequately sampled (< 6 individuals) to draw conclusions about the incidence of malformation (Table 2).
While two schools took advantage of the offer of grant funds available to offset the cost of conducting class field trips to conduct frog deformity surveys, it is the grant recipient’s opinion that funding was not a deciding factor in the school or teacher’s ability to participate in the project.
Our sample is relatively complete in terms of species found in the U.P., although it is rather uneven. Considering the entire sample of 736 individuals, the total frequency of deformity was relatively rare at only 1.0%. However, deformed individuals were found on almost one third of all sites sampled. Moreover, deformities were found in the two more common species in the survey. This begs the question of whether the sample was too small to detect deformities if they are generally rare (i.e., < 2% of the population) in all species. The rate of deformity for the two most abundant species (green and mink frogs) was relatively low. This suggests that the incidence of amphibian deformity in the western U.P. may be rare but spatially extensive. Such a pattern also suggests that future studies of this type must consider ways of increasing the sample size of animals per site. Some wetland sites were intensively sampled with over one hundred individuals captured and inspected, while the sampling intensity at others was much lower. As with any study of relatively rare or spatially widespread phenomenon, an understanding of the frequency of deformity in frogs and toads requires large sample sizes.
This study was designed to generate inventory data on the incidence and distribution of deformities in frogs and toads in the western Upper Peninsula. Conducting a scientific study in which the students collect the principle data poses a number of challenges. We used a 10-hour workshop to train teachers in the study methodology, frog identification, and completion of the data forms. However, because the teachers did not collect all of the data directly, there is a greater potential for misidentified species or errors from incomplete examination of animals. Moreover, several of the reported deformities involved missing limbs, not extra limbs as have been reported elsewhere. We are aware that such conditions can be the result of injury or predation, and during the training session we informed the teachers that they would have to make some judgements in cases of missing body parts.
The goals for this project were to combine a reasonably rigorous inventory of the incidence of frog and toad malformations with an educational tool for middle and high school teachers and students. Compared to the cost of conducting such a survey using a graduate student (a minimum of $35,000) or a professional consulting firm, such a volunteer-based effort represent a very cost-effective way of collecting basic survey data. We feel that this study demonstrates that teachers and students can contribute to basic studies of the distribution, abundance, and incidence of deformity found in frogs and toads of the Upper Great Lakes region.
1. Teachers found the workshop training very helpful as it provided them with the necessary curriculum materials and ideas, knowledge, and enthusiasm for presenting a unit on “Frogs As Bio-Indicators” to their middle and high school classes.
2. All of the teachers reported that their students loved conducting the frog surveys!! The students enjoyed identifying the frog species and checking for deformities.
3. The teachers also enjoyed doing the frog surveys and many will continue to conduct surveys with subsequent classes.
4. In the U.P., it is a challenge to find survey times when froglets have matured and are just leaving the water, schools are in session, and the weather is conducive to amphibian activity.
5. Deformity rates are relatively low (about 1%) for some species at the sites surveyed in the western U.P.
1. Conduct Frogs As Bio-Indicators workshops for grade 5-12 teachers in the eastern U.P. and in the lower peninsula of Michigan to involve more teachers and students in the Frogs As Bio-Indicators issue.
2. Provide sampling equipment and curriculum materials in a notebook to workshop participants
3. Expand deformity sampling to eastern U.P. counties and the lower peninsula of Michigan.
4. Conduct intensive surveys on selected species to generate adequate sample sizes.
Publicity Related to This Project
§ Newspaper or newsletter articles:
Ø Deformed Frog Survey Workshop for 6-12 Educators workshop announcement in Northern Michigan University’s Glen T. Seaborg Center for the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics and Science Bulletin, April 1999.
Ø Kids looking for deformed frogs news article in Daily Mining Gazette (Houghton, MI - May 5, 1999)
Ø Area teachers go back to school for frog surveying 101 news article in Daily Mining Gazette (Houghton, MI - May 20, 1999)
Ø Something fishy about frogs—Area students help study frog deformities news article in Daily Mining Gazette (Houghton, MI – November 18, 1999)
§ Workshop flyer (distributed to all grade 6-12 science teachers in Houghton, Gogebic, Baraga, and Ontonagon Counties.
§ Summary of survey data and DNR report sent to:
Ø All participating teachers.
Ø North American Reporting Center for Amphibian Malformations (NARCAM).
Ø Robert Hay, Bureau of Endangered Resources, WI-DNR.
Ø Dr. Brent Graves, Northern Michigan University.
Ø Tony Murphy, Center for Global Environmental Education at Hamline University.
Ø Judy Helgen, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
Ø Dr. Jim Harding, Michigan State University.
Ø Cheryl Summer, Aquatic Biologist, Great Lakes Environmental Assessment Section, Surface Water Quality Division, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
§ Formal presentations conducted at:
Ø National Science Teachers’ annual convention in Orlando, FLA, April 6-9, 2000
Table 1. Summary of data from 19 sites and 10 schools
1 Species codes: Green Frog = GF; Mink Frog = MF; Spring Peeper = SP; Gray Tree Frog = GTF, Northern Leopard Frog = NLF; Wood Frog = WF; Pickerel Frog = PF; Bull Frog = BF; American Toad = AT.
Table 2. Total number of frogs and toads sampled in study, seasonal distribution of sampling, and deformity types.
1 Spring: 1 May– 15 June; Summer: 16 June – 31 August; Fall: 1 September – October 15.
2 Types of deformities found include: ML = Missing Limb, DL = Deformed Limb; MF = Missing Foot;
TL = Twisted Leg; ME = Missing Eye.