FIRE FOR FROGS: USING PLANNED BURNS TO SAVE THE HABITAT OF THE CRITICALLY ENDANGERED ROUGH MOSS FROG

Alouise Lynch, Bionerds, alouise.lynch@bionerds.co.za
Jeanne Tarrant, EWT Threatened Amphibian Programme Manager, jeannet@ewt.org.za
Kier Lynch, Bionerds, Keir.lynch@bionerds.co.za

The Klein Swartberg Mountain towers above the town of Caledon in the Western Cape of South Africa amidst a field of agricultural development. This lone mountain is home to the only known populations of the Critically Endangered (IUCN Red List 2016) Rough Moss Frog, a minuscule amphibian species that requires moist mountain seeps to breed. These habitats are severely at risk from encroaching alien pine infestations threatening to dry out these crucial habitats.

The Endangered Wildlife Trust’s (EWT) Threatened Amphibian Programme (TAP) included the Rough Moss Frog as a species of conservation priority given its endemicity, high level of threat, and known population decline (IUCN Red List 2016).

1. Rough Moss Frog, Arthroleptella rugosa – Critically Endangered species known only from Kleinswartberg Mountain

During initial surveys conducted by EWT in May 2020, we observed a marching forest of alien vegetation engulfing the then only known population of Rough Moss Frogs. It became evident that rapid intervention, in the form of an ecological burn, was needed to save and secure this population. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 epidemic halted all efforts to implement any interventions in 2020. The Rapid Action Grant from the IUCN Save Our Species and the European Union awarded to this project in May 2021 will be used to create a firebreak around the Rough Moss Frog populations in the coming months. Thereafter, in early 2022, a controlled ecological fire will be used to manage the aliens. The subsequent clearing of pines will create job opportunities for local alien vegetation clearing teams from the Caledon community.

In July 2021, we held stakeholder engagement meetings and conducted a site visit with the EWT, Enviro Wildfire, the Fynbos Trust, the Klein Swartberg Conservancy, Overberg Agri, and Bionerds to establish the placement of the firebreaks on the Klein Swartberg Mountain. We made an exciting discovery of a new population of Rough Moss Frogs during the site visit, further emphasising the importance of this rapid intervention!

2. Meeting on-site with Keir Lynch (Bionerds), Johan du Plessis (EWT), and Oliver Angus (Honours student from Stellenbosch who monitors the species)

This project is funded by the IUCN Save Our Species and the European Union. The IUCN Save our Species aims to improve the long-term survival prospects of threatened species. It also focuses on supporting the species’ habitats and working with the communities sharing this habitat. It achieves success by funding and coordinating conservation projects across the globe. The Member States of the European Union have decided to combine their know-how, resources, and destinies. Together, they have built a zone of stability, democracy, and sustainable development whilst maintaining cultural diversity, tolerance, and individual freedoms. The European Union is committed to sharing its achievements and values with countries and peoples beyond its borders.

3. The massive pine infestation on the southern slopes of the Kleinswartberg – for which fire management will be implemented between now and March 2022, with the support from IUCN SOS Rapid Action Grant

This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union through IUCN Save Our Species. Its contents are the sole responsibility of <name of author/grantee> and do not necessarily reflect the views of IUCN or the European Union.

4. Monitoring the Rough Moss frog using acoustic arrays to estimate density