Decision-making for ex-situ conservation of Australian frogs PDF Print E-mail

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Project overview


In the face of the current biodiversity crisis, the complexity of factors affecting threatened species, from disease and habitat loss to climate change and invasive species, often means in-situ mitigation is not sufficient for successful recovery, and ex-situ conservation actions must be considered. However, their implementation requires a complex series of decisions, often constrained in time and budget.  From the decision of bringing a species into captivity to successfully re-establishing a wild population, several steps must be undertaken, each often associated with high resource requirements and high probability of failure.

This complexity is especially evident in the case of amphibian species: the global amphibian crisis has seen a progressive increase in the number of ESC programs for amphibians over the last twenty years, driven by the difficulty in mitigating many threats in-situ. Australia in particular has been identified as a hotspot of the global amphibian decline, with over 20% of the known species now threatened. However, to date few Australian frog species have been successfully bred in captivity and expertise is concentrated within few institutions. Indeed, as the number of endangered species keeps increasing, it is unlikely that resources will ever be available to establish and maintain captive colonies for all of them. An improved decision framework for ex-situ conservation of Australian amphibians is needed to identify better, more cost-effective strategies for species recovery at the state and national scale.


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The critically endangered Corroboree frog is rapidly approaching extinction in the wild: can the ongoing captive breeding program involving several Australian institutions lead to successful recovery of the species? (photo: Michael McFadden)


In this working group, we will combine leading experts in frog biology, captive management and reintroduction with several end-users at different governance levels. With assistance from experts in environmental decision analysis, we will use the group’s knowledge to:


(i) Assess the current status of ex-situ conservation for Australian amphibians, define its objectives and potential for the future and identify key decision points of ex-situ programs that influence their development and outcome.
(ii) Collate information from existing and past captive breeding programs for Amphibians and synthesize it in a predictive model of the probability of success in relation to species traits and characteristics of individual programs and institutions (e.g., resources invested, threats faced and institution commitment).
(iii) Identify priorities for decision-makers regarding species and actions and investigate the sensitivity of such priorities to future changes in species status, resources or techniques available.
(iv) Develop a decision-support tool for the ex-situ components of recovery plans for threatened amphibian species in Australia and worldwide.


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Tadpoles being reared at Taronga Zoo, New South Wales: available space can be one of the key limiting factors for captive breeding programs (photo: Michael McFadden)


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Live exhibit of Corroboree frogs at Taronga Zoo, New South Wales. In addition to direct conservation of species, zoo breeding programs can provide broader benefits such as education and fundraising (photo: Michael McFadden).


For more information about this Working Group please contact Principal Investigator: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


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Workshop Reports


Workshop 1 Report (27–30 May 2013)

The first workshop for our working group “Decision-making for Ex-situ Conservation of Australian Frogs” was held at the Women’s College, University of Queensland, at the end of May 2013. The set up and help by the ACEAS team was great and allowed us to really focus on our project.

Our group brings together quite an array of experts, including frog biologists, decision analysts and managers of captive programs, most of whom are also tasked with decision-making regarding amphibian and other wildlife conservation issues. The key question we aim to answer is: what is the most appropriate method to determine whether conservation strategies for a species should include ex-situ actions?

In a world of limited resources and competing conservation needs, decision-makers need to be able to clearly evaluate the potential contribution of ex-situ actions to species conservation. Not all threatened species will require ex-situ intervention to aid their recovery, and not all that do are equally likely to benefit from it. Since ex-situ actions can require a significant investment of resources by institutions and agencies, these resources should be allocated efficiently to maximize the results they can provide.

During this workshop we discussed the development of a simple method to directly estimate the benefit/investment ratio provided by conservation strategies including ex-situ actions, in comparison with strategies based on maintaining the status quo or focused on in-situ management alone.

This benefit must be measured in terms of the specific objectives of each program. On day two, we agreed that the fundamental objective of ex-situ actions is to contribute to the conservation of species in the wild. We then defined four major pathways through which ex-situ activities can contribute to in-situ conservation:


(i) Reintroduction and/or supplementation of wild populations
(ii) Research
(iii) Education and communication
(iv) Reduction of harvest pressure on wild populations


We discussed the relevance of maintaining a viable insurance population as an objective: when ex-situ actions are seen as means to in-situ conservation, insurance populations can be considered a component of the pathways above (for example, the viability of the insurance population will improve the likelihood of successful reintroduction).

The primary focus of this workshop was the integration of ex-situ breeding programs with in-situ release (point 1), although the potential of captive populations for research and community engagement (points 2 & 3) will be the focus of additional efforts, particularly regarding unforeseen learning opportunities, and the potential to leverage additional resources.

Day three of the workshop concentrated on a specific case study for an endangered frog species in Victoria, for which most of the uncertainty concerning ex-situ management has been resolved. Using a formal elicitation protocol, we began to discuss the return for investment for different combinations of ex- and in-situ strategies. The natural development of this type of problem, and the key contribution of this working group, will be the consideration of uncertainty surrounding the outcomes of the ex-situ components.

Over the coming months, we’ll refine the decision framework incorporating parametric uncertainty and empirical predictions of the effectiveness of ex-situ programs, and will apply this framework to a range of case studies. We will define how the potential contribution of captive populations to research and education can be approached as a value of information problem, where the value of the knowledge produced by research is quantified as the improvement in the effectiveness of actions it will provide. We will then integrate all of these aspects into a multi-species platform for prioritization for ex-situ conservation activities that can then be extended to other taxa and geographic areas.


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Decision-making for ex-situ conservation of frogs workshop 1 participants Left to right: Hugh Possingham (University of Queensland), Nick Clemann (Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research), Sarah Converse (United States Geological Survey), Mick McCarthy (University of Melbourne), Graeme Gillespie (NT Department of Land Resource Management) Chris Banks (Zoos Victoria), Gerry Marantelli (Amphibian Research Centre, VIC), Peter Latch (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities), Aimee Silla (University of Wollongong), Kay Bradfield (Perth Zoo), Michael McFadden (Taronga Conservation Society, NSW), Stefano Canessa (University of Melbourne), front: Matt West (Zoos Victoria/ University of Melbourne).


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Last Updated on Sunday, 08 February 2015 15:32