Researching risks to Haida Gwaii’s only native toad

Islanders invited to send photos to help ecological study.

Tahayghen students totally know their tadpoles.

When Tahayghen students in Grades 2 to 4 met with PhD student Roseanna Gamlen-Greene last week to talk about Haida Gwaii’s Western toads, it was clear they had all done their homework.

“Do you think the toads actually still spray toxin out of their glands?” asked Nora-Jane Edenshaw.

“That is such a good question,” said Gamlen-Greene.

“On the mainland they do, but no one has tested if the Haida Gwaii toad does that.”

As the only indigenous amphibian on Haida Gwaii, Gamlen-Greene said it’s possible that over thousands of years, Haida Gwaii’s Western toads gradually dropped their chemical defences.

For her PhD research into amphibians’ freshwater invasion ecology and conservation biology at UBC, Gamlen-Greene is trying to find out if Haida Gwaii toads are declining on Graham Island and if so, why?

Haida frog clan stories say they’ve been here since time immemorial, and some mention the toad’s defensive toxins.

Some Haida elders say the toads were more common near the villages when they were growing up. Across B.C., Western toads are listed as a species of special concern.

One possibility is that the toads on Haida Gwaii are losing their breeding sites and food to one or both of the introduced frog species now on island — tree frogs (also known as Pacific chorus frogs) and northern red-legged frogs.

Of the two, the larger and more recently arrived red-leggeds pose the likeliest competition. They may be decreasing toad tadpole growth rates, or even eating them.

That possibility was not a big shock to the Tahayghen students, who told a grisly tale about the tree-frog tadpoles they kept in class this year.

“At school, we used to have five, and now we have one,” said one girl.

“One ate one, and then another one ate the other one. And then another ate that one, and then the one that was left ate the other one.”

Other possible reasons why the Western toad may be declining include climate change and habitat degradation.

As part of her experiment, Gamlen-Greene has set up artificial outdoor habitats for over 1,000 toad and red-legged frog tadpoles to find trends in how the species interact.

She is also busy in the field, trying to find areas in lakes and ponds where all three species overlap, as well as the breeding sites of the Haida Gwaii toad.

Several Haida Gwaiians have recently emailed Gamlen-Greene photos of the toads near Tow Hill, Port Clements, and Mayer Lake, but finding the breeding sites they came from involves searching hundreds of little ponds.

“These toads are kind of like salmon — they come back to the same breeding sites every year,” Gamlen-Greene explained to the students.

“There might be only 10 to 15 breeding sites for toads on Graham Island, whereas the frogs have thousands,” she added, noting that there are about that many known sites in all of Gwaii Haanas.

“To conserve toads, we need to make sure we found out where all those places are, and make sure we look after them.”

At the two breeding sites Gamlen-Greene has identified so far, she has set up motion-activated cameras to see what might be preying on the toad tadpoles — a list that likely includes native species, such as Sandhill Cranes, as well as invasive raccoons.

To help, islanders are welcome to send their photos of Haida Gwaii toads with a date and location to roseanna.gamlen.greene@gmail.com.

“I’m so grateful to everyone who has sent me toad locations — keep it up!” she said. “It really helps me narrow down the area in which to search for toad breeding sites.”

 

Roseanna Gamlen-Greene/Submitted A large toad with small round or oval “warts” on its back, sides, and limbs, the Western toad is usually brown or green but can vary from olive green to nearly reddish-brown or black. Here, a toad enjoys a boggy spot on Haida Gwaii.

Just Posted

Rediscovery co-founder Thom Henley returns to Haida Gwaii with new memoir

Henley to speak in Old Massett Thursday night and in Queen Charlotte on Friday

Overnight fire destroys home in Tlell

Tlell firefighters are having a busy year

Crime Stoppers launches across Haida Gwaii

They aren’t the police, and they don’t want to know who you… Continue reading

Queen Charlotte set for first election contest since 2011

Candidates Alan Moore and Devin Rachar to join a friendly debate Thursday night at Junebug Café

Fentanyl crisis reaches Haida Gwaii

Leaders respond after one person nearly dies from Haida Gwaii’s first suspected fentanyl overdose

100,000 bulbs shine bright for Lights of Hope

St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver launched its annual campaign to raise funds for equipment, research

Pine beetles from Jasper National Park moving into commercial forest

In 2014, beetle activity went from a few spots around Jasper’s townsite to rampant

VIDEO: Tragically Hip members, Alex Trebek receive Order of Canada

Newest recipients join 6,897 Canadians such as Christine Sinclair, Graham Greene and Mark Messier

AC/DC’s Malcolm Young dies at 64

‘Malcolm was a songwriter, guitarist, performer, producer and visionary who inspired many.’

‘I will now live in consistent fear’: Allan Schoenborn granted escorted leaves

The Merritt man was deemed not criminally responsible in the killing of his three children in 2008

Hammy the deer dodges conservation officers in Prince Rupert

The famous Prince Rupert hammock deer maintains his purple threads

‘No shirt, no service, no Canada’

Shirtless Tacoma man arrested after Canadian border officials say they found meth in rental vehicle

Nasty note on B.C. windshield sparks online outrage

Vernon’s Bailey McDonald is using a painful experience to start conversation about invisible illness

Federal funding to combat guns, gangs and opioid crisis

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said illicit drugs are often main cause of guns, gangs violence

Most Read