Gopher Frog Restoration

Gopher Frog Headstart Program

Gopher Frog Restoration in Georgia

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The Georgia Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife Resources Division along with the Atlanta Botanical Garden, Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center and The Nature Conservancy are working together to help restore Georgia's rarest frog species back to protected sites within its historical native range.

Background

Gopher frogs (Rana capito) are nearly endemic to the once-vast longleaf pine-wiregrass ecosystem of the Southeastern U.S. coastal plain. Largely due to the drastic loss of this ecosystem, as well as to the embedded isolated wetlands necessary for breeding and larval development, gopher frog populations have significantly declined throughout their range. Listed as "rare" in Georgia, extant populations in the state are known from only six sites. Because of the highly fragmented landscape throughout the gopher frog's historic range, it is very unlikely that the species will recolonize restored lands without the help of repatriation efforts.

Project Objective

The aim is to establish self-sustaining and manageable populations of gopher frogs on lands within their historic range that are currently devoid of the species but that have been restored to suitable habitat.

Project at a Glance

  • The goal is to establish a self-sustaining breeding population on protected land, The Nature Conservancys Williams Bluffs Preserve in Early County.
  • The site along the Chattahoochee River once had suitable habitat and probably gopher frogs. Then it was intensively farmed for cotton. The property has since been restored to its natural state: longleaf habitat and embedded wetlands.
  • Surveys over several years found no remnant gopher frog population.
  • Eggs are collected from breeding sites at Ichauway Plantation in Baker County, and Fall Line Sandhill Natural Area in Taylor County. Atlanta Botanical Garden raises tadpoles to near metamorphosis.
  • Fluorescent elastomer (rubber) injected under the skin on the thighs is used to mark legged tadpoles and metamorphs prior to release. The colored marker will identify returning breeders as members of a stocking class.
  • Stockings are planned annually for at least five years.

Pilot Recipient Site

The Nature Conservancy's Williams Bluffs Preserve, a 1,980-acre tract near Blakely in Early County, Ga., will serve as the sole recipient site for the first five years of releases. Historically, the majority of uplands at this site were made up of longleaf-pine wiregrass communities, but during the era of "king cotton" the landscape was transformed into agricultural fields that likely eliminated much of the native wildlife, possibly including gopher frogs. Since then, restoration efforts have resulted in a return to the historical natural conditions, albeit with a much younger forest. Embedded within the uplands are five limesink, ephemeral wetlands ideal for pond-breeding amphibians. Extensive visual surveys for amphibian egg masses, dip-netting surveys for larvae, and aural surveys using automated frog-loggers have revealed a diversity of species commonly associated with gopher frogs, but gopher frogs themselves were not detected. Because the habitats seem ideal for gopher frogs, and the site is protected in perpetuity and actively managed using prescribed fire, we believe it is an ideal site for a repatriation effort.


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