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Frogs and Toads: FGCU Professor’s 25-year quest to decode Southwest Florida’s amphibian symphony

Posted at 1:28 AM, May 25, 2024

FORT MYERS, Fla. — For 25 years, Dr. Wynn Everham, a professor of ecology and environmental studies at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU), has been dedicated to monitoring frog and toad populations in Southwest Florida. This long-term project is part of the Southwest Florida Frog Watch, covering 23 different routes in Collier, Lee, and Charlotte counties.

“We’ve been keeping track of population changes in frog and toad species in this part of Southwest Florida,” said Everham. “Frogs and toads have some part of their life cycle completely connected to the water. If we have the right amount of water and clean water, then we’d expect to have healthy populations of frogs and toads. If we don’t have enough water or if we’re not managing it well, then the frogs and toads would be this indicator, this canary in the coal mine.”

Everham noted that while populations of native species on their monitoring routes seem to be holding up, there has been an increase in exotic species. “The Cuban tree frog and the marine toad or the cane toad, we call those invasive exotic species because they have a negative impact. And then there’s another exotic species, the greenhouse frog, which we don’t seem to have any evidence yet that it’s having a negative impact.”

Taylor Hancock, an FGCU alum and Frog Watch volunteer since 2016, shared his experiences and how Frog Watch has shaped his career path. “I actually learned about this taking Dr. Wynn Everham’s scientific process course. Through that, it was a summer course. That’s when we do Frog Watch. And he just announced to the class, ‘Hey, I go out once a month, third Wednesday of the month, and we just listen to frogs and go out all night. And if that sounds fun to you, come on out.’ And that sounded fun to me.”

Hancock reminisced about his first Frog Watch outing, highlighting the diversity of wildlife they encountered. “We saw tons and tons of wildlife everywhere. Frogs, we found this really big softshell snapping turtle, probably about like yay big, underneath a wildlife underpass, under a road, and that really stuck with me.”

Dr. Everham emphasized the importance of these monitoring efforts for both scientific and community reasons. “Bringing people out into places in Southwest Florida at night, that excitement of discovery, that sense of wonder is collectively the best thing over the last 25 years. It happens almost every night we come out.”

Frog Watch is open to anyone interested, not just FGCU students and professors.

“Even if you don’t know what the frogs sound like, or you don’t know what call is what, that’s part of what this experience is. To come out here, find your own sense of place, and learn about what’s outside of your home in the wilds of Southwest Florida," said Hancock.

For more information about Southwest Florida Frog Watch and how to get involved, visit their website.