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University of Canberra scientist eavesdroping on frogs before they croak

University of Canberra scientists are harnessing mobile phone technology to eavesdrop on local frog populations before they croak.

But this is not your average spying racket. The conservation-focused project aims to reduce the time spent by ACT Frogwatch volunteers out in the field monitoring frog numbers.

The world-first project has brought together assistant professor in network and software engineering Kumudu Munasinghe, research associate Adrian Garrido Sanchis, and Anke Maria Hoefer from ACT Frogwatch. 

Dr Munasinghe likened what his team had built to humans and the waterways communicating via mobile phone.

"They dial a number from their phone or their home. The device [one the pond] automatically picks up and you can do real time listening." 

Recording can take place on the listener's side or the deployed deceives can be set up to record at specific times of day. 

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"Frog whisperers are spending many evening hours sitting near waterways listening for frog calls and keeping a tally of the various species they hear," Dr Munasinghe said.

"My project team and I have created an Internet of Things (IoT) network, which can transmit the frog calls in real time from a remote location to a volunteer's mobile phone, meaning they can carry out their monitoring wherever they are." 

The technology can be recalibrated to monitor species that communicate in infrasound and ultrasound, which the human ear cannot detect.

Dr Munasinghe said CSIRO has expressed interest in the prototype to assist with monitoring other endangered species.

"The best part is that this technology allows humans to pick up frequencies they wouldn't otherwise be able to," he said.

"We've developed a system that makes it possible to detect those calls and notify the people monitoring to ensure that nothing is missed."

Optus has offered its support for the project, granting access to its 4G network to hasten the transmission of data.

Ms Hoefer said frogs were a barometer for the health of their environments and a great deal of effort was put by close to 200 volunteers each year into monitoring their numbers in Canberra.

Having these technological ears in remote areas meant survey work could be done without significant safety concerns associated with volunteers navigating bushland areas at night. 

Remotely activating the gadgets also meant technical issues could be noticed and rectified quickly.

Along with support from Optus, the ACT government has provided the volunteer group with a $3000 grant for materials and Strathnairn Gallery have opened ponds surrounding the gallery to ACT Frogwatch volunteers. 

"ACT Frogwatch as it is stays, however this technology will take the program further by allowing us to do surveys in hard-to-reach and pristine areas without being out and about there," she said.