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Reading Passage 1

You should spend about 20 minutes on Questions 1-13 which are based on this passage.


Frogwatch, a remarkable success story started in Western Australia, is the brainchild of Dr. Ken Aplin. His work, as the curator of reptiles and frogs in the Western Australian Museum, invoked long field trips and he wondered if a community-based frog-rmonitoring network could help him keep track of frogs. Through such a network, ordinary untrained members of the community could learn about frog habitats, observe the numbers and kinds of frogs in their local area, and report this information to the museum.

'Launched in 1995, Frogwatch recently gained its 3221st member, and many people say that this is the best thing the museum has ever done. Each participant receives a ‘Frogwatch Kit’ - a regular newsletter, an audio tape of frog calls and identification sheets. Recently, Frogwatch membership increased dramatically when a mysterious parasitic fungus disease began attacking frogs nationwide. Although research is yet incomplete, scientists suspect the fungus originated overseas, perhaps in South America, where frogs have died in catastrophic numbers from a fungus disease genetically similar to the Australian organism.

Researchers in Western Australia needed to know how widespread the infection was in the state’s frog populations. So Aplin sent an ‘F-file’ (frog fungus facts) alert to Frogwatch members, requesting their help. He asked them to deliver him dead or dying frogs. More than 2,000 frogs have now been examined, half from the museum’s existing collection. Aplin once thought the fungus had arrived in Western Australia in only the past year or two, but tests now suggest it has been there since the late 1980s.

Frogwatch has proved to be Abe perfect link to the public and Aplin has become a total convert to community participation. He’s now aiming for a network of 15,000 Frogwatch members as the museum can’t afford to use professional resources to monitor frog populations. Much of the frog habitat is on private land, and without community support, monitoring the frogs would be impossible.

Not everyone is convinced by the ‘feelgood' popularity of Frogwatch. While Aplin believes even tiny backyard ponds can help to significantly improve frog numbers, Dr. Dale Roberts isn’t so sure, A senior zoology lecturer at the University of WA, Roberts agrees the program has: tapped into the public’s enthusiasm for frogs, but he warns that strong public awareness does not amount to sound science.

He argues that getting the public to send in pages of observations is a good thing, but giving these reports credibility may not be valid scientifically. In addition, he’s not convinced that Frogwatch’s alarmist message about the danger of fungal infection is valid either. In Western Australia, for example, there was a long summer and very, late drenching rains, that year, following two equally dry years. So, he argues, there are other things that might have precipitated the deaths. He questions what could be done about it anyway. If it’s already widespread, it may not be worth the cost and effort of doing anything about it. Even if it’s causing high death rates, he says he can still find every frog species found over the past ten years in the south-west of Australia.

Roberts argues that Western Australia is different. Unlike most other states, species are still being discovered there; the disappearances of frog types in Queensland and New South Wales, are not occurring in Western Australia, although three south-west species are on the endangered list. Roberts believes that no amount of garden ponds in Perth will help those species, which live in isolated habitats targeted for development.

Aplin’s response is that increasing the number of frog-friendly habitats is important for the very reason that many Western Australian frog species are found in small, highly restricted locations. He argues that pesticide-free gardens and ponds can offer a greater chance of survival to animals battling habitat disturbance, environmental pollutants, climatic variations, and now fungal disease. Aplin’s opinion is that they should use the precautionary principle in cases where they don’t yet know enough about the situation. Usually diseases sort themselves out naturally and some frog fauna will co-evolve with the fungus. Given time some balance may be restored, but in the shorter term, they are seeing negative impacts.

The nationwide spread of the chytrid fungus is being mapped by Dr. Rick Speare, a specialist in amphibian disease at James Cook University. Speare also tests the accuracy of' Aplin’s fungus diagnoses and says Frogwatch is ‘an amazing and under-acknowledged system ... the best program in Australia for harnessing public interest in frog biology... There are a lot of eyes out there looking for dead or sick frogs, beyond the power of any biologist to collect.’

Aplin argues that they should never underestimate the importance of' having a community base, especially when governments want to cut research funds, ‘People can protest in ways that a handful of scientists hiding in a laboratory can’t do. For just about every environmental problem, community involvement is fundamental.’ Furthermore, Frogwatch is proving to be a social phenomenon as much as anything else. It seems ordinary people know that frogs are a measure of the environment’s health.

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