Scientists are shocked when toads climb trees in UK forests — ScienceDaily

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Volunteers who were surveying bats and dormice in trees discovered over 50 common toads nesting in tree cavities and nest boxes at least 1.5m high.

Common toads had been considered terrestrial up until now. Scientists believe the toads may be venturing higher than three metres above a tree, which was the highest recorded toad in the study.

This is the first time the amphibian tree climbing potential has been examined at a national level.

This surprising discovery was made as part of the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme (NDMP) and the Bat Tree Habitat key project.

Froglife and University of Cambridge conducted the research. They were supported by People’s Trust for Endangered Species, a wildlife charity. The journal has published it today. PLOS ONE.

Dr Silviu Petrovan (Senior Researcher at Froglife) said that the study was the first to be published. “This is an exciting finding and important for our understanding of ecology and conservation of commontoads, one of the most abundant and widespread European amphibians.”

He stated that while common toads are known to prefer woodlands as a foraging and wintering habitat, it seems their relationship with trees may be more complex than previously thought.

Common toads can be described as terrestrial amphibians. They spend time on land and in the water during breeding. Only a few common toads have been seen in trees in the UK.

Common toads and UK amphibians have not been surveyed in trees. This is in contrast to bat and mouse surveys, which are specifically focused on this habitat. This study shows how important it is to share data among conservation organizations representing different species. It also highlights the fact that there are many things to learn about wildlife in Britain, even species you may already know.

Nida al-Fulaij is the Conservation Research Manager at PTES. She said, “We couldn’t believe what found. While we are used to seeing small mammals and woodland birds in nest boxes, we didn’t think of amphibians.

During surveys of nest boxes for hazel dormouses (located 1.5m above the ground) and tree cavities that bats use, over 50 common toads were discovered.

Many of the cavities were small and not easily visible from the ground. It is therefore unclear how toads find them, or how difficult it is to climb certain trees.

Toads weren’t found in tree holes or boxes with other species. However, they were found using nests made from dormice or birds.

Although 50 records are not very many, they are comparable to other animals who use trees often — like blue tits. This suggests that toads are spending more time in trees, than previously believed. This means that common toads can be found in as many as one out of every 100 trees in the UK, in areas with favorable conditions, such a proximity to large ponds and lakes.

This discovery suggests that tree cavities may be a more important ecological feature to conservationists than previously believed. This highlights the importance for wildlife conservation, particularly of older trees with veteran characteristics (e.g. hollows, cracks, or other natural cavities).

Froglife research showed that common toads had declined by 68% in the UK over the past 30 year.

It is unknown why toads climb trees and use nest boxes. Some factors include hunting for food, avoiding predators and evading parasites like the toad fly.

Petrovan said that future targeted research would allow scientists to better understand the causes of tree-climbing behavior in toads and how woodland management should be influenced by it.

Froglife asks members of the general public to log any sightings of amphibians within trees on their Dragon Finder App. You can also contact them directly.

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