Former whale-watching guide turns attention to much smaller species

September 21, 2012 - 3:15am

Tegan Padgett was working as a whale-watching guide in Puerto Vallarta when she decided it was time to learn more about the natural world.

“I knew I’d like to work in the field of biology so I decided I’d go back to school,” said Padgett, who was born in Vancouver and grew up in Powell River.

“I like the combination of field work combined with lab work,” said Padgett, now in her fourth year at Vancouver Island University.

“Field work is always fun, especially when you are out on a lake looking at toads,” she said.

Padgett spent a lot of time looking at Western Toads over the summer as she worked with VIU Biology Technician Hitomi Kimura on a research project aimed at assessing the status of the species in central Vancouver Island.

Kimura has been observing Western Toad activity in the Morrell Lake area for several years. Over the past two years VIU’s Research Awards Committee has supported her project conducted in collaboration with the BC Ministry of the Environment and the Morrell Nature Sanctuary.

Kimura’s concern for the toad population has grown as she has noted a decline in tadpoles in the water and toadlets coming out of the lake later in their life cycle.

“We may be losing the population in the Nanaimo region,” said Kimura.

Padgett’s summer work-op project, funded through VIU’s Biology Department, was linked to Kimura’s through her research into the chytrid fungus which is suspected of transmitting a disease that threatens amphibians in many regions around the world.

“Chytrid fungus has been detected on bullfrogs in Buttertubs Marsh since 2008 and Western Toads in Morrell Lake recently so they may have something to do with the decline,” said Kimura.

Padgett’s lab work at VIU is aimed at growing a pure chytrid fungus culture that can be used to compare with fungus samples found in local waters.

“There’s a need for baseline information about the fungus and how it targets toads and other native amphibians,” said Padgett. “Amphibians are so sensitive to their environment, any information on things that are harming them is important to look into.”

Kimura suspects loss of habitat is the prime reason for the overall decline of amphibian populations in this region but increased knowledge about the chytrid fungus will help protect toads and other species.
Padgett is grateful for the opportunity to gain hands-on research experience dealing with an issue that is attracting worldwide attention.

“I’m very glad to be at VIU. I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to work so closely with my instructors and Hitomi at a bigger university.”

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