Amphibian Conservation Champion Phil Bishop Dies
Amphibian Conservation Champion Phil Bishop Dies

Amphibian Conservation Champion Phil Bishop Dies

His career was dedicated to understanding and protecting frog populations.

Lisa Winter
Feb 4, 2021

ABOVE: COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OF OTAGO

After a brief illness and under hospice care, Phil Bishop, a zoology professor at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, and a globally renowned champion of amphibian conservation, died on January 23. He was 63 years old.

Rob Gandola, the senior science officer for the Herpetological Society of Ireland, tells The Scientist that Bishop “was a gentleman and an incredible scientist with an unparalleled and infectious enthusiasm for the amphibians of the world, and their conservation. He will be sorely missed.”

Bishop, who was born in Devon in southern England, attended University College Cardiff (now known as Cardiff University) in Wales for his undergraduate degree in zoology and stayed at the institution to get his master’s in parasitology, graduating in 1980. His PhD research in zoology was done at the University of the Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg, South Africa. There, he studied a variety of aspects of frog behavior, with his thesis on the social aspects of the chorus of frog mating calls, including intensity and duration, and how the female frogs responded. 

See “Untangling the Social Webs in Frog Choruses

In 1997, Bishop came to the University of Otago as a lecturer, where he continued to investigate frog communication and behavioral ecology, along with diseases that threaten frog populations and other factors affecting their conservation. He became the director of the ecology program in 2015, serving until 2019.

Bishop’s passion for conservation outreach extended beyond the lab and he took on leadership roles in a variety of international organizations. He served as the chief scientist for the Amphibian Survival Alliance, led the New Zealand Frog Research Group and was cochair of the Amphibian Specialist Group, which is part of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Species Survival Commission. These organizations provide data for the IUCN Red List, which is largely the gold standard for conservation status.

Over the years, he penned more than 100 research articles that ran the gamut of topics affecting frog conservation, including communication biology and disease. He also wrote many articles about what humans can do to protect amphibians in the face of climate change and lost or fragmented habitats. 

Bishop was a powerful communicator and passionate about teaching others the roles frogs play in their ecosystems. He lectured around the world, showing people how interesting frogs are and why they are worth saving. Via Twitter, Bishop would occasionally tweet out the “frog of the day,” including a picture and fact about frogs from all over the world, typically highlighting a quirky characteristic that made them endearing.

In its tribute to Bishop after his passing, the Amphibian Survival Alliance vows that: “His work for amphibians does not end. The flame of his life and passion has not been extinguished but will continue to shine brighter in everything we do from this day forward.”

Bishop is survived by his wife, Debbie, and two sons, Adam and Luke.