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  • Position: University Professor, University of Otago.
    Field: Conservation biology.

    Dr Phil Bishop was a professor and head of the zoology department at the University of Otago. As a herpetologist, he specialised in amphibian biology and was actively involved in frog conservation. Phil collaborated with students and scientists around Aotearoa New Zealand as well as internationally.

    Rights: The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato

    Dr Phil Bishop

    Dr Phil Bishop's work included trying to work out the exact environmental conditions that will help New Zealand's native frog species in captivity.

    Our planet is on loan from the children of the future, and we need to make sure that it is in a really good state when we hand it back to our children, so that they can pass it back to their children!

    Phil’s passion for frogs began when he was 4 years old. Growing up, he kept frogs and toads as pets at his home in the UK. This early fascination led him to study zoology and parasitology at Cardiff University. During his PhD and many years spent in South Africa, Phil had a lot of adventures, including close encounters with crocodiles and hippos during his field work!

    Rights: Debbie Bishop

    Close encounter

    Phil Bishop having a close encounter with a white-lipped tree frog (Litoria infrafrenata) in Port Douglas, Tropical North Queensland, Australia. These are the world’s largest tree frogs.

    A lot of Phil’s research in South Africa focused on frog communication (frogs were the first animal to use airborne sound to communicate!). When he found out that New Zealand frogs communicate without using any sounds, he became very curious about our native frogs. This curiosity led Phil to Aotearoa New Zealand where he began studying the chemical communication in our native frogs. This was interesting work, but Phil discovered that these frogs were fast disappearing. He then started to research frog conservation and frog diseases. This led him to become passionate about saving these unique animals from extinction.

    Frog disease in captivity

    ​Dr Phil Bishop talks about his research into metabolic bone disease. This disease only affects captive frogs, and the cure involves an elaborate UV tanning booth made especially to suit our native frogs.

    Phil’s work involved teaching university students about ecology, biodiversity, and conservation. When he was not teaching, he was busy ‘playing’ with his frogs. This was the part of his job that he really enjoyed as it involved researching ways of improving the future prospects of amphibians in Aotearoa New Zealand as well as in the rest of the world.

    Rights: The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato

    Dr Phil Bishop

    Dr Phil Bishop was based in the Department of Zoology at the University of Otago. This photo shows him working in one of the frog research laboratories.

    Phil was previously the Chief Scientist of the Amphibian Survival Alliance (ASA) and co-Chair of the IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group (ASG) until he stood down to take up leadership of the Department of Zoology at the University of Otago.

    Professor Phil Bishop passed away on 23 January 2021. Read his obituaries from the Amphibian Survival Alliance. Since his untimely death, there have been two frog species named in his honour, Leiopelma bishopi and Stumpffia bishopi.

    Related content

    In Investigating frog disease read about Phil's research into metabolic bone disease and chytrid fungus in native frogs. This work is important for captive management and conservation of frogs.

    Watch this video clip, Threats to frogs, in which Dr Phil Bishop talks about the threats facing Aotearoa New Zealand native frogs.

    Useful links​​

    Read more about Phil Bishop’s and frog research on the NZFROG website.

    New Zealand Journal of Ecology Vol 2, 2023 published a special issue dedicated to the late Phil Bishop, focussing on Aotearoa New Zealand's unique and often overlooked native frogs/pepeketua which he cared so deeply about.

    Frog Log, (Vol 28, Number 2), Issue 123, December 2021 included a special edition 'Remembering Phil Bishop', there was a wide range of contributions about the impact Phil had on so many people in his life.

    Watch this 2017 interview on YouTube with Phil covering his work, how he got into frog research and some key discoveries he's made.

    This article is based on information current in 2010 and updated in 2023.

      Published 27 January 2010, Updated 15 September 2023 Referencing Hub articles
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