Cane toad ecology and control

Project Leader: Prof Rick Shine, University of Sydney

Aim: To develop a detailed and quantitative picture of the impact of parasite infestation on the biology of feral cane toads.

Project:  5.t.1

Project summary

The spread of feral cane toads through tropical Australia has created major ecological problems, notably by increasing mortality rates of native predators. Thus, we need to find ways to reduce toad densities. Pathogens may play a significant role in affecting toad populations, but the ways in which the pathogens of Australian amphibians affect the behaviour and ecology of toads remains poorly understood. This project will experimentally manipulate parasite (helminth) infestations and examine resultant effects on toad behaviour.

The project aims to develop a detailed and quantitative picture of the impact of parasite infestation on the biology of feral cane toads. More specifically, the project will determine whether infestation by helminths changes a toad’s body condition, activity levels, feeding behaviour and locomotor performance. This will be done by experimentation, to ensure a direct test of causality (because correlations between pathogen levels and toad fitness could arise in many ways, mostly indirect): that is, we will see whether or not experimentally-induced elevations in parasite (lungworm) infestation affect significant behavioural and ecological traits of cane toads. Information on these topics is directly relevant to hypotheses that pathogens can influence the viability of individual toads, as well as the rate of migration of toads into previously unoccupied areas.

Key achievements

  • The parasites have been shown to strongly affect the survival, growth and speed of small toads, but had no measurable effect on adult toads.

Project team

Prof Rick Shine, Jonathan Webb, John Llewelyn, Crystal Kelehear.

Project partners

IA CRC, University of Sydney, James Cook University.

Further information

Alford R A, Schwarzkopf L, Brown GP, Phillips BK and R Shine (2006) Characteristics of Bufo marinus in old and recently established populations. pp. 42-46 in Proceedings of the Cane Toad Workshop, Invasive Animals CRC, Brisbane June 2006.

Shine R, Brown GP, Phillips BL, Webb JK and M Hagman (2006) The biology, impact and control of cane toads: an overview of the University of Sydney’s research program. pp. 18-32 in Proceedings of the Cane Toad Workshop, Invasive Animals CRC, Brisbane June 2006.

Dubey S and Shine R (2008) Origin of the parasites of an invading species, the Australian cane toad (Bufo marinus): are the lungworms Australian or American? Molecular Ecology 17:4418-4424.

Saunders G, Cooke B, McColl K, Shine R and Peacock T (2009). Modern approaches for the biological control of vertebrate pests: An Australian perspective (In Press).

Kelehar C, Webb JK, Shine, R (2009) Rhabdias pseudosphaerocephala infection in Bufo marinus: lung nematodes reduce viability of metamorph cane toads. Parasitology. 136: 919-927.

For further information, contact us.