Exploiting intraspecific competitive mechanisms to control invasive cane toads (Rhinella marina)

Michael R. Crossland, Takashi Haramura, Angela A. Salim, Robert J. Capon, Richard Shine

Abstract

If invasive species use chemical weapons to suppress the viability of conspecifics, we may be able to exploit those species-specific chemical cues for selective control of the invader. Cane toads (Rhinella marina) are spreading through tropical Australia, with negative effects on native species. The tadpoles of cane toads eliminate intraspecific competitors by locating and consuming newly laid eggs. Our laboratory trials show that tadpoles find those eggs by searching for the powerful bufadienolide toxins (especially, bufogenins) that toads use to deter predators. Using those toxins as bait, funnel-traps placed in natural waterbodies achieved near-complete eradication of cane toad tadpoles with minimal collateral damage (because most native (non-target) species are repelled by the toads' toxins). More generally, communication systems that have evolved for intraspecific conflict provide novel opportunities for invasive-species control.

  • Received April 13, 2012.
  • Accepted May 22, 2012.
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