Interacting biocontrol programmes: invasive cane toads reduce rates of breakdown of cowpats by dung beetles



Ecological interactions among invasive species can affect not only the success of the invaders, but also their impact on ecosystems in the invaded range. In Australia, both dung beetles (subfamily Scarabaeinae) and cane toads (Rhinella marina) were introduced for biocontrol: the beetles to break down bovine faeces piles (cowpats) that otherwise accumulate and reduce pasture productivity, and the cane toad to consume scarab beetles that eat sugarcane and thus reduce sugar production. The dung beetles have been a success, whereas the toads have been a failure. Our experimental studies show that as well as impacting native fauna directly, cane toads reduce the rate of cowpat breakdown by consuming dung beetles. In the laboratory, dehydrated toads actively sought out cowpats based on scent cues, and in field enclosures, the presence of a cane toad significantly reduced rates of cowpat decomposition. Although toads have benefited from agricultural activities, their spread across Australia likely has reduced the effectiveness of one of the most successful biocontrol programmes ever conducted in that continent.