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A review of ecological interactions between native frogs and invasive cane toads in Australia



Translocated from their native range in the Americas in 1935, cane toads (Rhinella marina, Bufonidae) have now spread through much of tropical and subtropical Australia. The toad's invasion and impact have attracted detailed study. In this paper, I review information on ecological interactions between cane toads and Australian anurans. The phylogenetic relatedness and ecological similarity between frogs and toads creates opportunities for diverse interactions, ranging from predation to competition to parasite transfer, plus a host of indirect effects mediated via impacts of toads on other species, and by people's attempts to control toads. The most clear-cut effect of toads on frogs is a positive one: reducing predator pressure by fatally poisoning anuran-eating varanid lizards. However, toads also have a wide range of other effects on frogs, some positive (e.g. taking up parasites that would otherwise infect native frogs) and others negative (e.g. eating frogs, poisoning frogs, competing with tadpoles). Although information on such mechanisms predicts intense interactions between toads and frogs, field surveys show that cane toad invasion has negligible overall impacts on frog abundance. That counter-intuitive result is because of a broad balancing of negative and positive impacts, coupled with stochastic (weather-induced) fluctuations in anuran abundance that overwhelm any impacts of toads. Also, the impacts of toads on frogs differ among frog species and life-history stages, and depend upon local environmental conditions. The impacts of native frogs on cane toads have attracted much less study, but may well be important: frogs may impose biotic resistance to cane toad colonization, especially via competition in the larval phase. Overall, the interactions between native frogs and invasive toads illustrate the diverse ways in which an invader's arrival can perturb the native fauna by both direct and indirect mechanisms, and by which the native species can curtail an invader's success. These studies also offer a cautionary tale about the difficulty of predicting the impact of an invasive species, even with a clear understanding of mechanisms of direct interaction.