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Keywords:

  • Bufo marinus;
  • fish;
  • impact;
  • invasive species;
  • turtle

Abstract

Invasive species affect native ecosystems in a variety of ways, and the magnitude of impact may depend upon many factors. In an invading species such as the cane toad (Bufo marinus), the multiphasic life history creates a potential for impact to differ between life history stages. Previous research on the impact of cane toads in Australia has focused on fatal poisoning of predators that ingest terrestrial stages of the toad, but aquatic stages (eggs, larvae) are toxic also. We exposed nine native Australian fish species and one native Australian turtle species to the eggs and larvae of toads. Strong species differences were evident, both in palatability (propensity to attack the egg or larva), and in subsequent responses (e.g. taste and reject the item, vs. ingest it). Toad eggs were less likely than toad tadpoles to be attacked, but also less likely to be rejected before ingestion (probably because the non-toxic jelly coat masks the presence of toxins in the ovum). As a result, predators were far more likely to be killed by ingesting toad eggs than toad tadpoles. Fortuitously, the spatial and temporal availability of toad egg masses restricts encounter rates with predators, so that overall ecological impact may be low despite the high vulnerability of a fish or turtle that encounters such an egg mass. Understanding such ontogenetic shifts in the nature of interactions and magnitude of impact is crucial if we are to understand the overall ecological impact of invasive species.