The Effects of Conspecific Alarm Cues on Larval Cane Toads (Rhinella marina)

  • Michael R. Crossland
  • Angela A. Salim
  • Robert J. Capon
  • Richard ShineEmail author


Many aquatic organisms detect and avoid damage-released cues from conspecifics, but the chemical basis of such responses, and the effects of prolonged exposure to such cues, remain poorly understood. Injured tadpoles of the cane toad (Rhinella marina) produce chemical cues that induce avoidance by conspecific tadpoles; and chronic exposure to those cues decreases rates of tadpole survival and growth, and reduces body size at metamorphosis. Such effects suggest that we might be able to use the cane toads’ alarm cue for biocontrol of invasive populations in Australia. In the present study, we examined behavioral and ecological effects of compounds that are present in cane toad tadpoles and thus, might trigger avoidance of crushed conspecifics. Four chemicals (L-Arg, L-Leu-L-Leu-OH, L-Leu-L-Ile-OH and suberic acid) induced behavioral avoidance in toad tadpoles at some (but not all) dosage levels, so we then exposed toad larvae to these chemicals over the entire period of larval development. Larval survival and size at metamorphosis were decreased by chronic exposure to crushed conspecifics (consistent with earlier studies), but not by exposure to any of the four chemicals. Indeed, L-Arg increased body size at metamorphosis. We conclude that the behavioral response to crushed conspecifics by cane toad tadpoles can be elicited by a variety of chemical cues, but that consistent exposure to these individual chemical cues does not affect tadpole viability or developmental trajectory. The optimal behavioral tactic of a tadpole may be to flee if it encounters even a single chemical cue likely to have come from an injured conspecific (indicative of predation risk), whereas the continuing presence of that single chemical (but no others) provides a less reliable signal of predation risk. Our data are consistent with results from studies on fish, that suggest a role for multiple chemicals in initiating alarm responses to damage-released cues.


Amphibia Bufonidae Bufo marinus Life-history Pheromone Tadpole 



We thank the Australian Research Council for supporting this research, and Michelle Franklin for assistance with behavioral assays.

Supplementary material

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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Life and Environmental Sciences A08University of SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Division of Chemistry and Structural Biology, Institute for Molecular BioscienceUniversity of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  3. 3.Department of Biological SciencesMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia

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