Predation on invasive cane toads (Rhinella marina) by native Australian rodents

Abstract

The success of an invasive species can be reduced by biotic resistance from the native fauna. For example, an invader that is eaten by native predators is less likely to thrive than one that is invulnerable. The ability of invasive cane toads (Rhinella marina) to spread through Australia has been attributed to the toad’s potent defensive chemicals that can be fatal if ingested by native snakes, lizards, marsupials and crocodiles. However, several taxa of native insects and birds are resistant to cane toad toxins. If native rodents are also capable of eating toads (as suggested by anecdotal reports), these large, abundant and voracious predators might reduce toad numbers. Our field observations and laboratory trials confirm that native rodents (Melomys burtoni, Rattus colletti and Rattus tunneyi) readily kill and consume cane toads (especially small toads), and are not overtly affected by toad toxins. Captive rodents did not decrease their consumption of toads over successive trials, and ate toads even when alternative food types were available. In combination with anecdotal reports, our data suggest that rodents (both native and invasive) are predators of cane toads in Australia. Despite concerns about the decline of rodents following the invasion of toads, our data suggest that the species we studied are not threatened by toads as toxic prey, and no specific conservation actions are required to ensure their persistence.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Lígia Pizzatto, Matt Greenlees, Gregory P. Brown, Joanna Barstow and Rick Lewis for providing field observations of dead toads killed by rodents; Thomas Madsen for advice; Christopher Dickman for confirming rodent identification; Z. Anahí Ávila, Michelle Franklin, Lauren Brown, Kate George, Bill Stewart, and Myfanwy Webb for assistance in the field; Eric Cox, Grant and Lea Hamilton for allowing access to Beatrice Hill Farm, and Melanie Elphick for help in figures preparation. The Northern Territory Land Corporation provided facilities. The work was funded by the Australian Research Council, the Australian Government, the National Council on Science and Technology of Mexico (CONACyT), the Department of Parks and Wildlife (WA), and the University of Sydney. All procedures were approved by the University of Sydney Animal Ethics Committee (Approval Numbers: L04/5-2007/3/4514 and L04/4-2011/2/5472).

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Correspondence to Elisa Cabrera-Guzmán.

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Communicated by J. Jacob.

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Cabrera-Guzmán, E., Crossland, M.R., Pearson, D. et al. Predation on invasive cane toads (Rhinella marina) by native Australian rodents. J Pest Sci 88, 143–153 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10340-014-0586-2

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Keywords

  • Alien species
  • Biotic resistance
  • Bufo marinus
  • Rhinella marina
  • Predation
  • Toxin resistance