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Toxic, invasive treefrog creates evolutionary trap for native gartersnakes

Abstract

Possession of unique defensive toxins by nonindigenous species may increase the likelihood of creating evolutionary traps for native predators. We tested the hypothesis that nonindigenous, toxic Cuban Treefrogs (Osteopilus septentrionalis) have created an evolutionary trap for native, generalist snakes. Additionally, we explored the possibility that populations of snakes that co-occur with Cuban Treefrogs have responded in ways that allow them to escape potential trap dynamics. To evaluate a potential fitness cost of consuming Cuban Treefrogs, we monitored growth of 61 wild-caught Common Gartersnakes (Thamnophis sirtalis) fed exclusive diets of either Cuban Treefrogs, native Green Treefrogs (Hyla cinerea), or native Golden Shiners (Notemigonus crysoleucas). Snakes in the Cuban Treefrog diet treatment gained less than half the mass of those consuming native prey, and Cuban Treefrogs were significantly less digestible than native prey. There was no difference in the response of gartersnakes to prey scent cues of Cuban Treefrogs and Green Treefrogs. Our results indicate that Cuban Treefrogs likely represent an evolutionary trap for snakes because consumption of these frogs carries fitness costs, yet snakes fail to recognize this prey as being costly. We found no difference in growth or response to prey cues between snakes from invaded and non-invaded regions, suggesting snakes have not responded to escape trap dynamics. Interactions of native snakes and Cuban Treefrogs support the idea that introduced species with novel toxins may increase the likelihood of evolutionary trap formation.

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Acknowledgements

We thank B. Folt, J. Friars, A. Jenkins, S. Johnson, M. Miller, J. Stiles, and S. Stiles for assistance in the field and collection of study animals and R. Pudner for assistance with figures. We thank M. Mendonca and R. Reed for helpful comments on study design and D. Steen for constructive comments on this manuscript. Partial funding was provided by an Auburn University Natural History Collections Acquisition Grant to SG. All research was conducted in accordance with IACUC protocols (2013-2386, 2015-2659), Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Scientific Collecting Permit (8290), and Everglades National Park Scientific Research Permits (EVER-2012-SCI-0023, EVER-2013-SCI-0036, EVER-2014-SCI-0058).

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Correspondence to Scott M. Goetz.

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Goetz, S.M., Guyer, C., Boback, S.M. et al. Toxic, invasive treefrog creates evolutionary trap for native gartersnakes. Biol Invasions 20, 519–531 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-017-1554-6

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Keywords

  • Cuban Treefrogs
  • Evolutionary trap
  • Toxin
  • Predator–Prey
  • Invasive