A genetic perspective on rapid evolution in cane toads (Rhinella marina)

Lee A. Rollins*, Mark F. Richardson, Richard Shine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

100 Citations (Scopus)


The process of biological invasion exposes a species to novel pressures, in terms of both the environments it encounters and the evolutionary consequences of range expansion. Several invaders have been shown to exhibit rapid evolutionary changes in response to those pressures, thus providing robust opportunities to clarify the processes at work during rapid phenotypic transitions. The accelerating pace of invasion of cane toads (Rhinella marina) in tropical Australia during its 80-year history has been well characterized at the phenotypic level, including common-garden experiments that demonstrate heritability of several dispersal-relevant traits. Individuals from the invasion front (and their progeny) show distinctive changes in morphology, physiology and behaviour that, in combination, result in far more rapid dispersal than is true of conspecifics from long-colonized areas. The extensive body of work on cane toad ecology enables us to place into context studies of the genetic basis of these traits. Our analyses of differential gene expression from toads from both ends of this invasion-history transect reveal substantial upregulation of many genes, notably those involved in metabolism and cellular repair. Clearly, then, the dramatically rapid phenotypic evolution of cane toads in Australia has been accompanied by substantial shifts in gene expression, suggesting that this system is well suited to investigating the genetic underpinnings of invasiveness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2264-2276
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - May 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • invasive species
  • phenotypic change
  • rapid evolution
  • transcriptomics


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