A toad more traveled

the heterogeneous invasion dynamics of cane toads in Australia

Mark C. Urban, Ben L. Phillips, David K. Skelly, Richard Shine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

147 Citations (Scopus)
29 Downloads (Pure)


To predict the spread of invasive species, we need to understand the mechanisms that underlie their range expansion. Assuming random diffusion through homogeneous environments, invasions are expected to progress at a constant rate. However, environmental heterogeneity is expected to alter diffusion rates, especially by slowing invasions as populations encounter suboptimal environmental conditions. Here, we examine how environmental and landscape factors affect the local invasion speeds of cane toads (Chaunus [Bufo] marinus) in Australia. Using high-resolution cane toad data, we demonstrate heterogeneous regional invasion dynamics that include both decelerating and accelerating range expansions. Toad invasion speed increased in regions characterized by high temperatures, heterogeneous topography, low elevations, dense road networks, and high patch connectivity. Regional increases in the toad invasion rate might be caused by environmental conditions that facilitate toad reproduction and movement, by the evolution of long-distance dispersal ability, or by some combination of these factors. In any case, theoretical predictions that neglect environmental influences on dispersal at multiple spatial scales may prove to be inaccurate. Early predictions of cane toad range expansion rates that assumed constant diffusion across homogeneous landscapes already have been proved wrong. Future attempts to predict range dynamics for invasive species should consider heterogeneity in (1) the environmental factors that determine dispersal rates and (2) the mobility of invasive populations because dispersal-relevant traits can evolve in exotic habitats. As an invasive species spreads, it is likely to encounter conditions that influence dispersal rates via one or both of these mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E134–E148
Number of pages15
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2008
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright 2008 by University of Chicago Press. Originally published in Urban, M. C., Phillips, B. L., Skelly, D. K., & Shine, R. (2008). A toad more traveled: the heterogeneous invasion dynamics of cane toads in Australia. The American Naturalist, 171(3), E134-E148. https://doi.org/10.1086/527494.


  • range models
  • dispersal evolution
  • niche expansion
  • invasion biology

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