Alarm cues experienced by cane toad tadpoles affect post-metamorphic morphology and chemical defences

M. Hagman, R. A. Hayes, R. J. Capon, R. Shine*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Citations (Scopus)


1. In many anuran species, larvae modify their developmental trajectories and behaviour in response to chemical cues that predict predator risk. Recent reviews highlight a dearth of studies on delayed (post-metamorphic) consequences of larval experience. We raised cane toad (Bufo marinus) tadpoles either under control conditions or in the presence of non-lethal predator cues (crushed conspecifics). Exposure to these chemical cues massively reduced size at metamorphosis, as predicted by theory. Parotoid glands were larger relative to body size in post-metamorphic animals from the experimental treatment, suggesting higher investment in chemical defences. 4. Exposure to chemical cues from crushed conspecifics during larval life reduced total bufadienolide content of metamorphs, but increased amounts of one specific bufadienolide (bufalin). 5. Hence, cane toads respond to perceived predation risk in the aquatic environment by metamorphosing at a smaller size and modifying their investment in defensive toxins during post-metamorphic life. 6. Phenotypically flexible responses to larval conditions vary among amphibian taxa, and can involve significant carry-over effects into post-metamorphic life.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)126-132
Number of pages7
JournalFunctional Ecology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Bufo marinus
  • chemical defences
  • developmental plasticity
  • phenotypic plasticity


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