An invasive species induces rapid adaptive change in a native predator

cane toads and black snakes in Australia

Ben L. Phillips*, Richard Shine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

160 Citations (Scopus)


Rapid environmental change due to human activities has increased rates of extinction, but some species may be able to adapt rapidly enough to deal with such changes. Our studies of feeding behaviour and physiological resistance to toxins reveal surprisingly rapid adaptive responses in Australian black snakes (Pseudechis porphyriacus) following the invasion of a lethally toxic prey item, the cane toad (Bufo marinus). Snakes from toad-exposed localities showed increased resistance to toad toxin and a decreased preference for toads as prey. Separate laboratory experiments suggest that these changes are not attributable to learning (we were unable to teach naive snakes to avoid toxic prey) or to acquired resistance (repeated sublethal doses did not enhance resistance). These results strongly suggest that black snake behaviour and physiology have evolved in response to the presence of toads, and have done so rapidly. Toads were brought to Australia in 1935, so these evolved responses have occurred in fewer than 23 snake generations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1545-1550
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1593
Publication statusPublished - 21 Mar 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • coevolution
  • conservation
  • contemporary evolution
  • predator-prey

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