Assessing the potential impact of cane toads on Australian snakes

Ben L. Phillips*, Gregory P. Brown, Richard Shine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

153 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Cane toads (Bufo marinus) are large, highly toxic anurans that were introduced into Australia in 1937. Anecdotal reports suggest that the invasion of toads into an area is followed by dramatic declines in the abundance of terrestrial native frog-eating predators, but quantitative studies have been restricted to nonpredator taxa or aquatic predators and have generally reported minimal impacts. Will toads substantially affect Australian snakes? Based on geographic distributions and dietary composition, we identified 49 snake taxa as potentially at risk from toads. The impact of these feral prey also depends on the snakes' ability to survive after ingesting toad toxins. Based on decrements in locomotor (swimming) performance after ingesting toxin, we estimate the LD50of toad toxins for 10 of the at-risk snake species. Most species exhibited a similar low ability to tolerate toad toxins. Based on head widths relative to sizes of toads, we calculate that 7 of the 10 taxa could easily ingest a fatal dose of toxin in a single meal. The exceptions were two colubrid taxa (keelbacks [Tropidonophis mairii] and slatey-grey snakes [Stegonotus cucullatus]) with much higher resistance to toad toxins (up to 85-fold) and one elapid (swamp snakes (Hemiaspis signata]) with low resistance but a small relative head size and thus low maximum prey size. Overall, our analysis suggests that cane toads threaten populations of approximately 30% of terrestrial Australian snake species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1738-1747
Number of pages10
JournalConservation Biology
Volume17
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2003
Externally publishedYes

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