Behavioural divergence during biological invasions: a study of cane toads (Rhinella marina) from contrasting environments in Hawai’i

Jodie Gruber*, Gregory Brown, Martin J. Whiting, Richard Shine

*Corresponding author for this work

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    8 Citations (Scopus)
    61 Downloads (Pure)


    Invasive species must deal with novel challenges, both from the alien environment and from pressures arising from range expansion per se (e.g. spatial sorting). Those conditions can create geographical variation in behaviour across the invaded range, as has been documented across regions of Australia invaded by cane toads; range-edge toads are more exploratory and willing to take risks than are conspecifics from the rangecore. That behavioural divergence might be a response to range expansion and invasion per se, or to the different environments encountered. Climate differs across the cane toads’ invasion range from the wet tropics of Queensland to the seasonally dry climates of northwestern Western Australia. The different thermal and hydric regimes may affect behavioural traits via phenotypic plasticity or through natural selection. We cannot tease apart the effects of range expansion versus climate in an expanding population but can do so in a site where the colonizing species was simultaneously released in all suitable areas, thus removing any subsequent phase of range expansion. Cane toads were introduced to Hawai’i in 1932; and thence to Australia in 1935. Toads were released in all major sugarcane-growing areas in Hawai’i within a 12-month period. Hence, Hawai’ian cane toads provide an opportunity to examine geographical divergence in behavioural traits in a climatically diverse region (each island has both wet and dry sides) in the absence of range expansion subsequent to release. We conducted laboratory-based behavioural trials testing exploration, risk-taking and response to novelty using field-caught toads from the wet and dry sides of two Hawai’ian islands (Oahu and Hawai’i). Toads from the dry side of Oahu had a higher propensity to take risks than did toads from the dry side of Hawai’i. Toads from Oahu were also more exploratory than were conspecifics from the island of Hawai’i. However, toads from wet versus dry climates were similar in all behaviours that we scored, suggesting that founder effects, genetic drift, or developmentally plastic responses to ecological factors other than climatemay have driven behavioural divergence between islands.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number180197
    Pages (from-to)1-11
    Number of pages11
    JournalRoyal Society Open Science
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 25 Apr 2018

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright the Author(s) 2018. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


    • alien species
    • Bufo marinus
    • dispersal phenotype
    • exploration
    • neophilia


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