Differences in developmental strategies between long-settled and invasion-front populations of the cane toad in Australia

S. Ducatez*, M. Crossland, R. Shine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Phenotypic plasticity can enhance a species' ability to persist in a new and stressful environment, so that reaction norms are expected to evolve as organisms encounter novel environments. Biological invasions provide a robust system to investigate such changes. We measured the rates of early growth and development in tadpoles of invasive cane toads (Rhinella marina) in Australia, from a range of locations and at different larval densities. Populations in long-colonized areas have had the opportunity to adapt to local conditions, whereas at the expanding range edge, the invader is likely to encounter challenges that are both novel and unpredictable. We thus expected invasion-vanguard populations to exhibit less phenotypic plasticity than range-core populations. Compared to clutches from long-colonized areas, clutches from the invasion front were indeed less plastic (i.e. rates of larval growth and development were less sensitive to density). In contrast, those rates were highly variable in clutches from the invasion front, even among siblings from the same clutch under standard conditions. Clutches with highly variable rates of growth and development under constant conditions had lower phenotypic plasticity, suggesting a trade-off between these two strategies. Although these results reveal a strong pattern, further investigation is needed to determine whether these different developmental strategies are adaptive (i.e. adaptive phenotypic plasticity vs. bet-hedging) or instead are driven by geographic variation in genetic quality or parental effects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)335-343
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • bet-hedging
  • biological invasion
  • Bufo marinus
  • larvae
  • life history evolution
  • Rhinella marina
  • stochasticity


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