Divergent long-term impacts of lethally toxic cane toads (Rhinella marina) on two species of apex predators (monitor lizards, Varanus spp.)

Lachlan Pettit*, Mathew S. Crowther, Georgia Ward-Fear, Richard Shine*

*Corresponding author for this work

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    1 Citation (Scopus)
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    Biological invasions can massively disrupt ecosystems, but evolutionary and ecological adjustments may modify the magnitude of that impact through time. Such post-colonisation shifts can change priorities for management. We quantified the abundance of two species of giant monitor lizards, and of the availability of their mammalian prey, across 45 sites distributed across the entire invasion trajectory of the cane toad (Rhinella marina) in Australia. One varanid species (Varanus panoptes from tropical Australia) showed dramatic population collapse with toad invasion, with no sign of recovery at most (but not all) sites that toads had occupied for up to 80 years. In contrast, abundance of the other species (Varanus varius from eastern-coastal Australia) was largely unaffected by toad invasion. That difference might reflect availability of alternative food sources in eastern-coastal areas, perhaps exacerbated by the widespread prior collapse of populations of small mammals across tropical (but not eastern) Australia. According to this hypothesis, the impact of cane toads on apex predators has been exacerbated and prolonged by a scarcity of alternative prey. More generally, multiple anthropogenically-induced changes to natural ecosystems may have synergistic effects, intensifying the impacts beyond that expected from either threat in isolation.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere0254032
    Pages (from-to)1-16
    Number of pages16
    JournalPLoS ONE
    Issue number7
    Publication statusPublished - 22 Jul 2021

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    Copyright the Author(s) 2021. 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.


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