Far from home: responses of an American predator species to an American prey species in a jointly invaded area of Australia

Uditha Wijethunga, Matthew Greenlees, Richard Shine*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Far from their native ranges in the Americas, two invasive species come into contact in Australian waterbodies. Cane toads (Rhinella marina) fatally poison many anurophagous predators, whereas eastern mosquito fish (Gambusia holbrooki) voraciously consume anuran larvae. As cane toads spread south along Australia’s east coast, they are colonizing areas where mosquito fish are abundant. What happens when these two American invaders encounter each other in Australia? We tested the responses to toad tadpoles of mosquito fish from populations that were sympatric versus allopatric with cane toads. Toad-sympatric fish generally ignored toad tadpoles. Toad-allopatric fish initially consumed a few tadpoles, but rapidly developed an aversion to these toxic prey items. The laboratory-reared progeny of toad-allopatric fishes were more likely to approach toad tadpoles than were the offspring of toad-sympatric fishes, but the two groups learned toad-avoidance at similar rates. Thus, mosquito fish show an innate aversion to cane toad tadpoles (perhaps reflecting coevolution with North American bufonid taxa), as well as an ability to rapidly learn taste-aversion. Our comparisons among populations suggest that several decades of toad-free existence in Australia caused a decline in the fishes’ innate (heritable) aversion to toads, but did not affect the fishes’ capacity to learn toad-avoidance after an initial exposure. Any impact of mosquito fish on cane toads thus is likely to be transitory. The rapid (<100-year) time frame of these shifts (the initial weakening of the fishes’ response during toad-allopatry, and its recovery after secondary contact) emphasizes the dynamic nature of faunal responses during biological invasions, and the interplay between adaptation and phenotypic plasticity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1645-1652
Number of pages8
JournalBiological Invasions
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Bufo marinus
  • coevolution
  • conservation
  • invasive species
  • preadaptation
  • predator–prey


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