Invader immunology: invasion history alters immune system function in cane toads (Rhinella marina) in tropical Australia

Gregory P. Brown*, Benjamin L. Phillips, Sylvain Dubey, Richard Shine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Citations (Scopus)


Because an individual's investment into the immune system may modify its dispersal rate, immune function may evolve rapidly in an invader. We collected cane toads (Rhinella marina) from sites spanning their 75-year invasion history in Australia, bred them, and raised their progeny in standard conditions. Evolved shifts in immune function should manifest as differences in immune responses among the progeny of parents collected in different locations. Parental location did not affect the offspring's cell-mediated immune response or stress response, but blood from the offspring of invasion-front toads had more neutrophils, and was more effective at phagocytosis and killing bacteria. These latter measures of immune function are negatively correlated with rate of dispersal in free-ranging toads. Our results suggest that the invasion of tropical Australia by cane toads has resulted in rapid genetically based compensatory shifts in the aspects of immune responses that are most compromised by the rigours of long-distance dispersal.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-65
Number of pages9
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Bufo
  • common garden
  • immune system
  • invasive species


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