Specific pathways of the ecological impact of invasive species remain poorly known. Although the spread of toxic cane toads (Bufo marinus) through tropical Australia is widely believed to have caused extensive mortality of native reptiles and mammals, effects of toad ingestion on native anurans have been virtually ignored. Our studies on the Adelaide River floodplain show that the most numerous vertebrate victims of toad invasion are native tadpoles that die when they attempt to consume toad eggs. We documented 11 episodes of mass mortality, totalling >1300 tadpoles of 10 species, in five waterbodies within a single wet-season shortly after the toads invaded. A causal link between toad breeding and tadpole mortality is supported by observations that: (1) in at least 9 of the 11 waterbodies involved, toads bred immediately prior to mortality events; (2) water quality was indistinguishable from that of control ponds, and tadpoles placed in that water remained healthy; (3) dead tadpoles showed no sign of disease; and (4) laboratory trials showed rapid, 100% mortality in native tadpoles exposed to freshly-laid toad eggs. Despite these high mortality rates, toad invasion does not appear to threaten the viability of anuran populations because frogs often breed in ponds not used by toads, and because density-dependent growth and survival within tadpole communities mean that additional mortality may not reduce the total effective recruitment of metamorph frogs from a waterbody.
- invasive species
- ecological impact