Mechanisms, costs, and carry-over effects of cannibal-induced developmental plasticity in invasive cane toads

Michael R. Crossland*, Richard Shine, Jayna L. DeVore

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Inducible defences can improve survival in variable environments by allowing individuals to produce defences if they detect predators. These defences are often expressed as inter-related developmental, morphological, and behavioural changes. However, producing defences can incur costs, which may be expressed immediately and/or during subsequent life stages. In Australia, waterborne cues of potentially cannibalistic conspecific tadpoles induce hatchlings of invasive cane toads to accelerate their developmental rate, thereby reducing their window of vulnerability. However, the mechanisms and costs of such accelerated development are poorly understood, and whether cane toad embryos show cannibal-induced plasticity in other traits is unknown. Here, we found no evidence of altered time of hatching for embryos exposed to non-feeding conspecific cannibal tadpole cues. Additionally, hatchling dispersal behaviours were not affected by exposure to these cues. However, developmental acceleration of hatchlings induced by exposure to tadpole cues was accompanied by reduced hatchling growth, indicating a trade-off between these processes. At the conclusion of the hatchling stage, cannibal-exposed individuals were smaller and morphologically distinct from control siblings. This size reduction affected performance during the subsequent tadpole stage: smaller cannibal-exposed individuals were more likely to die, and initial size tended to be positively associated with subsequent tadpole growth and development across treatments (respectively, p =.07 and p =.06). However, even accounting for variation in initial size, there was an additional negative effect of cannibal exposure on tadpole growth and development, demonstrating that the fitness costs associated with developmental acceleration are not entirely attributable to size reductions.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere10961
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number2
Early online date9 Feb 2024
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2024. 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.


  • anuran
  • inducible defence
  • phenotypic plasticity
  • predation
  • trade-off


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