The distributional limits of many ectothermic species are set by thermal tolerances of early-developmental stages in the life history; embryos and larvae often are less able to buffer environmental variation than are conspecific adults. In pond-breeding amphibians, for example, cold water may constrain viability of eggs and larvae, even if adults can find suitable thermal conditions in terrestrial niches. Invasive species provide robust model systems for exploring these questions, because we can quantify thermal challenges at the expanding range edge (from field surveys) and larval responses to thermal conditions (in the laboratory). Our studies on invasive cane toads (Rhinella marina) at the southern (cool-climate) edge of their expanding range in Australia show that available ponds often average around 20°C during the breeding period, 10°C lower than in many areas of the toads’ native range, or in the Australian tropics. Our laboratory experiments showed that cane toad eggs and larvae cannot develop successfully at 16°C, but hatching success and larval survival rates were higher at 20°C than in warmer conditions. Lower temperatures slowed growth rates, increasing the duration of tadpole life, but also increased metamorph body mass. Water temperature also influenced metamorph body shape (high temperatures reduced relative limb length, head width, and body mass) and locomotor performance (increased speed from intermediate temperatures, longer hops from high temperatures). In combination with previous studies, our data suggest that lower water temperatures may enhance rather than reduce recruitment of cane toads, at least in areas where pond temperatures reach or exceed 20°C. That condition is fulfilled over a wide area of southern Australia, suggesting that the continuing expansion of this invasive species is unlikely to be curtailed by the impacts of relatively low water temperatures on the viability of early life-history stages.
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- Bufo marinus
- invasive species
- physiological tolerance