Paradoxical population resilience of a keystone predator to a toxic invasive species

J. Sean Doody*, David Rhind, Simon Clulow

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Context: The invasive cane toad (Rhinella marina) has decimated populations of a keystone predator, the yellow-spotted monitor (Varanus panoptes), causing trophic cascades in Australian animal communities. Paradoxically, some V. panoptes populations coexist with toads. Demonstrating patterns in heterogeneous population-level impacts could reveal mechanisms that mediate individual effects, and provide managers with the ability to predict future impacts and assist in population recovery. 

Aims: The aim of the present study was to search for spatial patterns of population resilience of V. panoptes to invasive cane toads. 

Methods: Published literature, unpublished data, reports and anecdotal information from trained herpetologists were used to test the emerging hypothesis that resilient predator populations are mainly coastal, whereas non-resilient populations are mostly inland. 

Key results: Post-toad invasion data from 23 V. panoptes populations supported the idea that toad impacts on V. panoptes were heterogeneous; roughly half the populations could be designated as resilient (n = 13) and half as non-resilient (n = 10). Resilient populations had longer times since toad invasion than did non-resilient populations (39 versus 9 years respectively), supporting the idea that some recovery can occur. Non-resilient populations were exclusively inland (n = 10), whereas resilient populations were split between inland (n = 5) and coastal (n = 8) populations. Resilient inland populations, however, were mainly confined to areas in which decades had passed since toad invasion. 

Conclusions: The findings suggest that coastal V. panoptes populations fare much better than inland populations when it comes to surviving invading cane toads. 

Implications: Unambiguous recovery of monitor populations remains undemonstrated and will require long-term population monitoring before and after toad invasion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)260-266
Number of pages7
JournalWildlife Research
Volume47
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Keywords

  • abundance
  • behaviour
  • ecology
  • invasive species
  • pest management

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