Sexual and geographical divergence in head widths of invasive cane toads, Rhinella marina (Anura: Bufonidae), is driven by both rapid evolution and plasticity

Cameron M. Hudson, Gregory P. Brown, Katarina Stuart, Richard Shine*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

8 Citations (Scopus)


Measurements of > 3700 field-collected cane toads (Rhinella marina) show that head width relative to body length differs between the sexes and has become modified during the toad's translocation from French Guiana to Hawai'i and then Australia. Relative head width was highest in the native range, and declined progressively during the invasion. In long-colonized areas (French Guiana through to Queensland) male toads have wider heads than females, but this dimorphism decreases and eventually reverses at invasion fronts in both northern and southern Australia. To explore reasons for that variation, we conducted experiments on captive toads. A toad's head width affected its maximal ingestible prey size and prey-handling ability. Head width relative to body length was highly repeatable, consistent over ontogeny, and exhibited significant heritability (h2 = 0.20). Relative head widths differed between the sexes and populations-of-origin even if offspring were raised under standard conditions in captivity. Nonetheless, relative head width of a cane toad also is affected by prey availability. Captive toads raised on a diet of small prey items developed wider heads than did conspecifics raised on larger prey, partly compensating for the trophic limitations of smaller body size. Sexual and geographical divergences in relative head widths in cane toads are thus the combined result of rapid evolutionary divergence (in < 100 years) and an ability of individual toads to flexibly modify this important morphological feature depending upon local conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)188-199
Number of pages12
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • adaptation
  • Bufo marinus
  • morphology
  • phenotypic plasticity
  • sexual dimorphism

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Sexual and geographical divergence in head widths of invasive cane toads, <em style="box-sizing: border-box; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-variant: inherit; font-stretch: inherit; font-size: inherit; line-height: inherit; font-family: inherit; vertical-align: baseline;">Rhinella marina</em> (Anura: Bufonidae), is driven by both rapid evolution and plasticity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this