The acid test: pH tolerance of the eggs and larvae of the invasive Cane Toad (Rhinella marina) in Southeastern Australia

Uditha Wijethunga, Matthew Greenlees, Richard Shine*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
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Invasive cane toads are colonizing southeastern Australia via a narrow coastal strip sandwiched between unsuitable areas (Pacific Ocean to the east, mountains to the west). Many of the available spawning sites exhibit abiotic conditions (e.g., temperature, salinity, and pH) more extreme than those encountered elsewhere in the toad’s native or already invaded range. Will that challenge impede toad expansion? To answer that question, we measured pH in 35 ponds in northeastern New South Wales and 8 ponds in the Sydney region, in both areas where toads occur (and breed) and adjacent areas where toads are likely to invade, and conducted laboratory experiments to quantify effects of pH on the survival and development of toad eggs and larvae. Our field surveys revealed wide variation in pH (3.9–9.8) among natural water bodies. In the laboratory, the hatching success of eggs was increased at low pH (down to pH 4), whereas the survival, growth, and developmental rates of tadpoles were enhanced by higher pH levels. We found that pH influenced metamorph size and shape (relative head width, relative leg length) but not locomotor performance. The broad tolerance range of these early life-history stages suggests that pH conditions in ponds will not significantly slow the toad’s expansion southward. Indeed, toads may benefit from transiently low pH conditions, and habitat where pH in wetlands is consistently low (such as coastal heath) may enhance rather than reduce toad reproductive success. A broad physiological tolerance during embryonic and larval life has contributed significantly to the cane toad’s success as a widespread colonizer.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)433-443
Number of pages11
JournalPhysiological and Biochemical Zoology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright 2015 by University of Chicago Press. Originally published in Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 88, no. 4 (July/August 2015): 433-443. 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.


  • acidity
  • pH
  • Bufo marinus
  • development
  • invasive species
  • physiological tolerance
  • amphibian


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