The ecological impact of invasive cane toads on tropical snakes

field data do not support laboratory-based predictions

Gregory P. Brown, Benjamin L. Phillips, Richard Shine*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

46 Citations (Scopus)
82 Downloads (Pure)


Predicting which species will be affected by an invasive taxon is critical to developing conservation priorities, but this is a difficult task. A previous study on the impact of invasive cane toads (Bufo marinus) on Australian snakes attempted to predict vulnerability a priori based on the assumptions that any snake species that eats frogs, and is vulnerable to toad toxins, may be at risk from the toad invasion. We used time-series analyses to evaluate the accuracy of that prediction, based on .3600 standardized nocturnal surveys over a 138-month period on 12 species of snakes and lizards on a floodplain in the Australian wet-dry tropics, bracketing the arrival of cane toads at this site. Contrary to prediction, encounter rates with most species were unaffected by toad arrival, and some taxa predicted to be vulnerable to toads increased rather than declined (e.g., death adder Acanthophis praelongus; Children's python Antaresia childreni ). Indirect positive effects of toad invasion (perhaps mediated by toad-induced mortality of predatory varanid lizards) and stochastic weather events outweighed effects of toad invasion for most snake species. Our study casts doubt on the ability of a priori desktop studies, or short-term field surveys, to predict or document the ecological impact of invasive species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)422-431
Number of pages10
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2011
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright by the Ecological Society of America. Brown, G. P., Phillips, B. L., & Shine, R. (2011). The ecological impact of invasive cane toads on tropical snakes: field data do not support laboratory‐based predictions. Ecology, 92(2), 422-431.


  • alien species
  • Australia
  • biological invasion
  • Bufo marinus
  • bufotoxins
  • cane toad
  • predator-prey
  • Rhinella marina
  • time-series analysis
  • tropical snakes

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