The things they carried: the pathogenic effects of old and new parasites following the intercontinental invasion of the Australian cane toad (Rhinella marina)

D. Selechnik*, L. A. Rollins, G. P. Brown, C. Kelehear, R. Shine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)
39 Downloads (Pure)


Brought to Australia in 1935 to control agricultural pests (from French Guiana, via Martinique, Barbados, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and Hawai'i), repeated stepwise translocations of small numbers of founders enabled the cane toad (Rhinella marina) to escape many parasites and pathogens from its native range. However, the infective organisms that survived the journey continue to affect the dynamics of the toad in its new environment. In Australia, the native-range lungworm Rhabdias pseudosphaerocephala decreases its host's cardiac capacity, as well as growth and survival, but not rate of dispersal. The lungworm is most prevalent in long-colonised areas within the toads’ Australian range, and absent from the invasion front. Several parasites and pathogens of Australian taxa have host-shifted to cane toads in Australia; for example, invasion-front toads are susceptible to spinal arthritis caused by the soil bacterium, Ochrobactrum anthropi. The pentastome Raillietiella frenata has host-shifted to toads and may thereby expand its Australian range due to the continued range expansion of the invasive toads. Spill-over and spill-back of parasites may be detrimental to other host species; however, toads may also reduce parasite loads in native taxa by acting as terminal hosts. We review the impact of the toad's parasites and pathogens on the invasive anuran's biology in Australia, as well as collateral effects of toad-borne parasites and pathogens on other host species in Australia. Both novel and co-evolved pathogens and parasites may have played significant roles in shaping the rapid evolution of immune system responses in cane toads within their invaded range.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)375-385
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal for Parasitology: Parasites and Wildlife
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Crown Copyright 2016. 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.


  • Rhabdias pseudosphaerocephala
  • ecoimmunology
  • invasion
  • enemy release hypothesis
  • immune function
  • Bufo
  • pathogen-mediated selection 1


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