Vulnerability of an Australian anuran tadpole assemblage to the toxic eggs of the invasive cane toad (Bufo marinus)

Michael R. Crossland*, Richard Shine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


The invasion of cane toads (Bufo marinus) across tropical Australia has fatally poisoned many native predators; the most frequent victims may be tadpoles of native frogs, which die when they consume the toxic eggs of the toads. Field studies have documented high and species-specific mortality of tadpoles following toad spawning. To clarify the determinants of tadpole vulnerability, we conducted 1593 laboratory trials in which single tadpoles were exposed to 10 toad eggs, either with or without an alternative food source (lettuce). At least some tadpoles within all 15 species tested consumed toad eggs. Interspecific variance in survival rates (from 0 to >70%) was driven by feeding responses not by physiological tolerance to toxins: almost all native tadpoles that consumed eggs died rapidly. Tadpole mortality was decreased by the presence of an alternative food source in four species, increased in two species, and not affected in seven species. In three of four taxa where we tested both small (early-stage) and large (late-stage) tadpoles, both mean survival rates and the effects of alternative food on survival shifted with tadpole body size. Trials with one species (Limnodynastes convexiusculus) showed no significant inter-clutch variation in feeding responses or tolerance to toxins. Overall, our data show that cane toad eggs are highly toxic to native anuran tadpoles, but that whether or not a tadpole is killed by encountering toad eggs depends upon a complex interaction between the native anuran's species, its body size, and whether or not alternative food was present. In nature, larval vulnerability also depends upon the seasonal timing and location of spawning events, and habitat selection and foraging patterns of the tadpoles. Our results highlight the complexity of vulnerability determinants, and identify ecological factors (rather than physiology or feeding behaviour) as the primary determinants of cane toad impact on native tadpoles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)197-203
Number of pages7
JournalAustral Ecology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • ecological impact
  • invasive species
  • poisoning
  • Rhinella marina
  • toxicity


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