Invasive cane toads are unique in shape but overlap in ecological niche compared to Australian native frogs.
ABSTRACT: Invasive species are an important issue worldwide but predicting invasiveness, and the underlying mechanisms that cause it, is difficult. There are several primary hypotheses to explain invasion success. Two main hypothesis based on niche spaces stand out as alternative, although not exclusive. The empty niche hypothesis states that invaders occupy a vacant niche space in the recipient community, and the niche competition hypothesis states that invaders overlap with native species in niche space. Studies on trait similarity/dissimilarity between the invader and native species can provide information on their niche overlap. Here, we use the highly invasive and well-studied cane toad (Rhinella marina) to test these two hypotheses in Australia, and assess its degree of overlap with native species in several niche dimensions. We compare extensive morphological and environmental data of this successful invader to 235 species (97%) of native Australian frogs. Our study is the first to document the significant morphological differences between the invasive cane toad and a continent-wide frog radiation: despite significant environmental overlap, cane toads were distinct in body size and shape from most Australian frog species, suggesting that in addition to their previously documented phenotypic plasticity and wide environmental and trophic niche breadth, their unique shape also may have contributed to their success as an invasive species in Australia. Thus, the invasive success of cane toads in Australia may be explained through them successfully colonizing an empty niche among Australian anurans. Our results support that the cane toad's distinct morphology may have played a unique role in the invasiveness of this species in Australia, which coupled with a broad environmental niche breadth, would have boosted their ability to expand their distribution across Australia. We also propose RLLR (Relative limb length ratio) as a potentially useful measure of identifying morphological niche uniqueness and a potential measure of invasiveness potential in anuran amphibians.
Project description:Parasites that are carried by invasive species can infect native taxa, with devastating consequences. In Australia, invading cane toads (Rhinella marina) carry lungworm parasites (Rhabdias pseudosphaerocephala) that (based on previous laboratory studies) can infect native treefrogs (Litoria caerulea and L. splendida). To assess the potential of parasite transmission from the invader to the native species (and from one infected native frog to another), we used surveys and radiotelemetry to quantify anuran microhabitat use, and proximity to other anurans, in two sites in tropical Australia. Unsurprisingly, treefrogs spent much of their time off the ground (especially by day, and in undisturbed forests) but terrestrial activity was common at night (especially in anthropogenically modified habitats). Microhabitat overlap between cane toads and frogs was generally low, except at night in disturbed areas, whereas overlap between the two frog species was high. The situations of highest overlap, and hence with the greatest danger of parasite transmission, involve aggregations of frogs within crevices by day, and use of open ground by all three anuran species at night. Overall, microhabitat divergence between toads and frogs should reduce, but not eliminate, the transmission of lungworms from invasive toads to vulnerable native frogs.
Project description:Cane toads are a notorious invasive species, inhabiting over 1.2 million km2 of Australia and threatening native biodiversity. The release of pathogenic cane toad viruses is one possible biocontrol strategy yet is currently hindered by the poorly described cane toad virome. Metatranscriptomic analysis of 16 cane toad livers revealed the presence of a novel and full-length picornavirus, Rhimavirus A (RhiV-A), a member of a reptile- and amphibian-specific cluster of the Picornaviridae basal to the Kobuvirus-like group. In the combined liver transcriptome, we also identified a complete genome sequence of a distinct epsilonretrovirus, Rhinella marina endogenous retrovirus (RMERV). The recently sequenced cane toad genome contains 8 complete RMERV proviruses as well as 21 additional truncated insertions. The oldest full-length RMERV provirus was estimated to have inserted 1.9 million years ago (MYA). To screen for these viral sequences in additional toads, we analyzed publicly available transcriptomes from six diverse Australian locations. RhiV-A transcripts were identified in toads sampled from three locations across 1,000 km of Australia, stretching to the current Western Australia (WA) invasion front, while RMERV transcripts were observed at all six sites. Finally, we scanned the cane toad genome for nonretroviral endogenous viral elements, finding three sequences related to small DNA viruses in the family Circoviridae This shows ancestral circoviral infection with subsequent genomic integration. The identification of these current and past viral infections enriches our knowledge of the cane toad virome, an understanding of which will facilitate future work on infection and disease in this important invasive species.IMPORTANCE Cane toads are poisonous amphibians that were introduced to Australia in 1935 for insect control. Since then, their population has increased dramatically, and they now threaten many native Australian species. One potential method to control the population is to release a cane toad virus with high mortality rates, yet few cane toad viruses have been characterized. This study samples cane toads from different Australian locations and uses an RNA sequencing and computational approach to find new viruses. We report novel complete picornavirus and retrovirus sequences that were genetically similar to viruses infecting frogs, reptiles, and fish. Using data generated in other studies, we show that these viral sequences are present in cane toads from distinct Australian locations. Three sequences related to circoviruses were also found in the toad genome. The identification of new viral sequences will aid future studies that investigate their prevalence and potential as agents for biocontrol.
Project description:Invasive species threaten biological diversity throughout the world. Understanding the dynamics of their spread is critical to mitigating this threat. In Australia, efforts are underway to control the invasive cane toad (Chaunus [Bufo] marinus). Range models based on their native bioclimatic envelope suggest that the cane toad is nearing the end of its invasion phase. However, such models assume a conserved niche between native and invaded regions and the absence of evolution to novel habitats. Here, we develop a dynamically updated statistical model to predict the growing extent of cane toad range based on their current distribution in Australia. Results demonstrate that Australian cane toads may already have the ability to spread across an area that almost doubles their current range and that triples projections based on their native distribution. Most of the expansion in suitable habitat area has occurred in the last decade and in regions characterized by high temperatures. Increasing use of extreme habitats may indicate that novel ecological conditions have facilitated a broader realized niche or that toad populations at the invasion front have evolved greater tolerance to extreme abiotic conditions. Rapid evolution to novel habitats combined with ecological release from native enemies may explain why some species become highly successful global invaders. Predicting species ranges following invasion or climate change may often require dynamically updated range models that incorporate a broader realization of niches in the absence of natural enemies and evolution in response to novel habitats.
Project description:Infectious diseases are contributing to the decline of endangered amphibians. We identified myxosporean parasites, Myxidium spp. (Myxosporea: Myxozoa), in the brain and liver of declining native frogs, the Green and Golden Bell frog (Litoria aurea) and the Southern Bell frog (Litoria raniformis). We unequivocally identified two Myxidium spp. (both generalist) affecting Australian native frogs and the invasive Cane toad (Bufo marinus, syn. Rhinella marina) and demonstrated their association with disease. Our study tested the identity of Myxidium spp. within native frogs and the invasive Cane toad (brought to Australia in 1935, via Hawaii) to resolve the question whether the Cane toad introduced them to Australia. We showed that the Australian brain and liver Myxidium spp. differed 9%, 7%, 34% and 37% at the small subunit rDNA, large subunit rDNA, internal transcribed spacers 1 and 2, but were distinct from Myxidium cf. immersum from Cane toads in Brazil. Plotting minimum within-group distance against maximum intra-group distance confirmed their independent evolutionary trajectory. Transmission electron microscopy revealed that the brain stages localize inside axons. Myxospores were morphologically indistinguishable, therefore genetic characterisation was necessary to recognise these cryptic species. It is unlikely that the Cane toad brought the myxosporean parasites to Australia, because the parasites were not found in 261 Hawaiian Cane toads. Instead, these data support the enemy-release hypothesis predicting that not all parasites are translocated with their hosts and suggest that the Cane toad may have played an important spill-back role in their emergence and facilitated their dissemination. This work emphasizes the importance of accurate species identification of pathogens relevant to wildlife management and disease control. In our case it is paving the road for the spill-back role of the Cane toad and the parasite emergence.
Project description:Understanding negative effects of native species on introduced taxa may suggest novel ways to control the invasive species by enhancing such effects. Previous studies have reported that the larvae of invasive cane toads (Rhinella marina) are suppressed by competition with the larvae of native anurans in Australia, but not in North America. We conducted laboratory trials to measure the effect of exposure to the larvae of Japanese frogs (Microhyla ornata, Fejervarya sakishimensis, Rhacophorus owstoni) on rates of survival, growth and development of cane toad tadpoles in Ishigaki Island, in southern Japan. Survival rates were not affected by native species, but competition with Dicroglossids and Rhacophorids (but not Microhylids) strongly reduced rates of growth and development in the tadpoles of cane toads. Dicroglossid tadpoles also reduced the body condition to toad tadpoles in addition to effects on SVL and mass. Encouraging populations of native frogs in toad-invaded areas of Japan thus may help to reduce the numbers of invasive cane toads.
Project description:Invasive species often evolve rapidly following introduction despite genetic bottlenecks that may result from small numbers of founders; however, some invasions may not fit this "genetic paradox". The invasive cane toad (Rhinella marina) displays high phenotypic variation across its introduced Australian range. Here, we used three genome-wide datasets to characterize their population structure and genetic diversity. We found that toads form three genetic clusters: 1) native range toads, 2) toads from the source population in Hawaii and long-established areas near introduction sites in Australia, and 3) toads from more recently established northern Australian sites. Although we find an overall reduction in genetic diversity following introduction, we do not see this reduction in loci putatively under selection, suggesting that genetic diversity may have been maintained at ecologically relevant traits, or that mutation rates were high enough to maintain adaptive potential. Nonetheless, toads encounter novel environmental challenges in Australia, and the transition between genetic clusters occurs at a point along the invasion transect where temperature rises and rainfall decreases. We identify environmentally associated loci known to be involved in resistance to heat and dehydration. This study highlights that natural selection occurs rapidly and plays a vital role in shaping the structure of invasive populations.
Project description:Invasive species provide a robust opportunity to evaluate how animals deal with novel environmental challenges. Shifts in locomotor performance-and thus the ability to disperse-(and especially, the degree to which it is constrained by thermal and hydric extremes) are of special importance, because they might affect the rate that an invader can spread. We studied cane toads (Rhinella marina) across a broad geographical range: two populations within the species' native range in Brazil, two invasive populations on the island of Hawai'i and eight invasive populations encompassing the eastern, western and southern limits of the toad invasion in Australia. A toad's locomotor performance on a circular raceway was strongly affected by both its temperature and its hydration state, but the nature and magnitude of those constraints differed across populations. In their native range, cane toads exhibited relatively low performance (even under optimal test conditions) and a rapid decrease in performance at lower temperatures and hydration levels. At the other extreme, performance was high in toads from southern Australia, and virtually unaffected by desiccation. Hawai'ian toads broadly resembled their Brazilian conspecifics, plausibly reflecting similar climatic conditions. The invasion of Australia has been accompanied by a dramatic enhancement in the toads' locomotor abilities, and (in some populations) by an ability to maintain locomotor performance even when the animal is cold and/or dehydrated. The geographical divergences in performance among cane toad populations graphically attest to the adaptability of invasive species in the face of novel abiotic challenges.
Project description:Understanding rapid adaptation to novel environments is essential as we face increasing climatic change. Invasive species are an ideal system for studying adaptation as they are typically introduced to novel environments where they must adapt if they are to persist. We used the invasive cane toad, Rhinella marina, to investigate the contribution of plasticity and evolution to rapid adaptation in a novel environment. Rhinella marina is a neotropical toad that has invaded areas with climates outside of its native environmental niche. The goal of this research was to understand how cane toads persist in northern Florida, the coldest region of their combined natural and invasive range, and originally thought to be beyond their thermal breadth. We measured Critical thermal minima in cane toads from the original, warm introduction location (Miami), and their northern range edge (Tampa) to determine whether northern toads were more cold-tolerant, and to examine the contribution of adaptive plasticity and evolution to any changes in tolerance. Our results show that following acclimation to cold temperatures, southern toads are less tolerant of cold than northern toads. This persistent population difference implies selection for cold-tolerance in northern populations. Differences in individual responses indicate that plasticity is also involved in this response. Our findings have implications for conservation because predatory cane toad invasions threaten local faunas, especially native amphibians. Characterizing specific adaptive mechanisms that allow R. marina to expand its range will identify evolutionary processes that shape a highly successful invasive species.
Project description:Invasive species often exhibit rapid evolutionary changes, and can provide powerful insights into the selective forces shaping phenotypic traits that influence dispersal rates and/or sexual interactions. Invasions also may modify sexual dimorphism. We measured relative lengths of forelimbs and hindlimbs of more than 3000 field-caught adult cane toads (Rhinella marina) from 67 sites in Hawai'i and Australia (1-80 years post-colonization), along with 489 captive-bred individuals from multiple Australian sites raised in a 'common garden' (to examine heritability and reduce environmental influences on morphology). As cane toads spread from east to west across Australia, the ancestral condition (long limbs, especially in males) was modified. Limb length relative to body size was first reduced (perhaps owing to natural selection on locomotor ability), but then increased again (perhaps owing to spatial sorting) in the invasion vanguard. In contrast, the sex disparity in relative limb length has progressively decreased during the toads' Australian invasion. Offspring reared in a common environment exhibited similar geographical divergences in morphology as did wild-caught animals, suggesting a genetic basis to the changes. Limb dimensions showed significant heritability (2-17%), consistent with the possibility of an evolved response. Cane toad populations thus have undergone a major shift in sexual dimorphism in relative limb lengths during their brief (81 years) spread through tropical Australia.
Project description:In Australia, large native predators are fatally poisoned when they ingest invasive cane toads (Rhinella marina). As a result, the spread of cane toads has caused catastrophic population declines in these predators. Immediately prior to the arrival of toads at a floodplain in the Kimberley region, we induced conditioned taste aversion in free-ranging varanid lizards (Varanus panoptes), by offering them small cane toads. By the end of the 18-month study, only one of 31 untrained lizards had survived longer than 110 days, compared to more than half (nine of 16) of trained lizards; the maximum known survival of a trained lizard in the presence of toads was 482 days. In situ aversion training (releasing small toads in advance of the main invasion front) offers a logistically simple and feasible way to buffer the impact of invasive toads on apex predators.