The ecological impact of invasive cane toads (Bufo marinus) in Australia.
Although invasive species are viewed as major threats to ecosystems worldwide, few such species have been studied in enough detail to identify the pathways, magnitudes, and timescales of their impact on native fauna. One of the most intensively studied invasive taxa in this respect is the cane toad (Bufo marinus), which was introduced to Australia in 1935. A review of these studies suggests that a single pathway - lethal toxic ingestion of toads by frog-eating predators - is the major mechanism of impact, but that the magnitude of impact varies dramatically among predator taxa, as well as through space and time. Populations of large predators (e.g., varanid and scincid lizards, elapid snakes, freshwater crocodiles, and dasyurid marsupials) may be imperilled by toad invasion, but impacts vary spatially even within the same predator species. Some of the taxa severely impacted by toad invasion recover within a few decades, via aversion learning and longer-term adaptive changes. No native species have gone extinct as a result of toad invasion, and many native taxa widely imagined to be at risk are not affected, largely as a result of their physiological ability to tolerate toad toxins (e.g., as found in many birds and rodents), as well as the reluctance of many native anuran-eating predators to consume toads, either innately or as a learned response. Indirect effects of cane toads as mediated through trophic webs are likely as important as direct effects, but they are more difficult to study. Overall, some Australian native species (mostly large predators) have declined due to cane toads; others, especially species formerly consumed by those predators, have benefited. For yet others, effects have been minor or have been mediated indirectly rather than through direct interactions with the invasive toads. Factors that increase a predator's vulnerability to toad invasion include habitat overlap with toads, anurophagy, large body size, inability to develop rapid behavioral aversion to toads as prey items, and physiological vulnerability to bufotoxins as a result of a lack of coevolutionary history of exposure to other bufonid taxa.