Larval alarm pheromones as a potential control for invasive cane toads (Bufo marinus) in tropical Australia

Abstract

Novel approaches to control invasive species are urgently needed. Cane toads (Bufo marinus) are large, highly toxic anurans that are spreading rapidly through tropical Australia. Injured toad larvae produce an alarm pheromone that elicits rapid avoidance by conspecifics but not by frog larvae. Experiments in outdoor ponds show that repeated exposure to the pheromone reduced toad tadpole survival rates (by >50%) and body mass at metamorphosis (by 20%). The alarm pheromone did not induce tadpoles to seek shelter, but accelerated ontogenetic differentiation. Perhaps reflecting mortality of weaker individuals during larval life, growth rates post-metamorphosis were higher in animals emerging from the pheromone exposure treatment than from the control treatment. Nonetheless, body size differentials established at metamorphosis persisted through the first 8 days of post-metamorphic life. We will need substantial additional research before evaluating whether the alarm pheromone provides a way to reduce cane toad recruitment in nature, but our field trials are encouraging in this respect.

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