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|Title: ||Evolution and impact of invasive species : cane toads and snakes in Australia|
|Authors: ||Phillips, Ben Lee|
|Keywords: ||Alien Species;Bufo marinus;Predator-Prey;Pseudechis|
|Issue Date: ||2004|
|Publisher: ||University of Sydney. School of Biological Sciences|
|Abstract: ||Evolution can occur rapidly, along timescales that are traditionally regarded as 'ecological'. Despite growing acceptance among biologists of rapid evolution, a strong paradigm of contemporary evolution is still absent in many sub-disciplines. Here I apply a contemporary evolution viewpoint to conservation biology. Specifically, I examine the impact of cane toads (Bufo marinus) on Australian snakes. Toads were introduced into Australia in 1935, have spread rapidly and represent a novel, extremely toxic prey item to naïve Australian predators (including snakes). Based on dietary preferences and geographic distributions I find that 49 species of Australian snake are potentially at risk from the invasion of the toad. Furthermore, examination of physiological resistance to toad toxin in 10 of these "at risk" species strongly suggests that most species of Australian snake are poorly equipped to deal with a likely dose of toad toxin. Even species that are highly resistant to toad toxin (such as the keelback, Tropidonophis mairii) face indirect fitness costs associated with consuming toads. Within a population of snakes however, the impact of toads is unlikely to be random. For example, the examination of several component allometries describing the interaction between snakes and toads revealed that, within a species, smaller snakes are more likely to ingest a fatal dose of toad toxin than are larger snakes. Further consideration of the interaction between snakes and toads suggests that toads will not only be exerting differential impact on snakes based upon morphology, but also exert non-random selection on prey preference and resistance to toad toxin in snake populations. To examine the possibility of a morphological response by snakes to toads, I examined changes in the body size and relative head size of four species of snake as a consequence of time since exposure to toads. Two of the species (green treesnakes and red-bellied blacksnakes) are predicted to face strong impacts from toads. These two species showed an increase in mean body size and a decrease in relative head size as a consequence of time since exposure to toads; both changes in an adaptive direction. In contrast, the other two species (keelbacks and swampsnakes) are predicted to face much lower impact from toads, and these two species showed little or no evidence of morphological change associated with time since exposure to toads. These results indicate an adaptive change in morphology at a rate that is proportional to the predicted level of impact for each species, strongly suggesting an evolved response. Red-bellied blacksnakes (a toad-vulnerable species) were further assessed for evolved responses in prey preference and toxin resistance. Comparisons between toad-exposed and toad-naïve populations of blacksnakes revealed that snakes from toad-exposed populations exhibited slightly higher resistance to toad toxin and a much-reduced tendency to eat toads, when compared with toad-naïve snakes. Naïve snakes exhibited no tendency to learn avoidance of toxic prey, nor were they able to acquire resistance to toxin as a result of several sub-lethal doses, suggesting that the observed differences between populations is evolved rather than acquired. Together, these results strongly suggest that blacksnakes are exhibiting an evolved shift in prey preference and toxin resistance as a consequence of exposure to toads. Thus, it appears that snakes are exhibiting adaptation at multiple traits in response to exposure to toads. Given the high likelihood that these adaptive shifts have an evolved basis, it appears that the impact of toads will decrease with time in many snake populations. But what about toads? Because the outcome of the interaction between a toad and a snake is also mediated by the body size and relative toxicity of toads, it is important to understand how these traits vary in space and time. Exploratory analysis revealed that toads exhibit a decrease in body size and a decrease in relative toxicity as a consequence of time since colonisation, indicating that their impact on native predators decreases with time. Additionally, there appears to be meaningful spatial variation in toad relative toxicity, indicating that some populations of native predators are facing higher impact from toads than others. Overall, these results clearly indicate the importance of assessing the potential for rapid evolutionary response in impacted systems. Doing so may provide evidence that some species are in less trouble than originally thought. Additionally, and as more data accumulate, it may be possible to characterise certain categories of environmental impact by their potential for eliciting adaptive response from "impacted" species. This approach has strong implications for the way conservation priorities are set and the way in which conservation dependent populations are managed.|
|Rights and Permissions: ||Copyright Phillips, Ben Lee;http://www.library.usyd.edu.au/copyright.html|
|Appears in Collections:||Sydney Digital Theses (Open Access)|
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