Invasive cane toads might initiate cascades of direct and indirect effects in a terrestrial ecosystem

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Citation:
Biological Invasions, 2018, pp. 1 - 15
Issue Date:
2018-01-19
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© 2018 The Author(s) Understanding the impacts that invasive vertebrates have on terrestrial ecosystems extends primarily to invaders’ impacts on species with which they interact directly through mechanisms such as predation, competition and habitat modification. In addition to direct effects, invaders can also initiate ecological cascades via indirect population level effects on species with which they do not directly interact. However, evidence that invasive vertebrates initiate ecological cascades in terrestrial ecosystems remains scarce. Here, we ask whether the invasion of the cane toad, a vertebrate invader that is toxic to many of Australia’s vertebrate predators, has induced ecological cascades in a semi-arid rangeland. We compared activity of a large predatory lizard, the sand-goanna, and abundances of smaller lizards preyed upon by goannas in areas of high toad activity near toads’ dry season refuges and areas of low toad activity distant from toads’ dry season refuges. Consistent with the hypothesis that toad invasion has led to declines of native predators susceptible to poisoning, goanna activity was lower in areas of high toad activity. Consistent with the hypothesis that toad-induced goanna decline lead to increases in abundance the prey of goannas, smaller lizards were more abundant in areas of high toad activity. Structural equation modelling showed a positive correlation between goanna activity and distance from dry season refuge habitats used by toads. The abundances of small lizards was correlated negatively with goanna activity and distance from dry season refuges of toads. Our findings provide support for the notion that invasions by terrestrial vertebrates can trigger ecological cascades.
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