Endangered Species Research (2016-08-01)

Using genetic data to predict the vulnerability of a native predator to a toxic invader

  • Shine, R,
  • Wang, S,
  • Madani, G,
  • Armstrong, KN,
  • Zhang, L,
  • Li, YM

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 31
pp. 13 – 17


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Australia has no native toad species, and as a consequence, many Australian predators lack resistance to the toxins of the invasive cane toad Rhinella marina, and die if they ingest one of these toads. Resistance is conferred by a small and consistent genetic change, so genetic data can provide a rapid, non-invasive way to clarify the vulnerability of as-yet-unstudied taxa. To evaluate the hypothesis that a recent decline of ghost bat Macroderma gigas populations in tropical Australia is due to ingestion of cane toads, we sequenced the H1-H2 extracellular domain of the sodium-potassium-ATPase. Two anuran-eating Asian relatives of the Australian species possess the genes that confer bufotoxin resistance, but the ghost bat does not. Like varanid lizards (major victims of the toad invasion), Australian ghost bats appear to have lost their physiological resistance to toad toxins but retained generalist foraging behaviours, potentially including a readiness to attack toads as well as frogs. Our genetic data suggest that cane toads may imperil populations of this iconic predator, and detailed behavioural and ecological studies are warranted.