Shine Lab

About our research on the biology, impact and control of cane toads

Research group

Beginning in the early 1980's and continuing through to the present day, Rick Shine and his colleagues have conducted a major research program on reptiles and their prey species on the floodplain of the Adelaide River 60 km east of Darwin. That work has focused on issues such as the ways in which year-to-year variation in wet-season rainfall influences the ecology of tropical snakes.

Cane toads arrived in this area late in the 2004/5 wet-season, and it was obvious that our longterm studies provided a unique backdrop - a once-in-a-lifetime chance to really understand what effects cane toads have on a complex Australian ecosystem. So, we expanded our studies to include the biology and impact of these toxic invaders.

Although it is still too early for confident evaluation of ultimate impact, we have already learnt a great deal. For example, the toads themselves have changed during the invasion process: invasion front toads are longer-legged, more active and more mobile than their cousins back in long-established populations. Impacts of toad arrival on the native fauna have been less catastrophic than we had feared, except for the deaths of many varanid lizards (goannas), and some species of venomous snakes. Indeed, the impacts of toads seem likely to be less severe and long-lasting than most people have expected. Our results also challenge the effectiveness of current approaches for toad control, and suggest new ecologically-based approaches for reducing toad impact.

Many people ask us about our toad research, so we have set up this website to provide access to that information. After all, the work has been funded by taxpayers, through the Australian Research Council! The website provides links to many of our papers that provide information about toads, with a quick summary of the main results from each paper. If you want a lot more detail, just click on the highlighted link to download the entire paper.

We have also set up another website with a bit less scientific detail, for people that would like to get the "big picture" about cane toads and their impact, but without all the numbers and statistics and so forth that scientists have to put into their papers to back up their conclusions. So if you just want an overview of cane toads, their biology, their ecological impact, and their control, please go to http://www.canetoadsinoz.com/.


A toad by any other name...

A careful reader will notice something very peculiar about the scientific name of the cane toad, as used in our papers - sometimes we call the toads Bufo marinus, and sometimes Chaunus marinus. Why did this happen? Every species has a latin name that gives its genus and species, because common names are often ambiguous. The latin name is supposed to be better because it doesn't change in different places or at different times...but things don't always work out so neatly! Cane toads have been called "Bufo marinus" for a long time, and that's what we called them in our early papers. But recently some American workers suggested that the toads really belonged in a different genus (Chaunus), based on molecular evidence (DNA sequences). It sounded very convincing, so we started calling the toads Chaunus marinus (and so did a lot of other people). But then another molecular-biology group questioned the first group's conclusions, and suggested yet another name (Rhinella marina), so the changing name of the cane toad is due to our increasing understanding of its evolutionary relationships.