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Paradoxical population resilience of a keystone predator to a toxic invasive species

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J. Sean Doody

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The invasive cane toad (Rhinella marina) has decimated populations of a keystone predator, the yellow-spotted monitor (Varanus panoptes), causing trophic cascades in Australian animal communities. Paradoxically, some V. panoptes populations coexist with toads. Demonstrating patterns in heterogeneous population-level impacts could reveal mechanisms that mediate individual effects, and provide managers with the ability to predict future impacts and assist in population recovery. AimsThe aim of the present study was to search for spatial patterns of population resilience of V. panoptes to invasive cane toads. MethodsPublished literature, unpublished data, reports and anecdotal information from trained herpetologists were used to test the emerging hypothesis that resilient predator populations are mainly coastal, whereas non-resilient populations are mostly inland. Key resultsPost-toad invasion data from 23 V. panoptes populations supported the idea that toad impacts on V. panoptes were heterogeneous; roughly half the populations could be designated as resilient (n=13) and half as non-resilient (n=10). Resilient populations had longer times since toad invasion than did non-resilient populations (39 versus 9 years respectively), supporting the idea that some recovery can occur. Non-resilient populations were exclusively inland (n=10), whereas resilient populations were split between inland (n=5) and coastal (n=8) populations. Resilient inland populations, however, were mainly confined to areas in which decades had passed since toad invasion. ConclusionsThe findings suggest that coastal V. panoptes populations fare much better than inland populations when it comes to surviving invading cane toads. ImplicationsUnambiguous recovery of monitor populations remains undemonstrated and will require long-term population monitoring before and after toad invasion.


CSIRO Publishing