Invasive cane toads are unique in shape but overlap in ecological niche compared to Australian native frogs

Marta Vidal-García*, J. Scott Keogh

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    6 Citations (Scopus)


    Invasive species are an important issue worldwide but predicting invasiveness, and the underlying mechanisms that cause it, is difficult. There are several primary hypotheses to explain invasion success. Two main hypothesis based on niche spaces stand out as alternative, although not exclusive. The empty niche hypothesis states that invaders occupy a vacant niche space in the recipient community, and the niche competition hypothesis states that invaders overlap with native species in niche space. Studies on trait similarity/dissimilarity between the invader and native species can provide information on their niche overlap. Here, we use the highly invasive and well-studied cane toad (Rhinella marina) to test these two hypotheses in Australia, and assess its degree of overlap with native species in several niche dimensions. We compare extensive morphological and environmental data of this successful invader to 235 species (97%) of native Australian frogs. Our study is the first to document the significant morphological differences between the invasive cane toad and a continent-wide frog radiation: despite significant environmental overlap, cane toads were distinct in body size and shape from most Australian frog species, suggesting that in addition to their previously documented phenotypic plasticity and wide environmental and trophic niche breadth, their unique shape also may have contributed to their success as an invasive species in Australia. Thus, the invasive success of cane toads in Australia may be explained through them successfully colonizing an empty niche among Australian anurans. Our results support that the cane toad's distinct morphology may have played a unique role in the invasiveness of this species in Australia, which coupled with a broad environmental niche breadth, would have boosted their ability to expand their distribution across Australia. We also propose RLLR (Relative limb length ratio) as a potentially useful measure of identifying morphological niche uniqueness and a potential measure of invasiveness potential in anuran amphibians.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)7609-7619
    Number of pages11
    JournalEcology and Evolution
    Issue number19
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017


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