Assessing the potential impact of invasive cane toads on a commercial freshwater fishery in tropical Australia

Context: The toxins produced by cane toads (Rhinella marina) are fatal to many Australian predators that ingest these invasive anurans. To date, the potential economic impact of the cane toad invasion has attracted little attention. Toads have recently arrived at a large impoundment (Lake Argyle) in north-eastern Western Australia, that supports a commercial fishery for silver cobbler (shovel-nosed catfish, Arius midgleyi), raising concern that the toads may inflict significant economic damage by killing fish.

Aims: Our research aimed to clarify the vulnerability of silver cobblers to the eggs and larvae of cane toads by determining (a) whether catfish are adversely affected if they prey on toad eggs or tadpoles, and (b) whether surviving catfish learn to avoid cane toad eggs and tadpoles in subsequent encounters.

Methods: We conducted laboratory feeding trials to examine feeding responses of catfish to cane toad eggs and tadpoles in early and late developmental stages. Fish that survived exposure to toad eggs and/or tadpoles were re-tested with potential prey of the same sizes and developmental stages four days later.

Key results: Our laboratory trials confirmed that some catfish eat toad eggs and die; but most catfish avoided the eggs. Catfish readily consumed toad tadpoles at both early and late developmental stages, but without experiencing mortality; and soon learned not to consume this toxic new prey type.

Conclusions and implications: Despite potential frequent episodes of mortality of small numbers of catfish during the wet season, the overall impacts of cane toads on the Lake Argyle fishery likely will be minimal.

Secondary title Wildlife Research
Author Ruchira Somaweera, Michael R. Crossland and Richard Shine
Year 2011
Volume 38
Number 5
Pages 380-385
ISBN/ISSN DOI: 10.1071/WR11026
Region WA