Runaway Evolution Speeding Impact of Cane Toad Invasion

cane toad photo

Image credit: brian.gratwicke/Creative Commons

Scientists call it the "Olympic Village Effect": A phenomena in which the fittest of a species breed with one another to create generations of physically exceptional individuals.

This mechanism may be the cause of the incredible spread of cane toads in Australia—a revelation that proves they may be nearly impossible to stop but may also uncover their Achilles heel.Cane toads on the frontiers of the species range have been found to have overdeveloped front and rear legs. This allows them to move farther, faster. These pioneering super-toads have been found to reproduce at a quicker rate as well.

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All of this is bad news for Australian conservationists struggling to reign in the invaders. "It's bad news," Ben Phillips, a researcher at James Cook University in Queensland, explained, "it means they're getting faster and better at invading new areas."

These new-found super powers do not come without a cost, however. Phillips believes that the price is a weaker immune system.

Because the toads spread and breed so quickly, they are able to outrun endemic diseases without the suffering it takes to develop immunities. Phillips is currently looking into this possibility and, if it turns out to be true, it could prove to be the critical weakness of this otherwise unstoppable species.

Conservationists would be able to "re-introduce parasites at the edge of the range," potentially slowing or evening reversing the spread.

Read more about cane toads:
Invasion! Cane Toads Unstoppable in Australian Heat
Invasive Toads in Australia Snared by Cat Food
Toad Hunters Offered Beer Bounty, say ABC
A Fairy Tale Provides Inspiration for a New Weapon in the Battle Against the Cane Toad
Frog Bites Off More Than It Can Chew, Eats Entire Snake

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