Western Australia is waking up to a worrying new reality: its cane toads are no longer nocturnal.
The state has been frontline territory in Australia’s ongoing battle against cane toads for years.
But now it is witnessing a revolution, or perhaps evolution in their behaviour.
Researchers from Macquarie University, The University of Newcastle, Monash University and the University of South Florida recently observed members of the invasive species awake and active during the day, rather than just at night.
Using a network of remote cameras, they were able to spot the normally nocturnal amphibians hopping around sandstone gorges in the Kimberley region.
“We didn’t expect them to change such a fundamental behaviour,” says Macquarie researcher Dr Simon Clulow.
“This suggests that cane toads are particularly good at changing their behaviour in response to their environment, something known as behavioural plasticity, which might assist their invasive spread into new environments.”
Northern Australia is normally too hot during the day for the toads to survive, but researchers think gorges provide enough shelter for them to make the change from a purely nocturnal lifestyle.
Cane toads cause severe damage to ecosystems by poisoning native animals and Dr Clulow says their adaptability is bad news for conservationists.
“[It] does help explain why cane toads have been able to colonise so much of northern Australia since their introduction in 1935,” he says.
“Given the serious problems they cause, we need to better understand how behaviour contributes to the competitive ability and spread of cane toads, and other invasive animals.”
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