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Native animals trained to avoid toads

Quolls and blue-tongued lizards have been trained not to eat cane toads in a bid to stop the invasive pest from destroying native wildlife.

Quolls and blue-tongued lizards have been trained not to eat cane toads in a bid to stop the invasive pest from destroying native wildlife.

Professor of Biology at the University of Sydney, Rick Shine, has spearheaded a major research initiative on the biology, impact and control of cane toads in Australia with a team of researchers called Team Bufo.

He will discuss Team Bufo’s research in controlling cane toads and their impact on native wildlife at a free public lecture at the James Cook University Cairns campus on March 28.

A Laureate Fellow of the Australian Research Council and Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, Professor Shine has won many awards for the quality of his scientific work and his ability to share that knowledge with the general public.

Professor Shine said the idea to train native wildlife came after his team observed around 90 per cent mortality in larger animals when cane toads first moved through an area, whereas many of the smaller animals survived.

“Small animals could only eat the smaller toads containing just a small amount of poison, so it would make them sick, but they would survive and quickly learn not to eat toads,” he said.

“We made use of this taste aversion by adding a tasteless, nausea-inducing chemical to dead toads which we gave to quolls to eat and almost immediately they learnt not to eat toads.

“The educational experience worked well for the larger animals, and we found once the larger toads had moved through the toads began to breed and so younger, smaller toads dominated.

“The next generation of animals were then exposed to toads which did not have enough toxin to kill them so they too, learnt not to eat toads.”

Professor Shine used this method with quolls in Kakadu and blue-tongued lizards in Kununurra.

He also worked with worked with Dr John Llewellyn at JCU in Townsville where they discovered goannas in the region had been through a behavioural shift and learnt not to eat toads.

Team Bufo is also using the cane toad’s toxin and cannibalistic behaviour to successfully trap and destroy their tadpoles.

“Toad tadpoles can detect the chemicals in toad eggs and use that information to destroy the eggs so they do not have 30,000 competitors when they hatch,” Professor Shine said.

Professor Shine’s presentation, Reducing the Ecological Impact of Invasive Cane Toads, is the latest in James Cook University’s annual series of public lectures in science and engineering.

The lecture will be held in the Crowther Theatre at James Cook University in Smithfield on Thursday, March 28. Refreshments will be served from 5.30pm and the lecture will begin at 6pm.

Issued March 19, 2013

Media enquiries: E. linden.woodward@jcu.edu.au T. 07 4042 1007