Doctor Benjamin Feit
Graduated PhD 2016
Can Water Exclusion Limit the Ecological Impacts of Cane Toads?
The invasion of cane toads across northern Australia has been an ecological tragedy. Populations of a number of their predators have severely declined following the arrival of toads.
Cane toads could also impact cattle production, the largest primary industry in tropical Australia through their consumption of dung beetles. Dung beetles from Hawaii, Africa, and Europe have successfully been introduced to Australia in order to control polluting effects of cattle dung.
By manipulating dung during the feeding process and the resulting soil fertilization, dung beetles play an essential role in the nutrient cycle and increase primary productivity. Additionally, dung beetles suppress the breeding success of parasites of livestock.
Cane toads readily consume dung beetles and because of their high population sizes and predilection for dung beetles, they could suppress dung beetle populations and thus diminish the services they provide for pastoral ecosystems.
Cane toads require regular access to water to survive the long dry periods that occur in semi-arid Australia. Consequently, permanent earthen dams created as watering points for cattle function as refugia for cane toads in the semi-arid zone. In addition, cows congregate around artificial water points during the day.
Thus dung is likely to be concentrated in that area increasing the attractiveness for dung beetles. As a result, artificial water points are hotspots for both, dung beetles and cane toads.
Recent research has shown that landholders in the semi-arid zone could eradicate toads from large areas by replacing open earthen dams with above-ground tanks made of plastic or steel that exclude toads from access to water. Could these tanks provide benefits for pastoral ecosystems?
Research Project Supervisor
Dr Christopher Turbill
Feit B, Dempster T, Gibb H, Letnic M, (2015) 'Invasive Cane Toads' Predatory Impact on Dung Beetles is Mediated by Reservoir Type at Artificial Water Points', Ecosystems, vol.18, no.5, pp 826-838
Feit B, Letnic M, (2015) 'Species level traits determine positive and negative population impacts of invasive cane toads on native squamates', Biodiversity and Conservation, vol.24, no.5, pp 1017-1029
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