The accelerating invasion: dispersal rates of cane toads at an invasion front compared to an already-colonized location

Abstract

Evolutionary theory predicts that individuals at an expanding range edge will disperse faster than conspecifics in long-colonized locations, but direct evidence is rare. Previous reports of high rates of dispersal of cane toads (Rhinella marina) at the invasion front have been based on studies at a single site in the Northern Territory. To replicate the earlier work, we radio-tracked free-ranging toads in the Kimberley region of northwestern Australia (at the westward-spreading invasion front) and 500 km northeast, on the Adelaide River floodplain of the Northern Territory (where toads had already been present for 6 years). For comparison, we also radio-tracked native frogs (Litoria caerulea and L. splendida) at the same sites. Consistent with the earlier reports, invasion-front cane toads travelled further per day, were more highly directional, and re-used refuge sites less frequently, than did conspecifics from an already-colonized site. In contrast, native frogs showed similar movement patterns in the two study areas. Our results confirm previous reports, and suggest that accelerated dispersal may be a common feature of individuals at the vanguard of a biological invasion.

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