Magazine article Earth Island Journal

Raising Cane

Magazine article Earth Island Journal

Raising Cane

Article excerpt

Australian scientists and environmentalists started to panic last year when cane toads began appearing in the country's western states for the first time. The poisonous frogs were brought to Australia in the 1930s to eradicate a beetle that was wreaking havoc on the country's sugar cane plantations, but began also killing off frog predators such as crocodiles and snakes. The worry was that mushrooming cane toad populations would outcompete native frogs and birds, and that an ecological catastrophe was imminent.

Turns out that the terror over toads might have been a case of Chicken Little.

"People saw these ugly creatures moving across tropical Australia and common sense said there was going to be a huge disaster," says Richard Shine, an invasive species researcher at the University of Sydney, who has reviewed various studies on the impact of cane toads. "But it just hasn't happened at the scale that we feared."

"The system seems to be absorbing the toads," agrees Ross Alford of James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland. "Toads are not an overwhelming environmental disaster."

In Pact, populations of native frogs and birds appear to be intact. While the cane toads do compete with native frogs for food, they are also getting rid of some of the frogs' predators, so their overall impact is minimal.

Researchers aren't necessarily dismissing the potential threat of cane toads, as they have had a negative impact on some insect populations and on the country's frog predators, including goannas (monitor lizards), freshwater crocodiles, king brown snakes, and northern quolls, a cat-like marsupial. …

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