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Morphology of parotoid glands in cane toads

posted on 2022-06-10, 02:41 authored by Richard Shine, Greg BrownGreg Brown, Ryann Blennerhassett, Cameron Hudson
If optimal investment in anti-predator defences depends on predation risk, invading new regions (and thus, encountering different predators) may favour shifts in that investment. Cane toads offer an ideal system to test this prediction: expensive anti-predator toxins are stored mainly in parotoid glands whose dimensions are easy to measure, and toad invasions have changed the suites of predators they encounter. Although plasticity may influence parotoid morphology, comparisons between parents and progeny revealed that gland dimensions were highly heritable. That heritability supports the plausibility of an evolved basis to variation in gland dimensions. Measurements of 3,779 adult toads show that females have larger glands than males, invasive populations have larger glands than in the native-range, and that parotoid sexual size dimorphism varies strongly among invaded areas. Geographic variation in parotoid morphology may be driven by predation risk to both adult toads and offspring (provisioned with toxins by their mother), with toxins allocated to eggs exacerbating the risk of cannibalism but reducing the risk of interspecific predation. Investment into chemical defences has evolved rapidly during the cane toad’s international diaspora, consistent with the hypothesis that organisms flexibly adjust resource allocation to anti-predator tactics in response to novel challenges.


Measurements on live and preserved toads, to quantify length and width of parotoid glands.


Australian Research Council : FL120100074


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