Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Feasibility of a Cane Toad Barrier

By Darren Southwell and Reid Tingley

Preventing the spread of cane toads into Western Australia’s Pilbara could cost less than $100,000 per year.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Cane toads are one of Australia’s worst invasive species. Over the past 85 years they have spread across more than 1 million km2 of northern Australia. Along the way, the toads have had severe impacts on native biodiversity, such as goannas and quolls.

The toads seem unstoppable, but new research suggests there may be a chink in their seemingly impenetrable armour. The toad’s weakness, it seems, is its inability to retain water.

Cane toads lose water at the same rate as a sponge; they need access to water every 3–4 days or else they dehydrate and die. As the toads have penetrated further into arid regions of Australia, they have increasingly relied on artificial water sources – such as pastoral dams and tanks – to rehydrate and breed. It makes sense, then, that we might be able to stop the toad invasion in arid areas by preventing toads from accessing these water points. But where might we apply such a strategy?

It turns out that a thin “corridor” of pastoral land between Broome and Port Hedland, in Western Australia, is the perfect trap. Here the Great Sandy Desert almost reaches the coast. The cane toads will really have to squeeze through this narrow bottleneck to reach the Pilbara and continue spreading through Western Australia.

A previous study, using computer simulations, suggested that replacing about 100 pastoral dams and tanks with...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.