News FocusProfile: Rick Shine

The Reluctant Toad Killer

Science  15 Jun 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6087, pp. 1375-1377
DOI: 10.1126/science.336.6087.1375

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Summary

In 1935, Australian sugar growers released several thousand young cane toads (Bufo marinus) into their fields to eat the beetles that were eating their crops. Today, cane toads, which produce a toxin that is deadly to many of the native predators that gobble them up, are one of the continent's worst invasive species and number in the hundreds of millions. Herpetologist Rick Shine of Australian National University knew the toads would likely eradicate many of the animals he had studied for decades, so he reluctantly turned his attention to the unwelcome guest. Less than a decade later, Shine's research has paid off, with dozens of findings covering basic toad biology and how the toads interact with Australia's native fauna, and even the discovery of a potentially new mechanism of evolution. But Shine's biggest breakthrough may be a recently devised strategy to turn the toad's own toxins against the invader.

  • * Sarah Zielinski is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.