Congratulations to Samantha McCann winner of this year's Jill Landsberg Trust Fund Scholarship. Samantha was very excited to receive the scholarship for her project Using chemical cues to control invasive cane toads (Rhinella marina) in Australia as she can 'put it towards answering important questions about the best and most efficient way for toad control efforts to proceed'. Her supervisor Professor Rick Shine was recently awarded the Prime Minister's Science Prize for his work on cane toads.
As a PhD student in the Shine lab at the University of Sydney, studying methods to reduce the abundance and viability of invasive cane toad tadpoles, her work primarily involves the manipulation of species-specific chemical cues. "In particular I am looking at how the use of baited tadpole traps, invertebrate predators, and conspecific suppression chemicals influence toad tadpole survival when applied to water bodies in the field, and which method, or combination of these methods, results in the most successful reduction of surviving tadpoles. This project combines my passion for conservation with my interest in amphibians, as well as the ecology of invasive species."
Cane toads (Rhinella marina) are global invaders of remarkable success, and since their introduction into Australia, their ecological impact (mainly via fatal ingestion by natives) has been devastating. Unfortunately, attempts at controlling, removing and excluding toads throughout Australia have remained largely unsuccessful, and cane toads continue to persist and spread, most recently into the Kimberley in Western Australia. However, recent work on toad control has revealed the potential of a new avenue of approach- manipulating the chemical communication systems used by toad tadpoles. Thus far, several avenues of natural chemical control have been identified; notably the use of ‘attractant cue’ to lure tadpoles into traps, ‘alarm cue’ to cause changes in growth and development of tadpoles, and ‘suppression cue’- a product of larger tadpoles which suppresses the growth and increases mortality of conspecific eggs and hatchlings. Although each of these methods have enormous potential for future application, we urgently need to determine (a) which of these control methods are most effective in reducing the number and/or viability of toad tadpoles, and (b) whether we could usefully deploy some combination of chemical cues to maximise the effectiveness of current control efforts.
My project aims to take these methodologies and apply them on a landscape scale under field conditions, in order to answer such questions. Using 30 replicate ponds, which have been constructed in Kunnunurra, WA, in collaboration with the Department of Parks and Wildlife, I will run manipulative experiments raising cane toads from eggs to metamorphosis under a range of control treatments. My experimental design will allow me to determine which tadpole treatment, or combination of treatments, results in the lowest survival or viability of toad tadpoles (measured as the number, size and performance of metamorphs emerging from each pond). This information will allow for the most effective prioritisation of toad control efforts under often limited resources.
Samantha receives a $6000 research grant and will be attending ESA16 in Fremantle to receive her award. 2015 winner, Ryan Pearson (Griffith U), will be presenting outcomes from his project “Solving migratory mysteries: can the shell chemistry of commensal barnacles reveal the migratory origin of endangered loggerhead turtles?”
Highly Commended awards went to:
Richard Beggs (ANU) "Removing a reverse keystone species: Impacts of an experimental cull of noisy miners on small-bodied woodland birds in remnant woodland fragments within an agricultural matrix. Full application: https://www.ecolsoc.org.au/files/webform/r_beggs_jltf_application.pdf
Rowena Hamer (UTas) “Restoring resilience in wildlife populations: devils, quolls and feral cats in the Tasmanian Midlands”. Full application: https://www.ecolsoc.org.au/files/webform/jltf_2016_application_rhamer.pdf
Richard and Rowena both received a one-year complimentary ESA membership.
Thank you once again to this year’s assessment panel: Raghu Sathyamurthy (Chair) (CSIRO), Sue McIntyre (CSIRO), Eric Vanderduys (CSIRO), & Ian Williamson (QUT).