Can we mitigate cane toad impacts on northern quolls?

18 September 2015

The findings of hub research investigating ways to protect the northern quoll from the cane toad invasion have been published.

Since 2009, Dr Jonathan Webb from the University of Technology, Sydney, has been investigating whether quolls can be trained to avoid eating toads, using a learning process known as conditioned taste aversion (CTA).

Quolls readily attack cane toads, but have little resistance to their toxin and die after mouthing large toads. Northern quoll populations have declined across northern Australia over the past 40 years through the combined impacts of grazing, altered fire regimes and predation. However, their appetite for the toxic cane toad has had the most catastrophic impact.

Under the CTA process, the quolls are fed small dead toads laced with a nausea-inducing chemical. They become mildly ill, and subsequently associate the smell and taste of toads with illness and refuse to attack live cane toads.

A long-term study in Kakadu National Park showed that adult quolls could be trained to avoid cane toads with toad-aversion baits and that they passed this characteristic onto their young. This demonstrates that toad aversion baiting would only need to be carried out once to protect quoll populations from cane toads.

Another encouraging aspect of the project emerged followed baiting trials in Sir John Gorge in central Kimberley, in which half of the wild quolls documented ingested toad-aversion baits.

The next step for this research will involve the development of long-lasting toad-aversion baits suitable for aerial deployment in the harsh climate of the north.

Details of the research are now available in a technical report and have also been immortalised in cartoon, thanks to First Dog on the Moon.

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