Oral Presentation- Symposium 12th International Mammalogical Congress

What makes northern quolls “toad-smart”? (#332)

Ella Kelly 1 , Jonathan Webb 2 , Ben L Phillips 1
  1. School of Biosciences, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria , Australia
  2. School of Life Sciences, University of Technology, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Countless species are currently under threat due to changes to the environment around them, and although many are facing extinction, some are adapting to survive. The cane toad invasion across northern Australia has led to declines in native predators, including the northern quoll, which unwittingly attacks and eats poisonous toads. Yet amongst the widespread loss, a small number of quoll populations have persisted and now coexist with toads, doing so because they avoid toads as a prey item. This “toad-smart” behaviour has long been suspected to be heritable, but has never been empirically tested until now. It is likely that quoll populations can exist alongside cane toads because parents pass toad-smart behaviour to their offspring either genetically or through cultural transmission. We measured the response to toads of wild-caught parents from both toad-infested and toad-free areas of northern Australia, and then bred these quolls in captivity to determine if their offspring exhibited similar behaviour to their parents. We also attempted to link other behavioural traits, such as neophobia and exploratory behaviour, to the ability of northern quolls to survive the cane toad invasion. Taken together, this study demonstrates that some individual quolls are predisposed to survive the cane toad invasion, and that they may be able to pass their “toad-smart” ability onto their offspring.