James Cook University has uncovered a breakthrough in the bid to control cane toads.
James Cook University has uncovered a breakthrough in the bid to control cane toads.

Breakthrough discovery may help cane toad problem

RESEARCHERS from James Cook University have found that environmental DNA (eDNA) could be used to help detect the presence of cane toads in regional areas.

Supported by the Australian Government's Northern Australia Environmental Resources Hub, the researchers found eDNA could be found in small bodies of water days after the cane toad departed the area.

Dr Cecilia Villacorta-Rath said this discovery provides a timeline of the cane toads movements.

"If we detect cane toad eDNA in a water sample, we know that a toad has visited that water body sometime within the past one to three days."

This is a progressive step as previously cane toads have proved difficult to track through traditional methods

"Tracking the arrival of cane toads into a new area is a challenge. They are active at night, and the low number of cane toads at the invasion front means they are difficult to detect using traditional survey methods that rely on either seeing, hearing or catching an animal," Dr Villacorta-Rath said.

Co-researcher Professor Damien Burrows said the study proved water was a great way to track cane toads.

"The average time it takes for a cane toad to hydrate is five minutes. We wanted to know if we could use eDNA to detect a single cane toad that might visit a water-body for five minutes and then leave," Prof Burrows said.

"The answer is yes. We found that eDNA is very sensitive for detecting a cane toad that only visits a very small puddle for a very limited time."

Cane toads are a serious threat to native wildlife and prey upon native species, known spreaders of disease and a risk to pets.

The Northern Rivers is the only area of NSW not included in the state government's cane toad biosecurity zone.

The Department of Primary Industries notes that an endemic population is already established in the region.