Novel habitat causes a shift to diurnal activity in a nocturnal species

J. Sean Doody, Colin R. McHenry, David Rhind, Simon Clulow

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7 Citations (Scopus)
29 Downloads (Pure)


Plastic responses may allow individuals to survive and reproduce in novel environments, and can facilitate the establishment of viable populations. But can novel environments reveal plasticity by causing a shift in a behavior as fundamental and conspicuous as daily activity? We studied daily activity times near the invasion front of the cane toad (Rhinella marina), an invasive species that has colonized much of northern Australia. Cane toads in Australia are nocturnal, probably because diurnal activity would subject them to intolerably hot and dry conditions in the tropical savannah during the dry season. Our study can demonstrate, however, that upon reaching novel environments some toad populations became diurnal. Sandstone gorges offered cane toads novel, deeply shaded habitat. Gorges with an east-west axis (day-long northern shadow), narrow gorges and narrow sections of gorges contained toads that were primarily diurnal, while gorges with a north-south axis, wide gorges and wide sections of gorges contained mainly nocturnal toads. For example, remote camera data (1314 observations of toad activity times over 789 trap days) revealed strictly nocturnal activity at four ‘exposed’ sites (99% of 144 observations over 179 days), compared to mostly diurnal activity at a ‘shaded’ site (78% of 254 observations). Visual encounter surveys confirmed that diurnal activity occurred exclusively at shaded sites, while most nocturnal activity occurred at exposed sites. The close proximity of diurnal and nocturnal toads (4–7 km) provided compelling evidence for the abovementioned physical factors as the proximate cause of the behavioral dichotomy, and for a novel (deeply shaded gorges) environment causing the shift to diurnal activity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number230
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes


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