The banner is a low-tech simulation of my place through time: the first photograph is intended to invoke the tundra of the PaleoIndian period, 12,500-10,000 BCE; the second, the swamps and woodlands of c. 1630, of the contact period between the Massachusett and the first European settlers. The third photograph is of my front yard when I moved in (the yard was used as a doggie playground), c. 2007; the fourth, a photograph of my garden, c. 2010.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

guest blogger James D'Arpa, on the Cane Toad

The ecology of Australia is one of intrigue and of individuality. The geographical isolation of the region has allowed for its inhabitants to evolve completely independently of the outside world for thousands of years. This has resulted in the creation of many beautiful, awe-inspiring species that exist nowhere else on the globe.
 I first became interested in Australia’s ecology when I was a child. My fascination was sparked when my cousin Sal announced to the family that because of his job as a civil engineer he would be temporarily living in the country. I remember at the end of every month looking forward to the pictures he would send me of exotic animals and landscapes that I had only seen on television. 
It was not until recently that I learned that this ecology of Australia that I had found so awe-inspiring as a child, is in danger. The geographical isolation that has given rise to these wonderful species has in turn made the land very much susceptible to dangers posed to it by invasive species.
One species in particular that poses an exceptionally large threat is, among other things, a species of toad known as the “Cane Toad.” I know that it seems far-fetched and even a little ridiculous to think that a mere species of toad could have any lasting effect on such a large landscape, but the fact is the toad does indeed pose a real danger.
The Cane Toad is typically of brownish-red coloration, and is particularly large compared to other species of toads, weighing around four pounds on average. In June of 1935 the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations introduced the Cane Toad to Australia. The toad was introduced in the hope that it would reduce the amount of Cane beetles on the island, an insect that is harmful to sugar cane crops.
The belief that this tactic would be successful illustrates a point made by Thomas K. Dean: “In large part, environmental crises are a result of humanity's disconnection from the natural world, brought about not only by increasing technology but also by particularization; that is, a mentality of specialization that fails to recognize the interconnectedness of all things.”
When applied to the Cane Toad, it can be said that humanity’s failure to recognize that the introduction of a foreign species would have far-reaching consequences much deeper than the eradication of a beetle illustrates our short-sightedness and our overly simplistic view of nature.
Since 1935 the population of Cane Toads in Australia has exploded from the original 102 toads introduced to some 200 million that call Australia their home today. The distribution of the toads during the years since their introduction can be seen in the map below.

The toads owe the majority of their success to deadly toxins that they release from the backs of their heads. Because predators in Australia have not had the hundreds of years necessary to adapt any immunity to these toxins, the toad is without a natural predator and therefore without a population regulator. In fact, many Australian predators who would normally hunt animals like the Cane Toad now find themselves in danger of accidently eating an animal that contains a deadly toxin.  Crocodiles and freshwater turtles are among the chief species that face a particularly large threat from the Cane Toad’s defense mechanism as both are capable of eating a toad large enough to kill them and both typically prey on types of toads. Smaller reptiles face a similar danger, including a species of lizard known as the Yellow Spotted Monitor whose numbers have dropped more than 90% as a result of the toad.   
  Naturally, the prey of the Cane Toads, typically various types of small rodents, reptiles, amphibians, and birds, also find themselves at risk along with a variety of other species that attempt to compete with the Cane Toad for these food sources.
The Cane Toad is a problem that must be dealt with. As its habitat expands and becomes more closely mingled with the human population in Australia, it poses a severe threat to the well-being of small children as well as that of beloved family pets.

Works Cited

Dean, Thomas K. “What is Eco-Criticism?” ALSE. The Association for the Study of
Literature and Environment, 28 Nov. 2012

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