Is developmental plasticity triggered by DNA methylation changes in the invasive cane toad (Rhinella marina)?

Boris Yagound, Roshmi R. Sarma, Richard J. Edwards, Mark F. Richardson, Carlos M. Rodriguez Lopez, Michael R. Crossland, Gregory P. Brown, Jayna L. DeVore, Richard Shine, Lee A. Rollins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many organisms can adjust their development according to environmental conditions, including the presence of conspecifics. Although this developmental plasticity is common in amphibians, its underlying molecular mechanisms remain largely unknown. Exposure during development to either ‘cannibal cues’ from older conspecifics, or ‘alarm cues’ from injured conspecifics, causes reduced growth and survival in cane toad (Rhinella marina) tadpoles. Epigenetic modifications, such as changes in DNA methylation patterns, are a plausible mechanism underlying these developmental plastic responses. Here we tested this hypothesis, and asked whether cannibal cues and alarm cues trigger the same DNA methylation changes in developing cane toads. We found that exposure to both cannibal cues and alarm cues was associated with local changes in DNA methylation patterns. These DNA methylation changes affected genes putatively involved in developmental processes, but in different genomic regions for different conspecific-derived cues. Genetic background explains most of the epigenetic variation among individuals. Overall, the molecular mechanisms triggered by exposure to cannibal cues seem to differ from those triggered by alarm cues. Studies linking epigenetic modifications to transcriptional activity are needed to clarify the proximate mechanisms that regulate developmental plasticity in cane toads.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere11127
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • Bufo marinus
  • DNA methylation
  • cane toad
  • development
  • epigenetics
  • phenotypic plasticity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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