Review of the Project
Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, 2008
- Review of the CSIRO Biological Control of Cane Toad Program to April 2008 (PDF - 331 KB)
- Review of the CSIRO Biological Control of Cane Toad Program to April 2008 (RTF - 768 KB)
About the report
This document is the second review of the federally funded project "The Development of a Cane Toad Biological Control" Commonwealth ID 56832. Terms of reference for the review are to assess:
- progress of research by CSIRO on the development of a self-disseminating viral vector that disrupts the development of cane toads;
- the technical feasibility of this research being developed to the point of offering a new and effective control method for cane toad populations in Australia (including consideration of the regulatory situation for release of such an organism); and
- the opportunities provided by other current avenues of research into cane toad control, and the relative potential for these to provide a broad scale cane toad control.
The research performed by the CSIRO team has been of high scientific quality and a number of aspects of the research program have been successful and published in the peer-reviewed literature. These include the development of a cane toad breeding colony, the identification of genes differentially expressed in tadpoles and toadlets, and the construction of BIV recombinant viruses. However, there are still major technical hurdles to be overcome in the development of a self-disseminating genetically modified cane toad control agent. The long term feasibility of the approach is also questionable on several counts including the availability of an acceptable viral vector, the difficulty of generating an appropriate immune response from virally expressed proteins, and the major hurdle of obtaining approval for release. The lack of a national and international risk assessment and management plan for the release of a virally vectored GMO regardless of exact product specification is also a major deficit and should be an essential part of any further program in this area.
The first review (Hazell et al. 2003) acknowledged that the development of a fully tested and approved biocontrol for cane toads was a long-term solution and hence recommended that the then Environment Australia consider other avenues to address the problem in the short to medium term. However, key constraints in assessing the relative merits of alternative control approaches (including integrated control), and in comparison to the CSIRO biocontrol approach, are:
- incomplete knowledge of ecological impacts;
- lack of benefit-cost analyses of each approach;
- lack of environmental impact assessments for each approach; and
- uncertainty associated with regulatory approvals, especially for genetic approaches.
We recommend that tight selection and performance criteria be used for future investment decisions in alternative approaches to cane toad control, and that this process include more comprehensive population modelling of their practicality and efficacy. No practical alternative approach to broadscale cane toad control has yet been demonstrated and hence continued investment in multiple alternative approaches is still required. Of all alternative approaches reviewed, the following are assessed as having potential opportunity for more effective local and possibly broader-scale control, either singularly or in combination, and could be considered for future investment by a technical panel facilitated by the Invasive Animals CRC:
- the cane toad-specific lungworm parasite and the use of an alarm pheromone;
- the bioprospecting approach to search for new pathogens overseas;
- development of a cane toad-specific poison; and
- the "daughterless male" approach for the special condition of a closed population.
More cane toad publications