Class of Excellence I

21 March 2023

As International Collen-Francqui Chair, Prof. Rick Shine will give a series of Classes of Excellence. The topic of the first class centres around the role of rapid evolution in global change crisis and mitigation. Based on his own work on the cane toad invasion in Australia, Prof. Shine will give two keynote lectures: a first evolutionary-focused lecture on "An evolutionary perspective on biological invasions”, and a second conservation-focused lecture on "Understanding your enemy: using research to mitigate the impact of invasive species on endangered wildlife". The classes will be proceeded by introductory talks of Prof. Frank Pasmans (UGhent) and Prof. Thomas Merckx (VUB). All students, postdoc researchers, and professors in biology are warmly invited to attend the classes.

Cane Toad Wars: The rol of rapid evolution in global change crisis and mitigation

In 1935 an Australian government agency imported 101 specimens of the Central and South American Cane Toad in an attempt to manage insects that were decimating sugar-cane harvests. In Australia the Cane Toad adapted and evolved with abandon voraciously consuming native wildlife and killing predators with its lethal skin toxin. Today hundreds of millions of Cane Toads have spread across the northern part of Australia and continue to move westward. The humble Cane Toad has become a national villain.

In this Class, Prof. Shine will explain the complex and nuanced story of how he has been documenting the toad’s ecological impact in Australia. He will focus on how the discovery of rapid evolutionary change in the invader suggested new ways to control invader abundance by using cane toads to control their own populations. Likewise an understanding of mechanisms of impact suggested a new way to buffer endangered wildlife from invasive toads by including rapid learning in imperiled predators. Prof. Shine will show during this Class how innovative solutions to the biodiversity crisis can be found by basing management strategies on detailed field studies coupled with insights from evolutionary and ecological theory.

Practical information

Date & time

Tuesday 21 March 2023 at 2 p.m.

Who is it for?

Students, postdocs, and professors in biology.


  • 2:00 p.m.: Welcome and introduction by Prof. Raoul Van Damme (UAntwerp)
  • 2:10 p.m.: Talk by Prof. Frank Pasmans (UGhent) on "Rapid evolution of a lethal amphibian fungus at the invasion front: the case of Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans"
  • 2:35 p.m.: Talk by Prof. Thomas Merckx (VUB) on "Urban evolution in Lepidoptera: mitigating soot, light pollution and urban heat”
  • 3:00 p.m.: Coffee
  • 3:20 p.m.: Keynote lecture 1 by Prof. Rick Shine on “An evolutionary perspective on biological invasions”
  • 4:30 p.m.: Keynote lecture 2 by Prof. Rick Shine on “Understanding your enemy: using research to mitigate the impact of invasive species on endangered wildlife”
  • 5:30 p.m.: Reception


Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Campus Etterbeek
Building D, Auditorium D.2.01
Pleinlaan 2
1050 Brussel (Elsene)


Participation is free, but registration is required.