How Many Tasmanian Devils Are Left In The World

How Many Tasmanian Devils Are Left In The World – Hamish McCallum receives funding from the Australian Research Council and the US funding agencies NIH, NSF and DARPA. Andrew Storfer of Washington State University, Menna Jones and Rodrigo Hamede of the University of Tasmania, and Paul Hohenlohe of the University of Idaho also contributed to this article and the research described in it.

Amid the human epidemic, we have good news for wildlife: Our new study, published today in the journal Science, shows that Tasmanian devils are likely to survive despite a contagious cancer that has decimated their population.

How Many Tasmanian Devils Are Left In The World

How Many Tasmanian Devils Are Left In The World

Tasmanian devils have been afflicted by a strange contagious cancer. Devil’s facial tumor disease, or DFTD for short, was first discovered in north-east Tasmania in 1996. DFTD, transmitted by biting, has spread almost across the state and reached the west coast in the past two to three years. This has resulted in at least an 80 percent drop in the total devil population.

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Ten years ago we thought there was a real chance that DFTD would drive the Tasmanian devil to extinction. Our concern arose not only because the cancer was almost inevitably fatal, but because even though the devils were so rare, the rate of infection did not seem to decrease.

Our new research has good news: With the help of a pioneering genome analysis commonly used for viruses, we found that the curve has flattened and the growth of infections has slowed down. This means that while the disease is probably not going away, neither are Tasmanian devils.

Genomics is a relatively new discipline that uses the vast amount of data available from modern genetic sequencing techniques to answer some of the most difficult and important questions in biology.

Read more: We developed tools to study cancer in Tasmanian devils. They can help fight disease in humans

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The genomic approach we use is called phylodynamics. It uses advanced mathematical analysis of small changes in DNA to reconstruct the growth and spread of tumors in a population of mice. This is the same method used to track the COVID-19 pandemic and was originally developed to study the flu virus. Viruses have small genomes and evolve quickly. This method is the first to be used for a pathogen with a highly complex and slowly evolving genome.

By examining more than 11,000 genes, we found that the R number (the average number of secondary cases for each primary case, now known as COVID-19) has dropped from about 3.5 at the peak of the pandemic to about one now. This suggests that some sort of steady state has been reached and that sickness and demons now coexist.

This finding supports a paper we published last year where we reached similar conclusions using mathematical models of tagging and recapture at the same study site without considering genetics.

How Many Tasmanian Devils Are Left In The World

Our new study is based on samples collected in Tasmania since the beginning of the 21st century. Given the very different nature of the two methods, the agreement between the results adds confidence to our conclusions.

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This paper, in addition to several of our recent publications, demonstrates rapid evolutionary changes in Tasmanian devils and tumors following the emergence of this infectious cancer. Already, frequencies of gene variants known to be associated with immune function in humans have increased in Tasmanian devil populations, suggesting that devils evolve and adapt to danger.

We also now know that a relatively small number of genes have a large effect on whether devils become infected and survive.

Finally, and perhaps most encouragingly, we are now seeing tumors shrink and disappear – unheard of when the disease first appeared. Furthermore, we also know that it has a strong genetic basis, again suggesting that devils are genetically compatible with their enemies.

Taken together, all these findings show that wild Tasmanian devils can evolve very quickly – in just five generations – in response to this disease. This has a profoundly encouraging effect on their possible survival in the future.

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There is still much to learn about the development of devils and their tumors. But in the meantime, our results warn that the strategy of reintroducing captive-bred animals to replenish the diseased wild devil population may be counterproductive.

When devils from unexposed populations intermingle with wild animals from diseased populations, the evolution seen in wild populations is likely to be delayed or reversed, putting those populations at risk.

Also, the slower rate of spread of the disease may be due in part to the lower population density of the devil, resulting in fewer bites. Artificially increasing population density can accelerate the spread of diseases, the opposite of what it is intended to do.

How Many Tasmanian Devils Are Left In The World

With a growing body of evidence showing that the devil’s extinction is unlikely even within the next 100 years, we have time to carefully consider management strategies. In particular, models can be developed to assess the evolutionary and epidemiological consequences of reintroduction or translocation.

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One possibility is to breed devils in captivity with the right genes to increase disease resistance. In general, our research highlights the critical importance of considering evolutionary aspects in the management of endangered species. We now have the genomic tools to do that.

Many thanks to Andrew Storfer of Washington State University, Menna Jones and Rodrigo Hamede of the University of Tasmania, and Paul Hohenlohe of the University of Idaho for their contributions to this article and the research described therein.

Write an article and join a growing community of over 164,200 academics and researchers from 4,624 institutions. Known for their ferocious nature, Tasmanian devils have been plagued by contagious facial cancer in recent decades.

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These marsupials are no bigger than lapdogs and are known for their ferocity and powerful jaws that can cut large carcasses into small pieces in minutes. But in the 1990s, the species was affected by a contagious and deadly oral cancer, which reduced the only remaining wild population in the Australian state of Tasmania to just 25,000 animals.

It is not known why the species disappeared from Australia thousands of years ago, but it is likely due to human action – when early hunters killed most of the continent’s megafauna,

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How Many Tasmanian Devils Are Left In The World

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Wild Populations Of Tasmanian Devils Continue To Decline, Study Shows

Tasmanian devil populations have declined by nearly two-thirds in the wild following an outbreak of deadly facial tumor disease*, but the immediate outlook for the beloved marsupial* remains positive, new research has found.

According to a study published this week in the journal Ecology Letters, there are about 17,000 devils left in the wild, down from about 53,000 when the disease was first discovered in 1996.

Dr Calum Cunningham, a natural science ecologist from the University of Tasmania’s School of Natural Sciences, said the study looked at changes in devil populations over the past 35 years using data from fieldwork and trapping surveys.

How Many Tasmanian Devils Are Left In The World

“Over the next 10 years, our models predict that the decline will slow, and the population is expected to level off* over the next 10 years,” he said.

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“This is one of the biggest population declines in the last 25 years, but compared to what we thought 10 years ago, the devil’s outlook is definitely more positive.”

Media_camera A night view of the Tasmanian devil in the wild during research at the University of Tasmania. Photo: Calum Cunningham

Dr. Cunningham, who participated in the study, said that by 2035, there will be an estimated 13,000 devils living in the forest.

“The devils are proving very hardy * and they’re hanging in there in Tasmania.”

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Devil facial tumor disease (DFTD) is a cancer that is spreading in the Tasmanian devil population. This causes small sores or lumps in and around the devil’s mouth. These quickly develop large tumors on the face and neck. When cancer first appears, it is almost always malignant*.

The study found that devils were more abundant in the eastern part of the state, while only the population was believed to be free of the disease.

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