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Quantifying 25 years of disease-caused declines in Tasmanian devil populations: host density drives spatial pathogen spread


Cunningham, CX and Comte, S and McCallum, H and Hamilton, DG and Hamede, R and Storfer, A and Hollings, T and Ruiz-Aravena, M and Kerlin, DH and Brook, BW and Hocking, G and Jones, Menna, Quantifying 25 years of disease-caused declines in Tasmanian devil populations: host density drives spatial pathogen spread, Ecology Letters, 24, (5) pp. 958-969. ISSN 1461-0248 (2021) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

© 2021 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

DOI: doi:10.1111/ele.13703


Infectious diseases are strong drivers of wildlife population dynamics, however, empirical analyses from the early stages of pathogen emergence are rare. Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease (DFTD), discovered in 1996, provides the opportunity to study an epizootic from its inception. We use a pattern-oriented diffusion simulation to model the spatial spread of DFTD across the species' range and quantify population effects by jointly modelling multiple streams of data spanning 35 years. We estimate the wild devil population peaked at 53 000 in 1996, less than half of previous estimates. DFTD spread rapidly through high-density areas, with spread velocity slowing in areas of low host densities. By 2020, DFTD occupied >90% of the species' range, causing 82% declines in local densities and reducing the total population to 16 900. Encouragingly, our model forecasts the population decline should level-off within the next decade, supporting conservation management focused on facilitating evolution of resistance and tolerance.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:Approximate Bayesian Computation, density dependence, devil facial tumour disease, disease spread, emerging infectious disease, host-pathogen, integrated species distribution model, Sarcophilus harrisii, spatial capture-recapture, wildlife disease, T
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Ecology
Research Field:Population ecology
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Terrestrial systems and management
Objective Field:Terrestrial biodiversity
UTAS Author:Cunningham, CX (Mr Calum Cunningham)
UTAS Author:Hamilton, DG (Mr David Hamilton)
UTAS Author:Hamede, R (Dr Rodrigo Hamede Ross)
UTAS Author:Brook, BW (Professor Barry Brook)
UTAS Author:Jones, Menna (Professor Menna Jones)
ID Code:149049
Year Published:2021
Funding Support:Australian Research Council (FL160100101)
Web of Science® Times Cited:17
Deposited By:Plant Science
Deposited On:2022-03-03
Last Modified:2022-04-07

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