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Reduced effect of Tasmanian devil facial tumor disease at the disease front


Hamede, R and Lachish, S and Belov, K and Woods, G and Kreiss, A and Pearse, AM and Lazenby, B and Jones, M and McCallum, H, Reduced effect of Tasmanian devil facial tumor disease at the disease front, Conservation Biology, 26, (1) pp. 124-134. ISSN 0888-8892 (2012) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

The definitive published version is available online at: Copyright 2011 Society for Conservation Biology

DOI: doi:10.1111/j.1523-1739.2011.01747.x


Pathogen-driven declines in animal populations are increasingly regarded as a major conservation issue. The Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) is threatened with extinction by devil facial tumor disease, a unique transmissible cancer. The disease is transmitted through direct transfer of tumor cells, which is possible because the genetic diversity of Tasmanian devils is low, particularly in the major histocompatibility complex genes of the immune system. The far northwest of Tasmania now holds the last remaining disease-free wild devil populations. The recent discovery of unique major histocompatibility complex genotypes in the northwestern region of Tasmania has raised the possibility that some animals may be resilient to the disease. We examined the differences in the epidemiology and population effects of devil facial tumor disease at 3 well-studied affected sites in eastern Tasmania and 1 in western Tasmania (West Pencil Pine). In contrast to the 3 eastern sites, there has been no rapid increase in disease prevalence or evidence of population decline at West Pencil Pine. Moreover, this is the only onsite at which the population age structure has remained unaltered 4 years after the first detection of disease. The most plausible explanations for the substantial differences in population effects and epidemiology of the disease between eastern and western sites are geographic differences in genotypes or phenotypes of devils and functional differences between tumor strains in the 2 regions. We suggest that conservation efforts focus on identifying whether either or both these explanations are correct and then, if resistance alleles exist, to attempt to spread the resistant alleles into affected populations. Such assisted selection has rarely been attempted for the management of wildlife diseases, but it may be widely applicable.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:Tasmanian devil, Sarcophilus harrisii, devil facial tumor disease, DFTD, assisted selection, disease ecology, epidemiology, infectious cancer, threatened species, wildlife disease management
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Ecology
Research Field:Community ecology (excl. invasive species ecology)
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Terrestrial systems and management
Objective Field:Terrestrial biodiversity
UTAS Author:Hamede, R (Dr Rodrigo Hamede Ross)
UTAS Author:Lachish, S (Ms Shelly Lachish)
UTAS Author:Woods, G (Professor Gregory Woods)
UTAS Author:Kreiss, A (Dr Alexandre Kreiss)
UTAS Author:Jones, M (Professor Menna Jones)
UTAS Author:McCallum, H (Professor Hamish McCallum)
ID Code:72630
Year Published:2012 (online first 2011)
Web of Science® Times Cited:50
Deposited By:Zoology
Deposited On:2011-08-30
Last Modified:2017-10-31
Downloads:4 View Download Statistics

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