Research is an integral component of the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program (STDP). It is used to inform management actions aimed at devil conservation.
Significant findings have been made in relation to devils and Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) pathology, immunology, genetics and ecology since the discovery of the disease. These findings have been pivotal in making decisions regarding the management of captive and wild Tasmanian devils.
Collaborations between the Program and research institutions around the world have played an important role in furthering the knowledge of DFTD and the management of Tasmanian devil populations.
The STDP and its collaborators have been collecting scientific data pertaining to wild and captive devils since the program began in 2003. This data is stored in the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment’s Natural Values Atlas
and represents an extremely valuable archive that could be used in a wide variety of research projects.
STDP Samantha Fox and David Pemberton with Ron Swaisgood, Debra Shier and Elizabeth Reid-Wainscoat from San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG)
Save the Tasmanian Devil Program’s Key Collaborators
Deakin University – Dr Beata Ujvari
Dr Ujvari is interested in the genetic and phenotypic adaptations to DFTD, how the immune status of the devils determines and contributes to disease development. Particularly whether temporal and spatial variations in immune profiles and status influence DFTD aetiology and epidemics.
Macquarie University – Associate Professor Michelle Power
Associate Professor Power and her team are investigating parasite diversity, abundance and community composition in wild Tasmanian devils and in the insurance population. Our aim is to determine how parasites respond to captive management. The team's goal is to provide data that will improve health of devils and contribute to preservation of their parasite. The team are also examining establishment of human-associated pathogens in captive bred devils to enable risk assessment of non-DFTD disease transmission with animal translocation. For more information about parasitology
Menzies Institute for Medical Research, University of Tasmania – Professor Greg Woods and Dr Bruce Lyons
San Diego Zoo Global – Dr Ron Swaisgood and Dr Debra Shier
Dr. Debra Shier is the Brown Endowed Associate Director of Recovery Ecology at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. She runs a growing program focused on threatened and endangered mammals and frogs in the Southwestern United States. For over 20 years she has been studying the ways in which an understanding of animal behavior and ecology can be applied to conservation strategies such as reintroductions and translocations. In general, her research has focused on using basic theory to create effective and efficient relocation methods by encouraging settlement, dampening stress, and increasing fitness with an emphasis on behavioral competency. Her research collaboration with the instittute’s genetics division includes landscape level genetics to inform reserve management practices and species recovery. More recently, her research has expanded into local restoration and examining anthropogenic effects on wildlife behaviour, fitness and persistence.
On campus, Dr. Shier currently runs a captive breeding/reintroduction program for the endangered pacific pocket mouse that focuses on survival skill development, sensory ecology, mate choice, foraging, antipredator behaviour, stress and genetic management. Off campus, she has domestic projects throughout San Diego, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties which include research on reintroduction and translocation biology, effects of light and sound on nocturnal species, effects of stress in relocation and range-wide genetics. She is also a part of an international collaboration on Tasmanian devil reintroduction. Her model species include: Stephens’ and San Bernardino kangaroo rats, California ground squirrel, Pacific and Los Angeles pocket mice, Black-tailed prairie dogs, Ringtails, Tasmanian devils, Mountain Yellow-legged frog and Burrowing Owls. In her capacity as an adjunct faculty member at UCLA she also studies Poison dart frogs and Neotropical harvestmen.
Dr. Shier received a B.S. degree in Biopsychology from University of California, Santa Barbara. She received a M.S. degree in Biology with an emphasis in Ecology and Systematics from San Francisco State University. She received M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Animal Behavior with an emphasis in Wildlife Conservation from University of California, Davis.
University of Cambridge– Dr Elizabeth Murchison
Dr Elizabeth Murchison leads the Transmissible Cancer Group (TCG) at the University of Cambridge, Department of Veterinary Medicine. The TCG uses genetics and molecular biology to understand the origins and evolution of transmissible cancers in Tasmanian devils.
University of Canberra – Professor Janine Deakin
Professor Deakin's team have been characterising the chromosomes of devil facial tumours (DFT1 and DFT2). They have used this information to determine how these two tumours originated and how they are continuing to evolve. Insight into the mutations responsible for these two transmissible tumours will provide a better understanding of what is causing them to arise in the first place and help them to work out the key genes involved in driving these tumours. This is valuable information for developing potential vaccines or treatments. By tracking tumour evolution, they can make predictions about whether tumours are evolving to become more or less of a problem for the devil population in the future.
University of New South Wales – Professor Tracey Rogers
Professor Rogers and her team are interested in the causes and consequences of diet variation among individuals, populations and species. The team use different biomarkers and methods to study animal resource and habitat use. Characterising shifts in the ecology and life history of animals resulting from anthropogenic exploitation and/or disturbance of animals resulting from anthropogenic exploitation and/or disturbance. Characterising shifts in the ecology and life history following translocation.
University of Southampton – Dr Hannah V Siddle
Dr Siddle and her team are working to determine how and why DFTD can escape the Tasmanian devil immune system. Using this information Dr Siddle and her team are developing a peptide vaccine against DFTD and working toward a better understanding of the disease. The team recently discovered that DFTD cells have lost their MHC molecules, but the team can restore these molecules to make DFTD cells a better target for the immune system. This work has fed into current vaccination studies conducted by the program and collaborators. The team's current research aims to identify the specific MHC/peptide complexes that could be targets for the devil immune system. Using this information Dr Siddle and her team can design a peptide vaccine to induce immunity to DFTD. For more information about Dr Hannah V Siddle.
University of Sydney – Professor Kathy Belov, Dr Carolyn Hogg, Dr Catherine Grueber
The University of Sydney has been working closely with the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program on understanding immune gene function and DFTD since 2008, in addition to the genetic management of the insurance population. In collaboration with the STDP, ZAA and San Diego Zoo Global, the University of Sydney established the “Devil Tools & Tech” project in 2012 which provides the latest scientific data to the STDP in real-time allowing for adaptive management decisions to be made. The team is working with the STDP on a number of areas, including the role that age plays in immune function in devils, changes to the microbiome and virome of both captive and wild devils, understanding the genetic relationships of the insurance population and developing tools to source new genetically different devils. In addition they provide support to the management team through genetic analysis of individuals selected for release to ensure that we are maintaining as much genetic diversity as possible both in the wild and in captivity. For more information about wildlife genomics.
L to R: David Pemberton, Carolyn Hogg, Kate Farquharson, Catherine Grueber, Kathy Belov, Belinda Wright, Emma Peel, Parice Brandies, Sophie Velzen, (front) Elspeth McLennan, Caitlin Morrison, Rowena Chong
University of Tasmania – Associate Professor Menna Jones
University of Tasmania – Dr Rodrigo Hamede
Dr Rodrigo Hamede has worked on a number of ecological, behavioural, epidemiological and evolutionary problems caused by DFTD throughout Tasmania. With the use of longitudinal data sets and a multidisciplinary framework he has followed the impacts of this disease and developed models to predict epidemiological outcomes and evolutionary dynamics between devils and DFTD across wild populations.
A particular focus is in studying behavioural adaptations and evolutionary processes between devils and tumours as well as using social networks to understand DFTD transmission in wild populations. Specialising in disease ecology and epidemiology, Dr. Hamede is often involved in collaborations with researchers from a broad range of disciplines including immunology, veterinary medicine, mathematical modelling, genomics and cancer biology.
This integrative framework can be used for improving the management of DFTD and other emerging infectious diseases, providing novel insights for the conservation of species affected by wildlife diseases