Researchers have enhanced the genetic diversity of the Tasmanian devil
population in the Woolnorth area, the State’s last high-density bastion of
devils free of the Devil Facial Tumour Disease.
The Save the Tasmanian Devil Program (STDP) has been monitoring the population
of Woolnorth devils since 2004 and over the years observed an interesting
While the disease-free area boasts a high population density of devils,
the genetic diversity and female participation in breeding has declined over
recent years and is relatively low when compared to other sites.
Sauterne was among the wild females still carrying pouch young after being released at Woolnorth
Research by the
University of Sydney’s Wildlife Genomics Team was unable to determine if the
reproductive decline was driving the inbreeding or vice-versa but there was concern that data showed inbreeding was likely to exacerbate, placing
the Woolnorth devil population “at the cusp of the extinction vortex”.
In response to the
situation, the team suggested the STDP introduce genetic material from other
locations across Tasmania to hopefully improve the situation.
Using a new breeding approach, 10 female wild devils from Woolnorth
were successfully bred with six captive-bred males with genetics significantly
different to those found at Woolnorth in a free-range enclosure at Bridport.
The wild females bred successfully with the males, a first for the
devil breeding program. They had a total of 21 pouch young and, with the males, were
then released back to Woolnorth four months later. The results were
Seven of the 10 females released back into the area were trapped as
part of an annual monitoring survey last month, and all were found to be in
good condition. Of the six females that bred in the free, five were still carrying
pouch young after release to the wild.
The STDP is excited about the promising results of the new breeding
approach which could help inform future management decisions and actions.