Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Rewilding the Devil

By Allen Greer

What evidence is there that reintroducing Tasmanian devils to mainland Australia will affect the number of feral cats, rabbits and foxes?

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Conservation biologists have recently floated the idea of introducing Tasmanian devils onto mainland Australia from where they disappeared a few thousand years ago. They think devils might help control the number of exotic species such as cats, rabbits and foxes. Proposed release sites are Wilson’s Promontory and the Otways in Victoria and far south-western Western Australia.

The introduction of devils onto the mainland is a feature initiative in a $40 million bid by a consortium of 40 Australian and New Zealand institutions for a “rewilding” Cooperative Research Centre.

What evidence is there, however, that devils might affect the number of cats, rabbits and foxes?

In Tasmania, two natural “experiments” are running that may be informative. One involves the removal of devils by devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) from places they have been “forever", and the other involves the introduction of devils to places they have “never been".

The removal experiment is based on annual spotlight surveys on 170-odd 10 km sections of highway throughout Tasmania from 1985 to the present. These surveys allow a comparison of the number of sightings of devils and other species over time.

A recent analysis of the data between 1985 and 2008 reveal a detectable increase in cats in only one area of the state, the north-east. Here, an approximately 80%...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.