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By Stephen Luntz

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Thylacines Lacked Diversity
The Tasmanian tiger showed a similar lack of diversity to its devilish cousin, a study of museum samples reveals.

Dr Brandon Menzies of the University of Melbourne’s School of Biology collected DNA from a random sample of thylacine remains from different museums. He found genetic conformity at least as great as that endangering the survival of the Tasmanian devil.

“Hence, Tasmanian tigers may have faced similar environmental problems to the devils, had they survived,” says Menzies, although he acknowledges that the face-biting behaviour that is spreading cancer among the devils (AS, October 2011, p.5) was not a thylacine trait.

“Due to the similarly poor genetic diversity of the animals, this new data suggests that the genetic health of the Tasmanian tiger and devil may have been affected by the geographic isolation of Tasmania from mainland Australia approximately 10–13,000 years ago,” Menzies says.

Half the samples Menzies used were taken before the introduction of the bounty on thylacines in 1888, indicating that the lack of genetic diversity predates culling.

With 2000 bounties paid, the thylacine does not appear to have been particularly rare for a top predator of its size, but Menzies says that an estimated 2500 adults is not enough to maintain genetic diversity over a long period...

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